Movies Feb 6

So, after taking a week off last week due to weather and to watch “Dark Shadows”, this week I again wandered down the block to rent movies. Now, one of the reasons I rented “The Apparition” last time was because the next big movie on my list for new releases was “Captain America” … and I was worried about being disappointed. I watched the original set of Spider-man movies and liked them, watched the original X-Men trilogy and liked them, rented Thor and liked it, and bought The Avengers and liked it. On the other hand, I found the Iron Man movies to be watchable but disappointing and was disappointed in the Fantastic Four movies, not to mention the one Hulk movie I watched as well as Daredevil or Elektra, and Captain America was a movie that they could do wrong in some many ways. I also hadn’t been thrilled by what I had read in the reviews. But with nothing else being appealing, I had to break down and rent Captain America, and paired that with Transformers 3, despite my being disappointed by them as well.

I fell asleep during both of them, but again that doesn’t really say whether the movies were good or not.

So, to start my commentary, let me just note that Transformers 3 is a longer movie than Captain America, despite the fact that as the third in the series it has less backstory to fill in and has, in fact, less plot. The plot of that movie simply can’t stretch long enough to cover that much time, and so it seems to get filled in by unfunny attempts at humour and mindless, pointless action scenes. Again, Captain America had more plot and didn’t skimp on the action scenes, and yet was about a half hour shorter.

The second problem with Transformers 3 was that it focused far too much on the humans and on humans fighting against Transformers and less — to little — on the interactions between the Transformers themselves. Now, it can be argued that the whole series has a focus on humans more than on the Transformers and that that is a good and interesting thing to do, but it’s a very risky move when the really unique and interesting thing about the movie is the Transformers. I mean, there’s a reason it’s called “Transformers” and not “Spike Witwicky and the Humans”. If you are going to take the focus away from the thing that makes your story different, you had better have a really good story to replace that with.

And that’s the third problem: the human-focused stories aren’t interesting. The closest thing we have to a plot/character arc is Spike’s, starting from a recent college graduate who has somehow been dropped from the work the Transformers are doing and who is struggling to get a job and following him through his life until he gets back into the main fight again at the end. The problem with it is that it is mostly incredible, and incredible to the point that even the lampshading of it only draws attention to the flaws as opposed to being a wink at the camera. Why, since he knew everything about the Transformers and was still associating with one, didn’t the government just hire him into the project? Considering the budget it had, he’d have been a rounding error, and they were already paying for his college. Did they really want him to be working for someone else, or selling out what he knew to the highest bidder to make money? And from that, it looks like the difficulty finding a job was just something tossed in to cause problems and laughs, and not as something that would lead him to some kind of character revelation. And because it isn’t that sort of thing, the character revelation at the end doesn’t have its thrust; sure, he overcomes a seeming lack of confidence, but to even get to where he was required that, and there isn’t enough of a gap between himself and Carly to make that reunion carry the emotional weight. It’s just unsatisfying and it’s the big character development in the movie … even though Optimus turns killer with little fan fare.

Here’s how I would have done it differently: instead of having Spike be cut off from the Transformers by the agency, have Spike walk away. Have him decide that what he really wants is a normal life and not to get involved in all of this business that has almost gotten him and his girlfriend killed a number of times. Have a grateful government accept that and offer to pay for his college to help him get a normal life. Hint that Michaela left him because in his attempt to return to a normal life he lost the qualities that made him interesting. Have Carly meet him while he was in that normal life, and perhaps be unaware or only vaguely aware of the past, and aiming far more at a normal life. Then have him get that ordinary job not out of real frustration, but out of an acceptance that that was what life was like. Then have him get involved with that VP again, and see the major issue and have to go to the Autobots again. And then when he meets the head woman have her animosity not be that he isn’t qualified, but that he walked away and now wants back in. Have Carly get involved again and get kidnapped and held hostage, but then Spike’s strong desire to rescue her would be motivated by the real fact that he had gotten her sucked into that world that he was trying to get away from, and an underlying fear that she will blame him for ruining her normal life, just as he feels he did to Michaela. This would lead to an understandable fear, even as he rescues her, that she will walk away as well. In the middle of the battle, it all comes together and he discovers who he really is … and he isn’t someone suited for a normal life. He’s a hero, not a messenger (and he could be taunted with being a messenger a couple of times previously without it causing issues). Then, the ending is of him becoming a hero again … and of Carly finding that it actually completes who he is, and liking it. Thus, them getting together having a strong emotional meaning.

But, they didn’t.

As for Captain America, all I can say is that it was actually a pretty good movie. It could have gone off the rails, but it handled even the bits that seemed shaky — Captain America being sent out to drum up sales of War Bonds, for example — in a reasonable and believeable fashion. Cap is a believeable character, and they prove to the audience why he was chosen to be Captain America with a couple of great scenes where he demonstrates his intelligence and heart, which are the things the Super Soldier serum wouldn’t give him. His way of speaking is a bit Boy Scout but again a believeable one. Overall, it was an entertaining movie.

Of the two, I would definitely add Captain America to my collection of movies, but will only add Transformers 3 if I see it cheap to be a completist (I own the first two because I, well, got them cheap at a used DVD store.)

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