A new feature from from ctvnews.ca! The Crouse Review is a quick, hot take on the weekend’s biggest movies! This week Richard looks at “Transformers: the Last Night,” “The Hero’s” tale of redemption and the underwater terror of “47 Metres Down.”
Richard sits in with CTV NewsChannel anchor Marcia MacMillan to have a look at the big weekend movies including the eye scorching visuals of “Transformers: the Last Night,” “The Hero’s” tale of redemption and the underwater terror of “47 Metres Down.”
Familiar but fresh. If you are a Hollywood executive you probably say these words a hundred times a day. In pitch meetings and story conferences those f-words are a mantra in a town that never met an idea it couldn’t recycle.
Convinced that audiences will only respond to variations on brands they are already familiar with, this summer the studios are offering freshened up versions of The Mummy, Amityville Horror and Spider-Man among others. Hollywood, the Nation’s Blue Bin. The biggest and loudest of the bunch will likely be Transformers: The Last Knight, the fifth film based on the toys created by Hasbro and Tomy.
Once again directed by Michael Bay, the movie reportedly cost a budget-busting $260 million. The special effects-laden story of humans vs. Transformers and a mysterious artifact is on track to make multi-millions domestically and worldwide, one of the few aging tentpole films to beat audience blockbuster fatigue.
It’s familiar but fresh.
In the familiar department you have Mark Wahlberg as star, the return of heroic Autobot leader Optimus Prime and director Bay’s trademarked bombast. He makes action orgy movies for audiences who crave a rumbling theatre seat. His Transformers films engage three of the five senses — only smell and taste are exempt — that leave viewers with scorched eyes and ringing ears and his audience eat up his gladiatorial sense of spectacle.
Freshening up the story is the addition of screen legend (and Marvel Cinematic Universe actor) Anthony Hopkins as an astronomer and historian knowledgeable in the history of the Transformers on Earth and a healthy dose of Arthurian myth woven into the story.
It sounds like the perfect mix of familiar and fresh but there are no guarantees in the blockbuster business. Recently, despite the presence of Tom Cruise and two — count ’em, two — classic horror characters, critics, audiences and the box office met The Mummy with a collective yawn. Although it has done better business overseas one pundit suggested the movie’s poor showing “stems from being an antiquated property paired with an antiquated star.”
Now there’s a statement that’ll send the collective shivers that were so sorely missing from The Mummy down the backs of studio executives. Perhaps the revamped story of an ancient malevolent evil wasn’t familiar or fresh enough for audiences. Or perhaps it’s because potential moviegoers sensed the cynicism in The Mummy. Bundling Cruise and legendary monsters in the movie with a few laughs, some typical blockbuster action and a CGI climax that wouldn’t be out of place in an Avengers movie, felt like a carefully constructed exercise in marketing first and a movie second.
The blockbuster business is a big one with high risk and reward. It didn’t work for Cruise and Co.’s The Mummy or Dwayne Johnson’s raunchy Baywatch reboot, but the Autobots have been good producers for Hollywood. Transformers: The Last Knight, wedged into a summer packed to the gills with big-budget blockbusters, likely won’t make the coin of its predecessors but Michael Bay doesn’t seem worried.
Although The Last Knight will be his last Transformers as director, he says the film lays the groundwork and backstory for 14 upcoming movies. At the rate they’re going, that’s almost 30 more years of Bumblebee and Megatron. That’s a lot of bot battles, and a lot of freshening up.
Audiences complain that Hollywood has no new ideas, that everything is a rebrand, reboot or remake. “They don’t make ‘em like they used to!” they say.
The “Transformers” franchise should encapsulate everything that is wrong with summer blockbusters. It’s a story based on a line of toys, it values spectacle over story and the paper thin characters feel more like place holders for the action than real people and yet, here we are on episode five, with (according to director Michael Bay) fourteen more in the pipeline.
In fact, they do make ‘em like they used to. You could be forgiven for experiencing déjà vu while watching “Transformers: The Last Knight.” The “Transformers” movies are remarkably consistent. They are heavy metal filmmaking, all bluster and retina roasting visuals and people eat them up.
People go see “Transformers” for the robots—their transformation scenes remain the coolest thing about the series—and the new movie doesn’t disappoint, creating a new backstory for its mechanical stars. According to the new movie the Transformers were friendly with King Arthur and the Knights of the Roundtable and fought the Nazis during World War II.
A decade into Bay’s franchise good guy leader of the Autobots Optimus Prime has high tailed it back to his home planet Cybertron. Humans are at war with the Transformers—“Two species at war, one flesh, one metal.”—and the future of the world is at stake. As a short prologue with King Arthur suggests, the key to Earth’s survival lies in the secret history of the Transformers and a 1600-year-old secret artefact. To unlock this mystery enter Autobot ally, inventor and single father Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), Transformers historian and English lord Sir Edmund Exposition (Anthony Hopkins)—he’s got some mansplainin’ to do!—Oxford University Professor of English Literature (and descendant of the most famous wizard of all time other than Harry Potter) Viviane Wembly (Laura Haddock) and Autobot Bumblebee (voice of Erik Aadahi).
Director Michael Bay has finally taken the Transformers where they always should’ve been, to the Realm of the Ridiculous. Any movie based on a line of toys is bound to be silly but this may be one of the silliest films ever made. From a prologue set in the Middle Ages and robots hanging out on Cuban beaches to a wisecracking Merlin the Magician and a 700-year-old opera singing robot, this is wacky stuff.
Is it good stuff, you may ask? It doesn’t take itself as seriously as some of the other entries in the series, so that’s good but like the other “Transformers” movies, it’s too long and gets lost in an orgy of action and gravity defying stunts.
Hopkins seems to be having fun cavorting with his sassy C-3PO wannabe Cogman (Jim Carter) but it’s a thankless job. He’s there mostly to provide the convoluted backstory. As a member of the secret society to protect the history of Transformers, which also includes suck luminaries as Harriet Tubman and Stephen Hawking among others, he’s the keeper of the info and boy, does he over share. He scrolls through hundreds of years of nonsensical Transformers history but at least he does says thing like, “It was alien power or as they knew it in those days, magic,” in his distinctive Hannibal Lecter voice.
It’s all a bit much. With a story this convoluted why bother with the story at all? Those who want to see the Transformers battle will not be disappointed. The chunks of metal are cooler and than ever before and when Hopkins isn’t explaining what’s going on the robots are going at it.
“Transformers: The Last Knight” is Bay’s farewell to the franchise as director (he’ll stay on as a producer) and he has not held back. It’s heavy metal filmmaking, loud and proud, like a drum solo that goes on for just a hair too long.
Words like disappointing, dismal and other disparaging words beginning with the letter “d” have been used to describe the summer’s box office yield.
In movieland the summer season is defined as the first Friday in May through Labor Day Weekend, a period that saw revenues fall to an eight year low, down 15% from 2013.
There were some very big hits, like Guardians of the Galaxy and Transformers: Age of Extinction, but even their multi-million dollar grosses weren’t enough to compete with last year’s $4.75 billion overall take.
“We’ve seen this before,” says Michael Kennedy, Executive Vice President, Filmed Entertainment at Cineplex. “Right now everybody’s binging. After a while they will get tired of binge watching TV and say, ‘I’m really tired of being in my house. I want to go out.’”
Kennedy adds that the summer slump could also be attributed to several high profile absences.
“Pixar was originally scheduled to go in the summer with a film that got moved back and Fast and Furious was supposed to go but after Paul Walker’s accident they moved the movie back and nobody replaced it. One or two movies move and millions disappear.”
So how does it work? How do studios and distributors determine a release schedule? Mongrel Media’s Director of Marketing Danish Vahidy says studios put “down the tent pole for flagship properties one, two or sometimes three years in advance. With the success of sequels studios feel more secure planning in advance for franchises rather than an unknown entity.”
That means the wannabe blockbusters from this summer, the X-Men, Godzilla and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles et al, probably had release dates attached to them before Prince William walked Catherine Middleton down the aisle at Westminster Abbey.
Kennedy says counterprogramming is one of the keys. “They look at what everybody else does and if they see a Fast and Furious sitting on the second week of July and they have an action movie, they’re staying away from that weekend.”
Mongrel Media took a risk and counterprogrammed a movie that went on to become one of their biggest hits of the summer. “Boyhood was released in July as the summertime nicely captured the notion of childhood set in the film,” Vahidy says. “It was also a great way to counter program with the Hollywood blockbusters and offer movie goers a smart original film as an option.” The critically acclaimed film was aimed at a different audience than the other two big releases that week, Disney’s kid friendly Planes and the raunchy Cameron Diaz comedy Sex Tape. “That move paid off for us as Boyhood is one of our most successful releases ever with a theatrical box-office of over $2.3 million in Canada and growing.”
So why didn’t it work for the big releases this summer? Suggested reasons for the downturn range from a lack of family movies, which traditionally pull in big numbers, too many sequels and superhero movies and even divided attention from the World Cup.
Kennedy adds one more reason. “Everybody has busy lives,” he says. “The one thing we’ve always found is that people always come back. It’s not the price of the movie ticket or the popcorn, it’s putting aside the time to go. People want to go out and we offer the most affordable out-of-home experience there is.”
Here’s Richard in a CTV National News report from Saturday July 19, 2014. “Hollywood relies on making huge profits from summer blockbusters,” they say, “but something’s gone wrong with this year’s script.”
The advertising tagline for “Transformers: Age of Extinction” is “This is not war, it’s extinction,” which is catchy enough, I suppose, but having seen it I couldn’t help but think that “Cum on Feel the Noize,” a song lyric by either Slade or Quiet Riot, depending on your age, would have been more appropriate.
Michael Bay’s latest is eardrum shatteringly loud, guaranteed to leave you with ringing ears and a rumbling theatre seat. Visually, expect scorched eyes. Bay has made a movie for three of your five senses—only smell and taste are exempt—but will it entertain your brain while launching an all out assault on your senses?
Picking up four years after the invasion of Chicago seen in the last Transformers film, “Dark of the Moon,” the action begins when unemployed robotic engineer Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) and daughter Tessa (Nicola Peltz) uncover deactivated Autobot, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) hidden under a pile of junk. Their discovery puts them in the crosshairs of CIA agent Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer) and tech tycoon Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci). The two are hatching a plan, fueled by equal parts paranoia and genius, to build man made second generation Transformers to seek out and destroy the Autobots. “A new era has begun,” says Attinger, “and the age of Transformers is over.”
Everybody loves spectacle. The Romans had the Coliseum and we have the “Transformers” movies. Like the gladiatorial shows of yore, in Michael Bay’s movies it doesn’t matter who lives or dies—the films don’t care about their human characters and neither do we—all that matters is the spectacle of the whole thing and at almost frenetic three hours “Age of Extinction” certainly delivers on that score. Like the old Roman emperors many moviegoers will give this movie a thumbs up simply because of the value per minute the film offers.
No one can accuse Bay of skimping on… well anything. “Age of Extinction” is a wide ranging action orgy that plays off of Bush era Homeland Security paranoia and also explains why dinosaurs became extinct. It comments on the ethics of unarmed warfare and blows up most of Hong Kong.
Bay doesn’t do anything by half measures but I found myself wishing the movie was about half as long as it is with half the bombast. It’s stylish—“Why run when you can run in slow motion,” Bay seems to be asking—not unlike a car commercial, but is excessive on almost every level. I don’t expect or want “My Dinner with Optimus Prime,” but in this case I think less would have been more.
Wahlberg brings loads of personality and humor with his over-protective father routine, Tucci is reliable as ever and Grammer is in full-on Dick Cheney mode but who cares? We’re not paying to see them, we’re paying to see Optimus Prime play bucking bronco with a giant dinobot.
Is “Transformers: Age of Extinction” a good movie? Not really. Does it deliver on its promise? Yes, but almost too much so. Either way I doubt Michael Bay much cares what the critics think. He’s built a joke into the movie suggesting that if you don’t like sequels you’re senile.