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Stark Raving Fan – Critics, Stop Killing Popcorn Movies!

Published on June 27th, 2017 | Updated on March 5th, 2018 | By FanFest

“Stark Raving Fan” is a column about one man’s love for all things involving popular culture – television, movies, and all facets of pop culture from here to there. Of course, it’s not the kind of love that unite a group of people like a bunch of hippies. More like the kind of love someone has when they’ve blown a gasket and have something to say. After all, aren’t we all just driven mad by fanaticism sometimes?

This is about the time when I do the weekly recap of this weekend’s box office numbers. But this week, I’m completely skipping my segment. I lack the heart on reporting the numbers when there was one big takeaway from the weekend’s top ten that completely baffled me and totally blew my mind.

Oh wait, Wonder Woman was #2 with $26.1 million and overall has crossed $600 million. Oh, and is officially the highest grossing female-directed film ever created. I take that back. There are actually two takeaways from this weekend.

No, actually, this would be about the #1 film for the last five days, Michael Bay’s Transformers: The Last Knight. Last Wednesday I had the opportunity to review the film for Fan Fest and, despite my trepidation for the latest Bayhem escapist fare, I found myself rather surprised. Yes, the movie is a rousing ode to the explosion porn Michael Bay has been known for so well, most especially with 2003’s Bad Boys II, and the plot makes as much sense as a screen door on a submarine, but there’s still fun to be had. But instead of making bank like the previous installments have, the film actually fizzled like a bad fuse on dynamite. After five days Transformers: The Last Knight under-performed with $68.4 million.

I don’t get it. I know some news sites are trying to peg franchise fatigue as the true reason the film crumpled upon release. (Worldwide, where the franchise rides a larger high than here in the States, the film’s off to a marvelous start. What a shocker, hell, I may teeter off my seat.) But what I really peg as sinking the movie? No, it’s not audiences, not at all. It’s the critics. Well, more than just the critics – but their reviews collectively gathered on Rotten Tomatoes. These days it seems like the website, which amasses reviews from across the web for one easy-to-access hub for curious movie fans, can make movies sink or swim anymore, audiences riding a film’s fresh status as an indicator if a trip to the theater is worthwhile. And this isn’t the first time this year either that a movie meant to be fun has been completely stopped because of movie critics. (Case in point – Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales. Critics hated it, fans loved it, and the movie’s actually grossed $679 million worldwide.) And Transformers: The Last Knight won’t be the last movie this year either.

So when I scroll through Rotten Tomatoes and see a large collective of respected film critics completely bash a movie because the film itself is senseless trash in their eyes – yet, the film was designed as a fluffy summertime popcorn flick – I kind of blow a gasket. I mean…well…I have to ask myself this. What the hell is going on that the top movie critics in the nation are missing the damn point?

Look at some of the reviews for Transformers: The Last Knight. No, go on, look, regardless if you saw it in the theaters and chose a swimming pool instead. Of the 156 reviews featured on the film’s Rotten Tomatoes page, only 24 are considered fresh. The rest are on the opposite end of the spectrum. And I highly doubt my review’s part of their only positive vibes that The Last Knight needs to keep its head above water. Some of the remarks from various reviews all seem to echo the same message. The film’s incoherent. Lack of plot kills the traction. Too many explosions and quick edits splice the action together. The runtime is too long. But moreover – despite the flaws and rampant rampage, the critics seem to harmonize on just one little blurb. Despite the nonsense, Bay’s action sequences are still entertaining.

Uhm – what?!

Universal Pictures

Oh, so a popcorn movie’s alright to have explosions going off at all angles every single second, bodies whipping around the screen like leaves billowing in a breeze, gun play offering a crescendo of ooh’s and ah’s, yet a popcorn movie should make you think? Uuuhhhmmm, no. No, no no. Hold the phone. Has anybody seen Shoot ‘Em Up? If you haven’t, you should. The now-cult classic is 87 minutes of Clive Owen mowing down cannon fodder with a bevy of guns trying to keep a baby safe from a mustache-twirling Paul Giamatti. You think the plot for The Last Knight is complete poppycock? Shoot ‘Em Up makes absolutely no sense whatsoever but works because it’s a popcorn movie and is well aware of that certainty. And trust me, any movie crafted by Michael Bay is aware of that same notion too.

Yes, I know, and this rant is coming courtesy of someone who considers themselves as a film critic. Yes, pot calling the kettle black, go ahead, indulge yourselves, wag your fingers at me and shake your head in shame. But you know what? I don’t dare identify myself with any of the real professionals out there. Number one, I review movies because I absolutely adore the fan service filmmakers take with crafting a pet project. Number two, I don’t judge a movie during a review like a sir, me sipping a cup of Earl Grey with my pinkie erect and a manacle resting in front of my left eye. No, see, I rate a movie like I was just another average Joe. I look at a movie if the release is worth seeing in theaters – or better left to indulge at home. And maybe without spending a dime if necessary. Sure, I could eviscerate many a movie if I wanted to write like I was with Variety or Hollywood Reporter, but I’m not like that. I’ve been doing this since 1999. I’m pretty sure I’ve got my reviewing abilities down to a science. A mainstream critic I will never thankfully be, and I sleep better at night with that acceptance.

But I digress. Why on Gary Busey’s sanity did critics absolutely wreck Transformers: The Last Knight? What, because it’s part of a long-running franchise? Because Michael Bay likes to blow random stuff up and play with his toys like a nine-year-old enamored with his wild imagination? Or because someone peed in their morning cereal and drank toxic sludge instead of coffee? Yeah, I don’t know, but the cyclone of negativity that dropped The Last Knight to its knees is absolutely staggering. Bay’s latest has a lowly 15% on Rotten Tomatoes, yet the Cinemascore (which polls exit audiences on their thoughts on the latest releases) has an astounding B+. Gee, what an epiphany- the most exulted of critics loathed The Last Knight but audiences rather enjoyed the Bayhem as usual. Hmph, I couldn’t see that coming if I didn’t have a bag of ice walloped upside my noggin.

You know what summertime is good for? Sure as hell not a movie that makes me want to ponder my life choices, that’s for sure. Crowds want to beat the heat, liberate themselves from the daily grind. They want to unplug and be taken away from the great Land of Make Believe, freeing themselves to just have some good old fashioned fun at their local theater. Popcorn movies aren’t going to win awards. Okay, maybe an oddity like a MTV Movie Award. But popcorn movies are designed to transport you away from the ho-hum every day world and to places that just allow your mind to breathe freely. Movies that have the most basic of plots, but make up for lack of script in the gooeyness of thrills, twists, and turns. Heroes rising up against nameless hordes of baddies, nary breaking a sweat while dispatching justice to persevere. What, you think John Wick is a thinking man’s movie? Look at the plot – bad guy steals car and kills hero’s dog, hero wages war on bad guys for revenge, roll credits. You know, the very definition of a popcorn movie. Don’t give much thought to the plot, know who’s good and who’s bad, and just roll with the punches. Don’t think too hard to dissect what you’re watching or you’ll blow your mind. Literally.

The Lord knows that I love a good popcorn movie. For every There Will Be Blood, I need to balance the scales with a Road House. Though lately I keep questioning if people even remember the goals of popcorn movies in general. I think I finally hit my pinnacle when a co-worker this past Friday asked me what I thought of Wonder Woman. Yes, I’ve seen it. No, I didn’t review it – I just wanted to see it for my own indulgence. Wonder Woman is a good solid little movie, better than every DCEU movie but not a great film by any means. His jaw hit the floor so hard you could see the indentation on the linoleum floor. Mystified, he then asked how I viewed Transformers: The Last Knight. When I told him what I felt (which you can read for yourselves here), he became cross. “How can you enjoy a movie like THAT but not Wonder Woman?” he said as I was retreating back to my desk. “You shouldn’t need to unplug to watch a movie to have fun!”

Nnooww, waitaminute there. See, and there’s the problem with today’s timid audiences. Sure, the likes of Netflix and Amazon Prime have removed audiences from theaters, people opting to spread on the couch to watch somewhat-new releases instead of ponying up $20 to $40 (tickets and concessions combined) to see a brand new release. I get it, you want save some bank and just avoid the idiots who buzz away on their phones, make comments at random through a movie (when the movie isn’t going to talk back to you!), even those wonderful patrons who take off their shows to expose stinky feet. But if you do wish to see a movie, you’re going to entrust your decision on whether there’s a red or green tomato to certify freshness? “Oh boy, gee, 27% rating, these critics must have hated it – I guess I won’t go see (insert random popcorn movie title here) after all!” If someone tells you the pizza at your local Italian joint is no good, are you going to believe them? Or indulge your curiosity and try it for yourself?

Of course you’re going to try it for yourself, c’mon now!  You ain’t fooling anyone. Everyone loves pizza!

Now, before anyone says that my idea is total malarkey and tries to point out a movie like, say, Tom Cruise’s The Mummy – you know why that movie tanked? No, not nostalgia for the 1999 and 2001 movies with Brendan Fraser. Franchise fatigue, I scoff at the very thought. No, because the reboot actually sucked. Sometimes movies don’t need to have a movie reviewer to doom a studio’s latest tentpole. If you can watch a movie trailer and deem that what you watched is a dumpster fire – then most likely the film’s a five-alarm dumpster fire.

So, again, I ask – why did audiences skip Transformers: The Last Knight? Because critics all agreed that, despite being entertaining, the lack of a plot derailed the entire film? Oh, come on already. Just because Michael Bay’s latest has a green tomato icon doesn’t mean the film is an unstoppable train wreck. It’s far from that. Once you get passed the nuances of the story and just free your mind, you’ll find a movie that may numb your mind but tingle your senses. I’m hoping that people can just look past the professional opinions and just take the risk. What’s the worst that happens? You love the bombastic nature, the rise of Steve Jablonsky’s score, boom, another explosion, another cut, and suddenly you feel your rooted in the action as our heroes are pinned down under Decepticon fire. But no, maybe critics are right. Maybe the Transformers franchise should make us question our existence and roles within our small little universe, if we’re important from the moment we’re born or if we’re just blips on a radar where the moves we make mean anything at all.

The answer, in case you’re wondering, is no. Popcorn movies are meant strictly for entertainment, joy, and brainless fun. Nothing more, nothing less. Then again – these same critics, who collectively loathed The Last Knight, absolutely have fallen in love with Edgar Wright’s Baby Driver. Which itself is a popcorn film. Which is about a getaway driver with tinnitus who uses music to fuel his chases away from the police in sequences that are absolutely mind-blowing. Unreal. Until next time my Fan Fest friends you keep reading them, I’ll keep writing them, and I’ll do my best to not lose what shreds of sanity I have remaining.


as seen on promo graphic


as seen on promo graphic