2010s, Comedy, Crime/Detective, Drama

The Bling Ring (2013)

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Director/Screenwriter: Sofia Coppola

By Roderick Heath

The ’00s are already starting to feel like a long time ago. The first decade of the new millennium, an age of gorging excess for a select number which ended up in a giant socioeconomic car crash from which we’re still recovering, is going to look ever stranger for people as they look back on the time—its naked money worship, the War on Terror hysteria, the gaping voids of thought and substance all too ably recorded for posterity by reality TV, and the new internet-fuelled super-pop culture. Just lately, I’ve started to get the feeling that filmmakers, particularly those from the independent scenes, have become canaries in the cultural mines the way poets used to be, registering changes in the zeitgeist with a peculiar speed that is perhaps indicative of how much quicker cinema production can be today and how much more engaged filmmakers are with the evolving social discourse. Sofia Coppola’s The Bling Ring throws its mind and mood back to around 2008-9, when the bogus rhetoric of “aspiration” as justification for incredible greed and new forms of social exclusion was both at its height and about to meet the cold reality of boom-bust cycles, which here comes in the form an even more immediate, pitiless wake-up call.
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The Bling Ring adapts a real incident, via a Vanity Fair article that was called “The Suspects Wore Louboutins,” a jaunty title that identifies the brand-name-emblazoned mindset of the criminal gang whose activities comprise a weird mixture of delinquency and absurdity. A group of teenage friends, all children of affluence and times of plenty, engaged in a string of comically easy robberies of the houses of celebrities like Paris Hilton, Lindsay Lohan, Orlando Bloom, and Megan Fox, filching money, jewellery, and clothes. This allowed them to hit the L.A. highlife, where everybody’s a wannabe, with impudent élan. Fox famously has a freely quoted line from King Lear tattooed on her shoulder, “We will all laugh at gilded butterflies,” a jab in the original context at the kinds of well-dressed empty vessels who flock around the flames of power. Are The Bling Ring the butterflies, or the laughers? Is there a difference anymore, in a time when everyone is both complicit and detached, observer and observed?
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This crime wave is sparked by Asian-American high schooler Rebecca Ahn (Katie Chang), who sees nothing wrong with stealing cash from parked cars and random houses in prosperous suburbs, even jacking a Porsche with blithe confidence. The ring begins to take shape when she ventures into Hilton’s manse when her pal Marc Hall (Israel Broussard) finds out online that she’s out of town. Marc, gay, dowdy, and awkward, is socially adopted by Rebecca when, like her, he’s forced to attend a public school after being kicked out of a private one. Rebecca offers Marc the chance to make glamorous associations and become a cool kid, as she’s friends with would-be model and fashionista Nicki Moore (Emma Watson). Nicky is enthused about the idea of stealing, and she brings her pal Chloe (Claire Julien), her younger sister Emily (Georgia Rock), and adopted sister Sam (Taissa Farmiga) into the ring.
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After returning to Hilton’s house multiple times, the ring begins to branch out and target other celebrities’ houses, after Marc does his quick research on the net to make sure when they’re away. Sam’s boyfriend Rob (Carlos Miranda) joins them on some raids, whilst Chloe and Marc sell some of Orlando Bloom’s Rolex watches to Chloe’s boyfriend, sleazy nightclub manager Ricky (Gavin Rossdale). Emily joins the gang when they need someone small to slide through Fox’s dog door. Their raids on Hilton’s house go undetected for a long time, because the owner leaves the keys under the welcome mat and they resist stealing any major items. Later, when robbing the house of TV host Audrina Patridge, they’re caught on camera as shadowy invaders. Their crimes become an open secret amongst the people they know and the scenes where they hang out, and they even display their exploits on social media. Finally, they’re rounded up and prosecuted after Rebecca, fleeing from tension at home to live with her father in Las Vegas, unwittingly makes Marc her accomplice in taking stolen goods over state lines.
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Fragments of interviews taking place in the future with the ring, particularly Marc, give some context and perspective. Marc’s shift from teenage dirtbag to budding fabulousness is glimpsed in casually employed shots of him hovering before his webcam wearing lipstick and lounging about in a pair of stolen pumps, offering the only real signs of traditional character growth and identification, and a mischievous understanding of the protean forces at work for such a person. But Coppola really only gives us these bones because Marc is the gateway. Otherwise, the Bling Ring members are shallow, deliberately so. There’s little point in listening to them talk, because they talk crap; they’re well versed in brand names and designers but empty of other concerns. They’re pretty average young people, actually, save for the circumstances of their youth as citizens of L.A. and therefore faced with constant proximity to the promise of the high life in an imperial capital. Watching The Bling Ring, I had an insight into the way “we” morally respond to movies, via an element that has haunted Coppola with particular doggedness since her directing career began—that she’s a spoilt rich girl making films about same. Her perspective on the rapacious abyss that certain aspects of capitalist triumphalism conceal has become plainer and less generous since the playfully sardonic Marie Antoinette (2006) was infamously jeered at Cannes for making the link between modern consumerism and imperial downfall not just bitingly plain, but genuinely funny. The Bling Ring, whilst dealing with immediate, almost ripped-from-the-headlines fare, is certainly a thematic follow-up.
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Coppola’s emotionally immediate, but conceptually slightly laboured Somewhere (2010) indicated that she had listened to her critics on one level, and adopted a more distanced and elusive take on the “white people problems” she was portraying, but in a manner that felt hackneyed on some levels. The Bling Ring benefits from both intimate knowledge of what she speaks and also definite, ironic amusement, delivering her least conventional narrative yet, shorn of many external complications and dramatic niceties. The film received a largely admiring but cool reception, and part of me began to wonder as I watched it if this wasn’t due to how successfully ambiguous is Coppola’s stance towards her teenage anti-Robin Hoods. The Bling Ringers engage in criminal acts according to sketchy, but carefully hinted personal needs and desires that are channelled into an official, overarching project of socioeconomic parasitism. If they were doing what they were doing for, say, the reasons that the rich-kid anarchists of this year’s The East do what they do, or rebelling or bringing down their idols with any purpose, or even acting out lodes of emotional disquiet that can’t be repressed by affluent suburban conformity a la Rebel Without a Cause (1955), they would immediately become heroes for the audience—naughty, nonviolent Dadaists making a mockery of wealth and fame and the pretences to possessors of such to exceptionalism, finding keys under the doormat to multimillion-dollar mansions and paltry security defending the castles of the new elite.
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But the Bling Ringers remain well beyond the easy empathy of the audience because they seem, at least superficially, to be moving like baleen whales, sucking in both their sustenance and other people’s property thoughtlessly on a kind of emotional-moral autopilot. Not that they’re amoral or even particularly mean-spirited, though there are flashes of such qualities, especially when the temptation to posture according to the pop culture stricture toward ironclad egocentrism, arises. In just about the film’s only scene of traditional tension, Sam takes hold of a pistol Nicki finds in a house and waves it in Marc’s face, shifting into a movie-derived attitude of untouchable self-righteousness and threatening cool, and there’s momentary uncertainty of just how far Sam wants to take the act, if it is an act. She then sneaks into Rob’s bedroom to do the same thing with him, only for the gun to go off, luckily only putting a hole in his mattress.
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Rebecca’s early larcenous behaviour seems the more familiar behaviour of a troubled teen, but it swiftly transforms into a much less common project. The ring tend to believe, not without some justification, that the world of the rich and famous is a smorgasbord from which they can partake without consequence, because everyone has plenty, and they’re entitled to a piece of it. Rebecca, for example, hopes to be a successful fashion designer—nay, intends and expects it—but in the meantime, finds that many of the privileges and perks of the level to which she wants to be elevated can be more easily obtained simply by stealing them. When the ring raid Patridge’s house, Coppola’s camera notes it all in a slow, inward-zooming longshot, framing the glowing house against the L.A. skyline like some temple of money, touching this and other midnight odysseys with a near-religious awe. There is an added layer here in that the camera also mimics the vantage of a CCTV camera, and the film segues into eerily green-tinged surveillance shots that turn what from a distance seemed to be a cubist delight of space and light into a trap.
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For Marc, in particular, these ventures offers the chance to invent himself free of social judgment. The ring engage in acts that look and feel quite anarchic, illicit, and subversive, but only accidentally: their actual desire and intent is to enjoy the lifestyle without any concept of critiquing it or subverting it as class rebels. From a distance, and even pretty close up, they’re vacuous rich kids getting off on being naughty. Coppola’s already made withering mirth from a particular species of Hollywood dipstick—Anna Faris’ starlet Kelly—in Lost in Translation (2003), but here the likeable, witty audience avatars Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson provided are missing; even a figure like Somewhere’s Johnny Marco, who was suffocating in an empty existence, has been excised. The closest thing to a substantive adult presence in The Bling Ring is Nicki’s mother Laurie (Leslie Mann), who home-schools Nicki and her sisters in deliciously, deliriously Californian New Age fashion, complete with prayer circles in which vaguely religious bromides-cum-pep talks are delivered. Laurie, far from a countervailing presence, is the film’s purest vehicle of satirical humour: when one of her home-schooling sessions is glimpsed, she holds up a handmade chart festooned with pictures of Angelina Jolie as an example of an inspiring role model, except that when she prods the girls why they might admire her, Sam suggests, “Her husband.” Other parents do appear, but they’re mostly onlookers, dissociated from their children’s lives. Marc has a father who’s “in the biz” as a film marketer. Jessica’s broken home seems to have played a part in her blithely larcenous behaviour. But Coppola avoids as much as possible making a cautionary tale of wild amoral teens with ignorant parents, like every teen crime flick going back to the Ed Wood-scribed The Violent Years (1956) and including another of this year’s films, the lauded but laboured Spring Breakers, which stands at a fascinatingly fantastical remove from The Bling Ring. Spring Breakers offers a (middle-aged, male, “edgy”) filmmaker’s take on a similar motif of teen girls becoming criminals for profit and fun, except that everything in it is made to circle back to the filmmaker’s sexual fetishism of their actions—just like The Violent Years.
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In The Bling Ring, Coppola tries to avoid as many clichéd stances as possible. Rather than give us a malefic sense of things spinning out of control as the Ringers indulge in cocaine-charged nightclub partying, she makes them dreamily beautiful. There’s an implicit link to her The Virgin Suicides (1999) even as it seems to be making a directly opposite point. Whereas in the earlier film, adapted from Jeffrey Eugenides’ pseudo-mythopoeic novel, the young women were innocent nymphs wilting from being caged by outdated moralism, here the girls are unscrupulous sexpots free both to mimic and exemplify immediate cultural maxims of louche self-indulgence. What unites them, however, is Coppola’s manner of shooting them, daubed in rich light and colour and vibrating to furiously onanistic club beats, in a style that makes clear that the fresh bloom of youth is a fleeting moment of protean wonder. Of course the Bling Ringers want to get high, dance, and be rich: these are pretty familiar and commonplace impulses, and when they’re loose in their moments of heedless joy, however they’ve paid for it, they are like everyone else rejoicing in the moment of their youth. Laurie does, accidentally almost, introduce one important idea to The Bling Ring when she advises her children, “We have to be really careful who we surround ourselves with, because we wind up being the average of those people.” Nicki later tries to use this as her out when justice comes knocking, trying to blame the company she’s kept for getting involved with crime, but finally being convicted for just that reason, indicted by her own propensities.
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The Bling Ring, as a title, has ironic inferences: “bling,” of course, is probably the most popular phrase to emerge from hip-hop slang (and it comes, in turn, from comic book representation, a kind of visual onomatopoeia that could easily be projected onto Coppola’s colourful, epic surveys of jewels and designer shoes without making them anymore cartoonish). The ring, especially when Jo finds that gun, almost manage to live up to a peculiar schism that underlies a lot of contemporary pop culture: the rejoicing of flashy wealth coexisting with trashier values of physical strength and fitness, pistol-packing invulnerability, and posse-trailing imperiousness that also comes from hip-hop and represents a driving force behind the popularity of the Fast and Furious movies. Lana Del Ray and Frank Ocean are a couple of pop musicians who had made notable inquiries into this spirit lately. Del Ray’s upper-class jeune filles delighting in becoming concubines to blaxploitation villains could represent the fantasy lives of the ring, whilst Ocean’s druggy “Super Rich Kids” turns up, almost inevitably, over the end credits. The ring don’t physically hurt anyone, because they’re actually all wusses, and their criminal success occurs only because the people they’re targeting don’t believe criminals would dare rob them. Indeed, the culturally ingrained barriers, the aura of awe and distance that surrounds the modern media celebrity as the new aristocracy, is more effective than CCTV cameras and burglar alarms, a barrier that only a gang of kids from the same world would dare violate. Of course, many of the pleasures the ring derive from their actions are eminently, classically criminal: they can live beyond their means after brief spells of risky work, feel important and illicitly clever, and enjoy the notoriety their transgressions earn them.
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It’s entirely apt that the ring’s first and repeated target is Paris Hilton, an ideal celebrity of a new brand of aristocracy famous for absolutely nothing other than being rich and telegenic enough to profitably show it off, whose house is revealed as a distressing trap of narcissism and tawdriness, complete with at-home pole dancing parlour (a common motif of Coppola’s fascination/repulsion for the modern highlife). Hilton, unlike the Bling Ring themselves, seems to know that she’s an interloper without talent whose only trick is the willingness to turn her entire existence into an act of pop art—or she’s completely blind to her own existence. The cleverest aspect of Coppola’s narrative patterning, though it’s one that contributes to the film’s slightly imbalanced quality, is that she largely reduces the middle hour to a flow of instant gratification: little small talk, minimal character development, just a series of criminal forays that offer the illicit thrills of exploration, like a sort of pirate edition of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous,” and the payoff of hard partying and private delight in shiny things. Coppola makes the audience complicit in their adventures, offering racks of designer goods for the eye-dazzling pleasure of plenty, and the repetitive acts of incursion, theft, and escape.
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When the cops do come knocking, there’s an obvious affinity again with Coppola’s earlier work, this time with the climax of Marie Antoinette when the revolution calls: paradise lost, lives ruined, and the plenty that came so easily suddenly, cruelly severed. Rebecca tries to fake her way through a police interview, confident she’s disposed of all the booty after Marc called to warn her of their impending arrival, but her smug smile disappears when they turn up items she’d forgotten. Nicki screams with panicky despair as she’s handcuffed and hauled away. Marc is branded as a rat by the media, because after being arrested, he carelessly told the cops about his accomplices. But once arrested and indicted, Nicki treats it all like an audition as she tries to decide on the perfect outfit for a court date, and the infamy their arrest brings them is registered by Nicki only as the fame she’s always planned for. She’s interviewed for the Vanity Fair profile, fending off her mother’s goofily agreeable attempts to interject and add details, irritated that Leslie keeps trying to get in on her media moment. The law, historically arranged to powerfully favour property owners and now carefully tailored to the needs of modern consumerist society, falls upon the kids with such heaviness that they become exactly what they would never seem to be: martyrs for the sake of offended people of wealth. Concluding shots of Marc being hustled away with other orange-jumpsuited convicts, strike a surprising note of melancholy, the awareness that the fun and games have ruined lives, and the slightly bitter volte face that notes that a bunch of dumb kids have been hit with the full force of law.
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Given the quality of The Bling Ring, it’s hard to admit, but also certain that the film doesn’t always sustain its best ideas: the observational sharpness that defines Nicki, Marc and Laurie doesn’t touch the other characters. Coppola’s last two films bear signs that she’s trying annex aspects of the more aloof, pseudo-objective filmmaking that art house figures have leavened in the past decade or so. But this affectation works against her own best qualities as the Molière of San Fernando, capable of both smiling as a ruthless satirist but also offering expansive empathy and cinematic expressivity. Nonetheless, to a great extent, Coppola’s decision to pare back standard dramatic development helps emphasize the film’s sociological qualities, the precise sense of how aspects of modern youth culture are branded; thus character is expressed through the accumulation of affectations rather than actual personality.
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Broussard, Chang, and Farmiga are excellently naturalistic, whilst Watson leaves behind Hermione Granger here in playing the most polar opposite temperament her age bracket could offer, giving a convincing performance as a merrily vain moon unit. If the last sight of Marc suggests surprising tragedy, Nicki, bound to emerge from every situation as the winner because she’s been programmed to, rounds off the film with unsurprising gall. She’s last seen being interviewed about her arduous 30 days in prison, relieved by the fact that the girls’ idol and robbery target, Lindsay Lohan, was in the same boat, and leaves off with a plug for her website, NickiMooreForever.com.

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2000s, Fantasy

Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007) / Transformers (2007)

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Directors: Tim Story / Michael Bay

By Roderick Heath

I had me an old-fashioned fantasy double-feature by watching these back to back. Alright, yes, I’m a nerd—a nerd with a strong bladder. Or more accurately, I have nerdish leanings; any hard-core nerd would sneer laughingly at my lack of knowledge in all but Doctor Who, where even though I haven’t watched the show in 15 years, I bet I can still flay most challengers in detailing the political structure of Gallifrey. Nerdishness is, of course, the proving ground of intelligence, where the young and bright test their capacities for information regulation, retention, and systematisation by using information of no consequence whatsoever.

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Of course, the way so many of us love to soak up the myriad detailing of the Marvel comic universe or the Star Trek Federation is an old human impulse; the intricate web of ancient Greek myths used to be familiar to goatherds and kings alike, and everybody rolled up to see what new and even, like, kinda deep twists guys like Euripides and Aeschylus could make out of comic book characters like Achilles and Ajax in their blockbusters.

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So our affection for this stuff isn’t just juvenility run amok—it’s attachment to the mythic. Now, having justified my total geekout, I can move onto state that I was about the only person, it seems, to nakedly enjoy the first Fantastic Four. It was the sort of candy-coloured, weightless confection for which the idea of the comic book movie was invented, standing in thankful contrast to the overstuffed, ever-more-tedious seriousness of Batman Begins and Superman Returns et al.

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I’m not so dazzled as to pretend Jessica Alba can act, but the jokey appeal of the era’s leading pin-up girl done up in girl scientist dress, indicated, as in the 1950s, by having her wear glasses and heels rather than being clad in sweatpants and pierced to the nipples like any modern self-respecting geekette is a good laugh in the spirit of Julie Adams being stalked by the Creature from the Black Lagoon or Faith Domergue contending with It Came From Beneath the Sea. Ioan Gruffud, long beloved in my household for his incarnation of Horatio Hornblower, is always welcome, though his Reed Richards is pretty plastic in more ways than one. Most entertainingly, Chris Evans as the egotistical, show-offy Human Torch and Michael Chiklis as grumpy, stony Ben “The Thing” Grimm struck sparks off each other.

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Rise of the Silver Surfer maintains this blithe mood of inconsequential fun, with the added appeal of Marvel’s most seriously cool character, the Silver Surfer himself, embodied by Doug Jones, who played the fish guy in Hellboy and the faun in Pan’s Labyrinth, and voiced by every fanboy’s man-crush, Laurence Fishburne. The Surfer doesn’t actually get to make much of an impression as a character, but Jones and Fishburne manage to conjure some pathos out of the sadly purposeful Surfer, serving a galaxy-sized dust cloud called Galactus that likes to eat little green planets like ours as an appetizer, on the promise that he stays the hell away from the Surfer’s own planet. The Silver Surfer is perhaps the most referenced comic book character in movies, from Richard Gere’s obsession in Breathless (1983) to Quentin Tarantino inserting him into Reservoir Dogs (1992) and Crimson Tide (1995). Why? Like, he’s Zen, dude, like all surfers, plus being silver, he doesn’t have bling, he is bling.

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The Fantastic Four films have worked for me also because Tim Story knows how to direct them. He keeps everything short and simple—the new film clocks in at barely an hour and a half. The auteur of Barbershop also maintains a tone of faux-naïf zip that perfectly captures comic book aesthetics. like when, in the action finale, our heroes, battling Dr. Doom, fight along the length of the Great Wall of China and then crash-land in the middle of Tokyo in the sort of geography-defying leap that comes straight off the printed page.

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Transformers comes from material that’s closer to my bosom; yes, when I was seven years old I obsessed over the animated series where the goody Autobots rumbled each week with the wicked Decepticons, courtesy of the glorious tradition of Manga comics and associated toy marketing. The Autobots having crash-landed their spaceship on Earth, decided crash permanently, whilst the Decepticons, still in possession of their home planet Cybertron, occasionally, like litigious neighbours you want to hide from when they knock on your door, came down to create havoc. Manga inspires such strong affection amongst devotees because of its bold designs, its strong tradition of character and story, and its solidly sci-fi inspired realms, much more so than American comic books, which usually borrowed sci-fi ideas to justify power fantasies. Transformers was notable chiefly for having a well-defined bunch of robots as its heroes, with vigorously defined personalities; Last Mohican-ish noble leader Optimus Prime, hep-cat Jazz, venal Starscream, malevolent Megatron.

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Which is the prime failing of Michael Bay’s mammothly expensive and stratospherically noisy film of the series; despite some nods to lore, Transformers lacks…well, the Transformers. The Autobots don’t even turn up until more than an hour into the film. Most contemporary action films have degraded exposition; Transformers makes almost the opposite crime of stretching one hour’s worth of plot and character set-up into two and a half hours, and still doesn’t really give me what I want.

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The Transformers have come to Earth looking for the All-Spark, an alien cube (even they don’t know where it came from) that has the capacity to generate living DNA from any material, even machines, which is how these shape-shifting robotic extraterrestrials got started. They’ve destroyed Cybertron in civil war, so both sides want the device to regenerate the place. Megatron came down a century earlier, got himself frozen in the Arctic, and was found by an explorer whose glasses—and this makes no sense—got imprinted with the navigational details to Earth. Obviously, these also become an object of need for the Transformers. Currently, they’re in the hands of the explorer’s great-grandson (Shia LeBeouf) who’s trying to sell them in his quest to buy a car to help him get laid. As you do. He does get the car, which turns out to be Autobot Bumblebee, his stalwart defender and cheeky helpmate in said mission to get laid.

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Since Armageddon, no one in Hollywood has proven as adept as Michael Bay for channelling the aesthetic of 1950s B war movies—and not in a cool way. His portrayals of military and government types always splits evenly between whoop-your-ass caricatures and tinny incompetence, and too much of Transformers seems to aspire to a kind of contemporary, pseudo-patriotic relevance as the initial attack on a Qatar inspires a group of Special Forces soldiers to trek across the desert stalked by a robot Scorpion—an explicitly Soviet reference in the land of Al Qaeda. Bay trucks in familiar, boring, Republican, visual fetishism, like loving helicopter shots of Washington, backlit shots of pilots mounting aircraft, et cetera, fit for an Army recruiting ad. Even when I was a kid, it wasn’t lost on me that the Autobots’ guises were all civilian or helpful—Optimus is a haulage rig, and others were ambulances, rescue vehicles, Volkswagens—and the Decepticons militarist—Megatron a gun, the rest tanks, jet fighters, police cars. Bay’s fascist chic is completely at odds with this conscientious symbolism. In comparison, Rise of the Silver Surfer is cynical about militarism. Andre Braugher portrays a jerk of a general whom Reed reams in a memorable turn-the-tables speech about the joys of not having been the quarterback, and who subjects the Surfer to a Guantanamo-esque session of torture. Which is not even to touch on Bay’s uncomfortable, instantaneously digestible ethnic types; his black characters especially are loud almost to the point of minstrelry. Story plays his gentle embracing humanism with a deft lack of self-consciousness.

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But this isn’t Bay’s worst failing. For an “action” director, he’s notoriously poor. His camera jerks and wobbles and rolls and leaps, and what so much time and money and anticipation have been spent on (38 hours of animation per single frame) is lost in his shitty filming; Story looks like Spielberg compared to this guy. The plotting is incredibly senseless, borrowing dashes of Terminator 2, The Thing, and Independence Day before having our heroes decide for no particular reason to go and hide the All-Spark in the nearest city from where it’s previously been kept secret, basically so Bay can stage his 45-minute-long action finale in an urban area. Bay seems determined to make the action look more like Black Hawk Down than Clash of the Titans. (Ray Harryhausen, come back!) Even the moment we all look forward to, when Optimus and Megatron rumble, is garbled and anticlimactic. The finale tries to grind us into dust with spectacle, yet provides none, and when the film finishes, it feels like it’s only just getting started. By comparison, the Silver Surfer’s final man’s-gotta-do determination to go kick some Galactus ass is much more fitting.

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But I don’t want to wail on Bay completely. His pacing numbs the faculties, and he has a gift for hyped-up comedy, largely absent in his worst films, like Pearl Harbor and The Island. He often populates his films with screwball-style pairings of bickering types who engage in endlessly facile pop-culture riffing. His usual neurotic, fast-mouthed, geeky-cool hero is here embodied by LeBeouf, a rising young star and it’s easy to see why. Like Nicholas Cage in The Rock, Le Beouf works to hold this film together by sheer eccentric personality. The part of Edible Young Miss who is his object of desire is filled by Megan Fox, who certainly lives up to her name, and even brings some substance to her part as neighbourhood hottie with a dark secret and a magnificent torso; her act of heroism in the finale is one of the few coherent, cheer-along moments. The best touch is retaining several of the voice actors from the original series, like Peter Cullen, the voice of Optimus. Hugo Weaving (V for Vendetta) is a newcomer, providing Megatron’s hissy menace. Best of all is John Turturro, who plays a cracked government spook clearly inspired by Jeffrey Combs’ brilliant turn in The Frighteners. Whatever they paid Turturro, he was worth it and more.

Bring on the sequel, but please, next time bring the Transformers themselves and leave Michael Bay at home.

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