TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT – A Messy Ride

TF PosterOut of all of my fellow Reel World Theology contributors, I can probably say with a degree of certainty that I’m alone in my admiration of director Michael Bay, or at least in a substantial minority. In fact, when Transformers: The Last Knight was up for grabs to be reviewed for RWT, there wasn’t that much of a race to claim it. I don’t blame them; he’s definitely an acquired taste.

The Transformers series, in particular, is quite a lot for people to swallow. The first film is a fun popcorn movie with sincerely beautiful moments of awe and wonder (the whole sequence of the Autobots arriving on earth is one of the greatest movie moments of the 21st Century!). The lead human characters are funny and, at times, endearing. And the action sequences are among Bay’s most intense and fun.

The sequels are another story.

I must admit that, as flawed as the films are, I do have a mild appreciation for the Transformers sequels. I compare them to a roller coaster. Unlike the more elaborate theme park attractions that are at the Disney or Universal parks (which take the rider on a journey within some kind of thin narrative), roller coasters are built to simply thrill, wow, and take people for a ride. I’m genuinely entertained by the sequels for the visual thrill and spectacle. But with each film, the thrills become lessened.

Which brings us to The Last Knight. As much as I admire Bay and his style, this is probably one of his worst films. Still entertaining in some places, but overall not a very thrilling experience. I should probably blame the screenwriters more than Bay himself because, as he demonstrated with the superb 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, when given a good script to match his visuals, he’s a modern action auteur. There’s just very little joy and heart in The Last Knight, and that is its most fatal flaw.

As fun as roller coasters are, it might be time to get off this ride.

Though it’s a disappointment, The Last Knight does have some interesting thematic insights. Specifically, the film reminds us about the importance of stories, and how all tales and legends have a bit of truth to them. This idea is, frankly, the whole reason why I do what I do, and why sites like Reel World Theology exist.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

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WONDER WOMAN – Power in Grace

wonder_woman_ver6_xlgBoth critics and audiences have been lauding Wonder Woman, the newest film in the DC Extended Universe, as a revelation and a transcendental piece of filmmaking poised to usher in a new era in cinema.

I think these reactions are a bit overhyped and inflated, because it is supposedly the first female-centric superhero movie (even though it isn’t), and the first of the genre to be directed by a woman (which, again, it isn’t). That is not to say the film isn’t without merit or worthy of praise.

Is the movie good? Yes. Is it worth seeing? Definitely. Is it the transcendental, glass-ceiling-shattering piece of art that many critics and moviegoers are lauding it as? No.

Wonder Woman is a good movie with great moments. It’s fun, charming and full of exciting action. It reminded me of a DC era gone by – the Christopher Reeve / Michael Keaton days. There are times I think it’s the best DCEU film. But then there are times when I still think Man of Steel was better.

Man of Steel was interesting but in a completely different way. It was a contemplative, realistic look at a character that had a certain perception in the public consciousness, and I liked where it was going (where it ended up is a whole other story). Wonder Woman had a lot of heart, which is what Man of Steel and its follow-up lacked, and that’s what made it good.

I have never really found Wonder Woman the character particularly interesting, even as a comic reader. Her powers and weapons always seemed kind of hokey to me (an invisible jet – really?). However, she was the true highlight of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. And if Zack Snyder succeeded doing anything in that movie, it was making Wonder Woman actually cool.

But what made this new film exceptionally good were its thematic elements. Wonder Woman was about more than just an Amazonian princess, but about the nature of humanity, actual female strength, and the power of grace.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

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PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: DEAD MEN TELL NO TALES – A Father’s Life for Me

17015800_10154981836668830_529268610073059017_oThe Pirates of the Caribbean franchise is one of consternation to movie fans. It started off very promising in 2003, with one of the most unique films to come in a long time – totally reinventing and reviving a whole genre of movies that had been on the outs in the popular culture (ironic considering the source material was a theme park ride – not a usual source for strong content).

And then the sequels came. That’s where the divisions started.

If one is into the universe, one could overlook the relatively inferior sequels and just go along for the ride. They are all fun in their own ways – even the worst one, At World’s End. Then there are others who cannot abide the lack of thought and quality some of the films have. I am in the former camp, with the Pirates sequels, for the most part, satisfying my taste for swashbuckling adventure.

Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, the fifth film in this franchise, is a passable Pirates sequel. I enjoyed it. It’s not the best Pirates film by any measure, but it’s not terrible. In the spectrum of the Pirates films, with Curse of the Black Pearl being best and At World’s End being worst, Dead Men Tell No Tales ranks number three on my list – right after Dead Man’s Chest.

Dead Men Tell No Tales has just enough of everything you love about the Pirates films to make it a pleasant experience: ship battles, supernatural elements, comic pirate hijinks, romance, familiar faces, and Jack Sparrow comedic moments. It also contains a longstanding thematic tradition of these films: the role of a father.

THAR BE SPOILERS AHEAD!

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FIVE CAME BACK – When Hollywood was Actually Brave

MV5BMjMwOTM1MTY5NF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwMjQ0MTM4MTI@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,674,1000_AL_World War II has fascinated me since I was a child. The lore attached to the conflict fired my imagination, and fun period action films like Raiders of the Lost Ark and The Rocketeer only added to my fascination. To my young mind, it was the ultimate battle between good and evil, where the lines couldn’t be any clearer.

As I grew older, and I began to look into the history of the era, my fascination matured and transformed into admiration and respect for the men and women who fought that war. It was a time of great sacrifice – something that hasn’t really been seen since.

This film was an outstanding look at a part of the World War II-era I was not familiar with. Five Came Back celebrates the important contributions of the American film industry to the war effort – specifically the cinematic accomplishments of five famous directors: Frank Capra, John Huston, George Stevens, William Wyler and John Ford. These men showed the war to the public, garnered support for the conflict, and literally recorded history. Some of their footage even sealed the fate of the Nazi war criminals who propagated the Holocaust after the fight was over.

Five Came Back

Five Came Back is not just an amazing portrait of the courage of those five filmmakers – who braved everything from bombings in the Pacific to the D-Day invasion to bring footage back to the people, and came back with the horrors seared into their memories. It caused me to think about today’s entertainment industry, and just how far things have fallen in the past seven decades.

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