So, the dust has settled on 2014. We’ve all published our best of and worst of the year lists, and there are two films that have appeared numerous times. A lot of people have picked Boyhood as one of their favourites (although none of the Third Act writers did), and it’s getting a lot of award attention. On the other side, even more people have chosen Transformers: Age of Extinction as one of their worst, including Third Act writers Chris Elliott and Matt Dennis. While everybody is entitled to their own opinion, I’m here to tell you (at great length) why all of these people are wrong, and why Transformers: Age of Extinction is better than Boyhood.
I’ll start with an interesting fact. Both of these films are the same length, clocking in at a substantial 165 minutes. I saw both of these films at the cinema, meaning that with the addition of ads and trailers, the run time was more than three hours. But that’s fine, as long as a film is consistently interesting the run time doesn’t matter. Interstellar was 169 minutes, and I was never bored during that. The Wolf of Wall Street was 180 minutes and at no point did I feel the length. Lord of the Rings: Return of the King is 201 minutes long, and I consider that one of the best films ever made.
So clearly a long film doesn’t bother me, but as I said before, it has to be consistently interesting. Only one of the films I’m talking about was. Yes, it’s Transformers. Every time even a hint of arse discomfort started to set in, Optimus Prime would make an inspiring speech and punch something in the face. More films could learn from that. In Boyhood on the other hand, when butt ache set in, it sets in hard, and by the time the main character (who’s name is in no way as memorable as Optimus Prime) reaches college age, you’re less comfortable than the camera operators who were forced to film the Jeremy Irons sex scene in Die Hard with a Vengeance.
Don’t get me wrong, Transformers 4 is by no means a perfect film. The plot is almost exactly the same as the other three films. Good robots and bad robots both want some ancient artifact because it can create more robots for their robot army. The action is, at times, a little gratuitous. Some of the acting could be better (Jack Reynor and Nicola Peltz, I’m looking at you). There are racist and sexist stereotypes throughout, which both shouldn’t be there, and in the case of the Autobots, simply don’t make sense. It also features what is possibly the most offensive scene in film history, where one of the characters explains why it’s not a problem for him to be with a girl who is illegally young. And there’s the over use of American flags, of which there are two for every human character. Oh and the product placement… So much product placement…
The fact is, for a film like Transformers 4, these things don’t really matter. When making a film like this, the thing you really need to worry about is making your explosions the biggest, making your slow motion punch hit the hardest, and having your robots shoot more robots in the face than ever before. Did Transformers 4 achieve this? Yes it did, with aplomb. APLOMB I SAY. Would I have preferred it if the story was new and exciting, the action left me wanting more, the acting was good across the board, no minorities got offended and underage sex wasn’t glamorised? Yes I would, and while it is possible (X-men: Days of Future Past, Edge of Tomorrow, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, Guardians of the Galaxy, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 1, Interstellar, How to Train Your Dragon 2, Godzilla, The Equalizer, The Raid 2, Fury and Noah to name a few from 2014 alone), when a film achieves what it sets out to do, I would consider it a success.
So, why was Boyhood not a success? Firstly, it’s entire appeal is a gimmick. I’m certain that if you put out the same film, with the same aimless, meandering story, and the same painfully boring stretches where nothing happens, but have it filmed with twelve different actors, instead of have it filmed over twelve years with the same actor, and people would not care about it. However, every film needs a unique selling point, and I actually appreciate Boyhood’s. It is after all the only reason I, and I’m sure many other people were remotely interested in it as a film. Even though the fuss people are making about it annoys me, I’m going to give it a pass on this. Don’t worry, I have plenty more ammunition.
As I’ve eluded to already, I had some big issues with Boyhood’s so called ‘story’. One of the trailers for the film was a mini documentary, where the film makers openly said that they didn’t really have a story or character development planned, and when you watch it you can really tell, especially when the film is nearing its conclusion. The film has about five brilliant opportunities to end, but it chooses not to. I can remember when I was watching Boyhood, near the end, every time a new scene started I could feel the audience growing more dissatisfied, and willing it to end. What a lot of people aren’t admitting is that Boyhood suffers from some of the same things Transformers 4 suffers from. It’s story is weak, and while Transformers isn’t the best depiction of women, Boyhood certainly doesn’t show men in a very good light.
But Todd, you just said these things don’t matter! You’re contradicting yourself! In my eyes, there is a difference between these films, and a reason I can overlook these problems in one film, and not the other. Boyhood is entirely reliant upon it’s story. It is the thing that matters most in Boyhood, and the fact that it’s story is so weak means it has a much bigger overall effect on the film than in Transformers. I can see some people disagreeing with me on this, and trying to use my own argument against me, but that’s ok. There’s an even bigger reason Boyhood doesn’t work.
Despite what my crankiness might imply, I’m still a young man in my early twenties. That means that I was only a few years older than Ellar Coltrane (the actor playing the part of ‘Boy’) was during the filming of Boyhood, and none of his life experiences felt real or familiar. The whole point of Boyhood was that it was meant to be the most realistic depiction of growing up ever put on film, and even the life events I had experienced recently (graduating, growing away from family) felt completely like fiction. I just didn’t feel anything when it should have felt like watching myself.
The fact that I feel Boyhood failed on the one level it needed to succeed on, and Transformers: Age of Extinction succeeded on the one level it needed to means that for me, picking which is the better film is an easy decision. There are a few other things I could mention, for example the fact that you get to see Optimus Prime riding a giant robot dinosaur, for example, or the fact that Kelsey Grammer is back! That’s what we’ve all been waiting for.
So… Are you one of the billion dollars worth of people that agrees with me? Or one of the sensible people that doesn’t? Let me know your thoughts below.
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