Writer/Director Luc Besson’s Lucy, where Scarlett Johansson plays a woman who becomes able to play god with a scientifically enhanced brain, is so dumb it’s actually kind of brilliant. Besson, who hasn’t directed or produced a satisfying action film since 1997’s The Fifth Element has created a film that is an absolute mess from start to finish, a scatterbrained head-trip of a movie convinced of its own profundity that somehow has more raw cinematic energy and flair than most Hollywood blockbusters.
The Planet of the Apes franchise has long been predicated on using the speculative science-fiction concept of a future world where evolved apes with intelligence either rule over or are in conflict over humans as an allegory for hot-button topics such as racial tensions, prejudice and societies’ destructive nature. In 2012 the franchise was rebooted with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, an optimistic parable about animal rights and coming-of-age. It was an origin story that chronicled the birth and early years of the genetically enhanced simian, Caesar (played by Andy Serkis via motion and voice capture) from his being raised by a kindly human scientist, to his eventual peaceful exodus for his similarly evolving brethren. Fast-forward a few decades and Caesar and his people have become an organized society under his leadership, while the human population seemingly faded from existence following the accidental spread of the very virus responsible for the ape evolution. “Ape shall not kill ape” is the primary law for this world until the apes realize that their society is not alone and that the world is a lot more complex. In Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, surprisingly opts for a more nuanced take than a simple “apes vs. human beings” binary conflict. The filmmakers make it a point to show that all factions within the realm of the picture have legitimate points and concerns but that all of that fades when they are consumed by greed and hate, feelings that all of the living are capable of succumbing to.
Director Bong-joon Ho’s (The Host) 2014 dystopian sci-fi fable Snowpiecer plays as the sort of socio-political manifesto that many genre films strive towards but rarely achieve. Like the angry sci-fi films of the 60s-70s counter-culture boom it is so very much rooted in the era it was conceived and produced. Perhaps in the future, viewers revisiting the film may look back and get a feel for the issues of our time and the attitude towards them. Beyond that the film also tells an exciting, action-packed story with confidence and deft polish.
It does not really matter if the fourth Transformers live-action movie is “good” or “bad.” It will be a 9+ $ figure global megahit all the while critics lambast the film and internet bloggers/forum prowlers get their metaphorical dung, tar & feathers ready to be thrown at Michael Bay for his alleged cinematic “crimes.” However something occurred to me as I was viewing Transformers 4 (subtitled: “Age of Extinction”), as I was rolling my eyes at the mid-film barrage of explosions with eerily-centered product placement logos, I noticed that the audience, mostly filled with neatly dressed & groomed professionals and hyperactive children, in the theater were all cheering. Despite nearly every worst instinct Michael Bay has as a filmmaker and storyteller being emphasized to obnoxious degrees in the nearly 3-hour long film, audiences were eating it up with huge grins on their faces. Some actually enjoyed the film, some enjoyed it for the pleasure of skewering it for their blogs and peer amusements and then there were others who were simply fascinated with what this film was trying to say. I fall into the latter category. Believe it or not, even the most mainstream studio-backed product is in some ways a work of art and every work of art makes a statement. While some far-reaching cinephiles have often taken the stance of Michael Bay’s films as satires on one subject or another, what is ultimately more fascinating is what the films say about the man behind them. Transformers: Age of Extinction may not be a “good” film or even a functional one but like many of Bay’s films it serves as a sort of Rorschach image peer into the mind of the filmmaker.