The subtitle to the inevitable fifth Transformers film was announced today, and as usual the internet jumped at the chance to take a few cheap shots at the predecessors. Now, I’m not going to sit here and try to convince you that Michael Bay’s Transformers series are masterpieces.
I’ll happily say that Transformers is a very good example of the quintessential blockbuster, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a weirdly paced mess that happens to have the best action scene of all time right in the middle of it, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is an excellent film hampered by unfortunate casting problems, and Transformers: Age of Extinction would be a return to form if about an hour of unnecessary fat was carved off.
The Transformers films are some of my favourite stupid films, but I’m more than willing to admit their many flaws. Michael Bay has an awkward relationship with female characters, a desperate need for an editor and an inappropriate sense of humour. He also has an exceptional eye for action set-pieces and makes interesting and intelligent points only to bury them in nonsense.
The same can be said for darling auteur videogame developer Hideo Kojima. While the internet at large lambasts one, it can’t heap enough praise on the other. I wonder why that is. Surely videogame fans aren’t so desperate to justify the hours they spend on this nonsense they want to hide any and all criticism of all the adolescent, misogynistic nonsense? That can’t be right.
This isn’t an attack on Hideo Kojima, or a defence of Michael Bay. I just noticed that one gets away with everything the other does, and wanted to remind the worst of internet to stop being so insanely reactionary. It’s important to see the flaws in the things we love.
Mikaela Banes, Megan Fox’s character in the first two Transformers films, was a pretty great character. Across both films, when her and Shia Lebouf’s Sam were together she was consistently smarter, stronger and braver. She rescues him a couple of times and never needed rescuing herself. Had Megan Fox not left before the third film, their character arc would have reached a fitting conclusion, and Sam finally getting to save her might have felt like a nice moment.
On the other hand, she is regularly shot like this:
After her, Michael Bay has cast a series of pretty young ladies to primarily be kidnapped and rescued, but he also gave us Charlotte Mearing, the intelligent head of National Security in Dark of the Moon. He can do female characters well, but too often he either thinks with his penis, or lets the men in suits tell him pretty ladies sell cinema tickets.
Hideo Kojima gave us The Boss, one of the greatest, most interesting characters in all of videogames, male or female. Through her, he asked questions about loyalty, motherhood, patriotism and sacrifice that I still think about to this day. On the other hand, at the end of the game she dresses like this:
Hideo Kojima also created Quiet. Quiet is a hot sniper in almost no clothing who can’t speak, but falls in love with the player character. The most chance she has to communicate or show character are a few scenes where he gyrates on the floor in the pouring rain. Yeah.
4: They Both Need an Editor
Transformers: Age of Extinction is a long film. Every time you think you’ve reached the finale, the film keeps going and going. There are huge scenes that could be cut without the film losing anything at all; a tightrope escape from a spaceship, a mind-numbing sequence where a big space magnet drops boats on Shanghai, a weirdly pitched gag about statutory rape. If someone had told Michael Bay “no”, not only would we have a much better paced film, there might have been some budget left over to give the all Transformers proper Transformations.
Hideo Kojima, on the other hand, is the man who put a 90 minute cutscene into Metal Gear Solid 4.
3: The Sense of Humour
A good blockbuster movie needs a few laughs. Transformers delivered nicely, with the nice family dynamic and Bumblebee’s communications through the radio. With each sequel, as Michael Bay was given less and less oversight, stupider and stupider things crept into the films. We had the twins, a pair of pretty bad African-American stereotype robots, a weird scene to justify a slightly odd age gap in the fourth film’s romance, and a string of random comedy bit-parts. I can’t complain too much though, as Michale Bay made the classically excellent choice to hire Ken Jeung to play Ken Jeung.
Hideo Kojima has gone through the same evolution. Metal Gear Solid had a few comedy moments, but they rarely (deliberately) encroached on the main action. By MGS2, we had a final action sequence where Raiden runs around covering his willy, and in MGS4 a man shits in a bin. By MGSV, the game was open world, meaning silliness and seriousness could go hand in hand. In the middle of a gruelling Afghansitan engagement, Snake might have to fly a sheep away on a balloon or call in his helicopter to blare out Aha or Spandau Ballet.
To clarify, as I’ve gotten older I find myself less bothered by a lot of comedy and silliness sneaking into otherwise tense, serious moments. Life is pretty funny to be honest, and that’s the best way to live. Still, come on lads. You can do better.
2: Burying the Cleverness
Transformers: Age of Extinction had a lot of silly science fiction, weird alien mythology, cheesy family pathos and needless action scenes. The main plot of the film, though, was really interesting. The story asked big questions about the lack of oversight given to black ops, and the dangers of government groups that don’t answer to the people. The human villains of the film are American operatives, ostensibly fighting to rid their nation of aliens.
The Metal Gear saga deals in much bigger issues all the time. It dips in and out of history, science, philosophy and psychology with surprising depth and tells incredibly thought provoking and emotionally engaging stories. Unfortunately, like Transformers burying its smarts under explosions and goofy jokes, Metal Gear’s genius can be buried under impenetrable walls of nonsense. La-li-lu-le-lo.
With a videogame, even if one can criticise the storytelling, the tone, the characters, the politics and anything in between, if act of play is satisfying, there are those who will defend this. Ignoring the obvious folly of thinking mechanics are separate and removed from the overall experience, we should at least agree to apply the same logic to films.
Kojima can undoubtedly create excellent gameplay, be it the slick controls and brilliant, open-world shooting of The Phantom Pain or the scripted espionage action and genius boss fights of earlier games, he knows how to make a player feel like a badass.
Michael Bay also knows action. Maybe better than anyone else on the planet. I’d ask you to watch the famous forest fight from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Optimus Prime battles three Decepticons with exquisite tension, choreography, drama and visual spectacle. From the build up to the fight, to the fallout from it, through every punch, kick, tackle, laser, sword stroke and cool one liner in between, this is a treat. Even if you can’t enjoy some of the other aspects of Mr Bay’s films, you have to admit: he is very, very good at blowing shit up on celluloid.
Now, I’m not saying you have to stop liking Kojima, or suddenly become massive Michael Bay fans. I’m just saying, if you want to criticise one of them for any of this, you have to give the same attention to the other. Maybe if we weren’t all so desperate to pretend games are immune to criticism, people wouldn’t be such crybabies whenever Uncharted scores less than a 10.
And hey, maybe Transformers: The Last Knight will be good? At least it isn’t called Noun of the Noun this time.
By Luke Summerhayes.