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Whatever Happened to Blockbusters with Brains? I’d Settle for Heart…

The early reviews for Transformers 2 are in, and the Irish public seem to have more-or-less unanimously spoken (based solely on my own personal experience and those around me). It’s a mindless, stupid, soulless action movie that seems to propel itself forward not by the strength of its plot or by any particular arc, but merely by the force of its explosions. It manages to be dumber than the first film, which (in fairness to it) benefited slightly from a quirky sense of humour. As I sit here an dwell upon the pretty depressing reality that this may be the second biggest hit of the summer – never underestimate Harry Potter – I need to get my mind off that thought. Blockbusters weren’t always this stupid and loud and pointless, were they?

Meet Devastator, he's got the cajones to be a big summer baddy. I wish I were making that up...

Meet Devastator, he's got the cajones to be a big summer baddy. I wish I were making that up...

Maybe last summer spoiled us. Iron Man and The Dark Knight were a good fifty IQ points above your average comic book film. Wall-E was a thoughtful meditation and one of the truly emotional films of the year. The fact that these movies were mentioned in conversations during the awards season indicates the quality involved. So maybe last year was a fluke, setting the bar impossibly high? Perhaps we should be happy with movies like Wolverine, whose most redeeming feature (apart from two high quality leads) is that he wasn’t that bad when it comes to brainless carnage.

Plus, brains aren’t always necessarily a good thing – there is the spectre of pretention that creeped into Watchmen (which, while a visually astounding production and a must-see-and-divisive-film-of-the-year, seemed to lack spunk and moxy). I’ll be the first to admit that I will lay into an awards season movie (like The Reader) for pretending to be too intelligent, while lacking the other elements that make up a good film. But there has to be a good middle, right?

I look at some of the earlier blockbusters and I go a little green with envy. Jaws – considered the first ‘proper’ summer blockbuster – holds up as well today as it did back then. The Godfather managed to be a large commercial success and a critical sensation. The first three Indiana Jones movies are some of the best popcorn flicks out there, slyly exploiting the sensibilities of many a 1930’s film serial. Even more recently, The Matrix serves as a solid science fiction story, one that works better without its pseudo-intellectual sequels. Still, for all these films with brainpower to match their brawn, there are other less conventionally intelligent films that still hold up quite well as ‘good’ blockbusters.

Remember when Robert deNiro used to be on fire?

Remember when Robert deNiro used to be on fire?

I caught Face/Off the other night. It isn’t rocket science, it isn’t sharp, it isn’t well-written or plotted. But it does feature a fantastic turn from John Travolta and pulsepounding direction from John Woo. It’s as close to braindead as you can get, but my family keeps coming back to it. Die Hard is a Christmas treat anchored in two amazing central performances and tense direction, despite being a conventional terrorists/hostages/unconventional hero narrative. We still love it. Even earlier this year we had Star Trek, which will explode if you think too much about it, but was easily one of the best movies of the year so far.

Maybe it’s heart that a blockbuster really needs. Something relatively intangiable, like a soul. So much of these films (I could name many, many of them) are produced by numbers each year by the studios that it seems refreshing to catch one or two that show a glimmer of energy and excitement behind the camera. I don’t really care if the film falls apart if I think about it after I watch it, I just want it to involve me enough that it doesn’t fall apart as I watch it. I don’t expect Shakespeare when I go to a major summer release, but I’d be satisfied if it managed to have a slightly stronger pulse than he does.

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Transformers 2 is directed by Michael Bay (The Island, Bad Boys) and stars Shia La Beouf (Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), Megan Fox (Jonah Hex), John Turturro (The Big Lebowski, Don’t Mess With the Zohan) and the voice of Hugo Weaving (The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings) with tonnes of product-placed robots. It was released in the UK and Ireland on 19th June 2009, but won’t see a Stateside release until 24th June 2009.

2 Responses

  1. […] films don’t get made – and Transformers  2 reminded us of that fact, forcing us to lament those mindless heartless box office blockbusters and also wonder what the modern critic is to do. Do they even have a […]

  2. […] fantastic explosions and spectacle. And no, Transformers 2 is not one of them. What happened to those blockbusters with heart? I’m sure the Ebert who loved Iron Man and The Dark Knight would agree with me on […]

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