You have to wonder if the dividing line between critic and audiences has suddenly become much more of a chasm than it ever has. When you see a movie like “Transformers: Age of Extinction” make a record amount of money in its opening weekend while critics synonymously bash the movie, you know that the role of movie critic may be faltering in a post-Roger Ebert world. But then, we know that the “Transformers” franchise has a following going back close to 30 years when you include its original animated configuration in the 1980s. Or is it more than that in audiences still loving the relentlessly loud and fast-paced style of an action movie?
The main complaint from critics on this “Transformers” movie has been that it’s so over-the-top in its action and sound that it’s almost a parody of the Michael Bay brand. Considering Bay doesn’t seem to ever care what critics think considering all his movies make a fortune, what does it tell us about the future of an action movie that takes its relentless approach directly from “Speed” 20 years ago?
Recently, I did a piece about the 20-year anniversary of “Speed” and wondered if that kind of action movie was viable any more. I cited the still-going “Fast and Furious” franchise as the direct line, though “Transformers” would have to be tied now if not even moved into first place. What we don’t know is if people are truly tired of that kind of action movie, or if they just tolerate it when it has characters and actors they love.
One thing you’ll probably notice when you go into a movie theater today is that more than half of the trailers you see are movie trailers for action movies filled with consistent action and pyrotechnics. Even if those trailers are misleading in how over-the-top an upcoming action movie really is, you might want to look around you when those trailers play. While perhaps not consistent everywhere, I’ve noticed the audience not even paying attention to those trailers and usually doing something on their smartphone, talking to their dates, or just arriving while the trailers play.
It gave me some sociological proof that movies trying to knock you over with action have been so common that people just turn them off. We’ve become so used to seeing the same thing over and over in action movies that we may be begging for something different. However, the only time you’ll ever see a quiet trailer is in an indie movie house holding only 10 people at a time.
While “Transformers: Age of Extinction” will obviously make an untold fortune, are fans of the series merely tolerating the relentless Michael Bay action style? Not all of the critics who bashed its relentless action are crabby retirees who want you and your movie to get off their lawn. Influential critics such as Richard Roeper to A.O. Scott have more or less said the same thing about how tiring the whole film is.
If there’s ever a public backlash against this action style at the box office, what’s going to happen to action movies as we know them?
The Collision of Cable TV with Movies
With video games possibly giving kids their fill of relentless action (and real life giving us an action movie we don’t always want), relentless action in movies could become more of a torture exercise than entertainment. There’s also evidence that with cable TV becoming the new movie theater, people are starting to prefer action-oriented projects with real character development.
There isn’t any better example than HBO’s recent “True Detective” that managed to combine movie-quality action while also taking time out to develop some very interesting characters. This combination may be the real future of the action movie where the action might not be on a Michael Bay level, yet the character development gives the action a more exciting feel psychologically.
Now that “True Detective” will have a second season, it may be the new template for the action movie while Michael Bay’s movies stay relegated to just a loyal fan base. We all know a segment of the world population will always want a never-ending thrill ride in an action movie, despite someday not being able to hear the 50th Transformers movie due to their eardrums being shattered.