Opinions are a funny thing. We all have them, and, no matter how much we might have in common with each other, no matter how similar 95 percent of our thoughts may be, there’s always disagreements. My buddy Nik and I both share a love of pulp, of Transformers, of superheroes and Heroscape. But we don’t always agree. He thought The Dark Knight was a good movie. And I thought it stank on ice. And that’s weird. And it shows how delicate and peculiar our opinions are.
So I have opinions, and, yes, I’m mildly famous. Yes, I am a world-renowned novelologist. And, yes, I have a solid gold robot butler and a machine that can create eclipses (solar and lunar) that I keep in a box under my bed. But does this mean that my opinions are more valid than your Average Joe’s?
Yes, it does.
(Okay, probably not. But this is the internet age, and one of the cool things about that is every nitwit and numbskull with access to a computer can post his random thoughts onto the cosmic ether and pretend like it’s NOT an exercise in self-indulgence. Anyway, I’m a writer, right? I’m supposed to write. And I try to make a habit of posting on this site to keep people coming back because that’s what you’re supposed to do. Although if you want to just skip this stuff and just buy my books, I don’t mind. Really, I don’t.)
And, so, I introduce a new semi-regular feature (meaning whenever the hell I need to post something and have nothing else on my mind). It’s called “OVERRATED / UNDERRATED”. And if you can’t figure out the premise from the title alone then keep reading. You’ll figure it out.
HALO is OVERRATED: Admission. I haven’t really played Halo. Just a little bit here and there, a few minutes. Enough to know that Halo is a fun game, but also, that it’s a first person shooter, a genre that I never really got. Maybe I’m just old school but every FPS seems to revolve around centering your camera on something you want to shoot and then pressing a button until it dies. Repeat until you finish the game. But, honestly, couldn’t something similar be said for nearly any video game?
Still, Halo is not the Holy Grail of video games. It’s not the greatest thing since sliced bread. It’s just a solid FPS with a lot of hype behind it. Master Chief is not a compelling character. The guy is just a generic suit of space armor and, as someone somewhere once observed, his character in the game is little more than a hand holding a gun. While I’ve heard that the multiplayer aspect of the game can be fun (and I’m sure it is) this is still just a generic sci-fi shooter with a generic badass hero and a generic alien menace. None of which means the game is bad, but all of which means that it’s still not breaking any new ground. It’s not bad. It’s just overrated.
RATCHET AND CLANK is UNDERRATED: And when I say underrated, I don’t mean unappreciated. Heck, this has produced a long line of sequels and obviously they’re still selling because a new one is being released sometime in the future. And that’s because Ratchet and Clank kicks butt. This is one of those games that doesn’t get nearly as much respect as it deserves because a certain segment of “hardcore” gamers can’t stand anything too cartoony or colorful or with a sense of humor.
And that’s what makes the Ratchet and Clank series shine. Where Master Chief is just an interchangeable hand with a gun in it, Ratchet and Clank are genuine characters. Where Master Chief faces placeholder aliens with vague motivations that are entirely incidental, Ratchet faces colorful villains. Where Halo in every bit of advertising I’ve ever seen makes this game seem like I’m actually being drafted for an actual intergalactic war, Ratchet and Clank knows it’s a game. And it doesn’t hide from that.
Ratchet and Clank is about blowing stuff up and taking names and running around levels, fighting toony robots and alien henchmen. And weapons. Lots and lots of weapons. The carnage unleashed in Ratchet and Clank would be horrifying if it weren’t so gosh-darned charming. And the characters? By the Matrix of Leadership, I love the characters. Every one of them is full of life. Even the most minor supporting character seems more fully realized and three-dimensional than anything I’ve ever seen from Halo.
Look. I like Ratchet and Clank. I like the games. I like the look. I like the characters. And if that keeps me from being hardcore, I guess I’ll have to live with it.
THE DARK KNIGHT is OVERRATED: Yeah, I’ve covered this before, but since a lot of data previously posted was deleted recently, I’d really like to restate, for the record, how dumb and annoying this film is. It’s stuff like this that fuels the hate in my love/hate relationship with Batman. Because there are so many writers, well-intentioned or not, who think that if you don’t make a Batman story that’s ultra-serious and ultra-dark that it isn’t Batman. But that usually misses the point of the whole superhero genre in general, which, no matter how dark and grim you want to make it, is still about people in funny costumes beating each up. I could go over the film’s many sins in detail, but why bother? If you loved The Dark Knight, you’ll just disagree. And if you agree, why preach to the choir?
Okay, maybe a little preaching.
The Joker is an all-powerful psychic with an ability to predict what everyone everywhere will do at all times in all situations. Batman doesn’t seem to be much of a detective, instead resorting to a sci-fi gimmick so outlandish, it pretty much destroys every semblance of “realism” the film works so hard to establish. The fall of Harvey Dent / Two-Face is contrived, even for comic book melodrama. And about half the scenes end before they’re really over. Oh, and the final sacrifice Batman must make, it’s not only stupid. It’s downright insulting to all of us as human beings. (Message: People don’t need to know things. The best thing you can do to protect people is to keep information from them. It’s not taking away people’s rights to make informed decisions, good or bad. It’s being “heroic!”)
Now none of that probably matters to most people, but I can still prove that this movie doesn’t “get” Batman. And nobody in their right mind can disagree with me. It’s all about the dogs. In an early scene in the movie, Batman is attacked by dogs, and it’s a bit of trouble for him. I can buy that. He hasn’t been Batman long. He can’t prepare for everything. The first time someone pulled kryptonite on Superman, I bet he was taken by surprise too.
But the second time in the same movie Batman is attacked by dogs, he has just as much trouble. And that’s just absurd. That’s just stupid. Because I guarantee you that if Batman was attacked by dogs, he’d go home and build a gadget or read a book on handling dogs. He’d do something. He’d be prepared because, y’know, that’s just kind of logical. Otherwise, every criminal in the city is going to just figure out to have dogs with him and Batman would stop being scary pretty damn quick.
“Boss, Batman is here.”
“Again? Release the hounds.”
Think it’s a nitpick? Maybe. But I do know that I’d be more forgiving of the film’s many flaws if it at least had the sense to make Batman smart enough to prepare for a second dog attack in the same damn movie.
TRANSFORMERS is UNDERRATED: Yes, I’m saying it. Kind of weird, I know. Considering it made millions of dollars at the box office, and that the sequel seems to have done pretty well too. But I’m going on record as saying that the first movie, while not nearly as great as it should’ve been, is also not nearly as stupid as most people think it is. It is about shape-changing robots from outer space, and that is ridiculous. But that’s the central premise of the film, and every sci-fi / fantasy premise is ridiculous. That’s the central conceit of sci-fi / fantasy. Lord of the Rings might be “high fantasy” or “allegory” or whatever you want to call it, but it’s basically a story about an evil wizard with an army of monsters who chases little people around a make-believe world in search of an all-powerful knick knack. The Matrix is a video game. That’s the entire premise of the movie, for crying out loud. Neo is really, really, really good at video games. That’s his superpower. So don’t tell me that space robots are too stupid to take seriously, because you’ve pretty much destroyed the sci-fi genre, and since that’s where I make my bread and butter, I’m not going to knock it. Plus, most of my stories are at least as stupid in principle as shape-shifting space robots, and I’d like to think they have something worthwhile going on beneath the sci fi / fantasy nutiness.
Of course, it’s not the robots that hold Transformers back. It’s Michael Bay because bashing Michael Bay is fun. Heck, even Michael Bay does it. And then he goes home and laughs and laughs and laughs on his giant piles of money. It’s true that Bay is not a master storyteller. It’s true that he does enjoy explosions more than is healthy. Maybe. Not quite convinced of that myself, but it’s possible. But if there’s anyone who should be making a giant robot spectacle, Michael Bay would be among my first choices.
By the way, nothing I’m going to say in Transformers’ defense actually applies to the second movie, which is nearly everything Bay is knocked for.
But Transformers has a good story. Not complicated. Not difficult. Rudimentary in its plot construction, but it gets the job done, and usually has the sense to stay out of the way. It has good characters. Sometimes, they step over the line into sitcom territory, but usually, they manage to stay on the right side of that line. It has fairly good pacing. Not perfect. It lags in the middle, but the same could be said for The Dark Knight. And the cinematography is too stylish, working too hard to remind us how cool this movie is supposed to be when really, it’s about giant shape-changing robots from outer space and that should be cool enough.
And they are. While most of the Autobots don’t get much screen time (and the Decepticons even less), the film still manages to infuse them with life. Usually it’s done in a fairly subtle way. That’s right. I said, subtle, and I’m sticking with it. Because to me, subtle writing is found in creating characterization via action. And since most of the Transformers are only defined by their actions, this is the only way to really illustrate their characters. In particular, the action scenes really shine. Whether it’s Ironhide charging forward like a reckless bull or Bumblebee employing robo-aikido or Bone Crusher, his cruel Decepticon nature to smash compelling him to madly (and foolishly) charge right into Optimus Prime, each character fights with his own unique characterization. Even the military has its own style that contributes to the action.
Starscream is a favorite of mine in the film. He employs hit and run tactics, deception, and just an all around sneakiness one would expect from the devious second-in-command of the Decepticons. He also drops the ball on occasion too because he’s too busy watching his own back. But that’s Starscream for you.
There are other things that keep the movie from being great, but it is not nearly as stupid or explosion-oriented as most people have decided. Probably because it’s a Bay movie about space robots built around a line of toys. But it is good, and that’s all I’m trying to say.
Now the second film…feel free to bash that one all you want. I don’t think it’s terrible, but it ain’t that good, and even space robots can’t quite redeem it. Athough Optimus does kick a lot of ass. So that’s something at least.