Let me preface this by saying that I've seen both of these movies and I still had to check IMDb to remember which was which. Studios have consistently proven that they aren't shy about remaking films over and over and over. But 2011 marks the first time I've ever seen two identical middling romantic comedies released at the exact same time.
Well, I say that, but I can't even be sure that these are the films I'm talking about.
This is a turning point. Until now, there's always been a tacit agreement between audiences and filmmakers that as long as Hollywood pumps out remakes of the stories we love, fans will quietly hand over money without complaining too loudly about the lack of originality. But reimaginings are not a renewable resource. At a certain point they have to start pulling stories that are increasingly more recent until the logical conclusion is reimagining a movie that hasn't even been released. I can only assume No Strings Attached and Friends with Benefits were made within a few months of one another as a test on behalf of Hollywood as a whole to gauge exactly what percent of their audience is retarded enough not to notice. The answer, it turns out, is most of us. No Strings Attached was 17th in top-grossing comedies of the year, and Friends with Benefits was 21st. They insisted we were nostalgic for a mediocre story we hadn't even heard yet, and we collectively answered, "OK."
After this year, I fully anticipate seeing identical movies released simultaneously because studios know now that there is no accountability anymore. We will still see both. We may even see them twice if they have a limited IMAX 3-D showing.
Just burn our money, Hollywood. Burn it right up.
The Hangover 2 is the Transformers 3 of comedies. If Transformers 3 is all giant robot spectacle and butts, Hangover 2 is all man-boy shrieking and dicks. The formula is the same: semi-likable characters + a series of unrelated set pieces - any semblance of heart = movie!
And I expect that from Transformers 3. I want that movie to be robots and butts fighting each other for screen time, because that's what I paid for, but I never look for that in a comedy. The Hangover Part II was a shameless, heartless parade of jokes we've already seen partnered with shock-inducing spectacle. Never before has a comedy tried to rival a big-budget action movie for mindlessness and insulting stupidity. At least most comedies try to do something new. Hangover 2 just said, "Oh, you liked when Ed Helms woke up with weird shit on his face and then Zach Galifianakis said something silly the first time? We'll just do that again, but louder."
And the reason I'm calling it "Most Appropriate Movie of the Year?" It made over $500 million worldwide. It worked. They were successful, so the lesson in Hollywood will be "Do it again! Do that again with EVERY movie!" I hope you liked the first Hangover, because it's the only movie Hollywood is going to make for the next five years.
Back in November, the New York Times ran an article by Neil Genzlinger, renowned name-haver. In it, he talked about how the sitcom is dead and how all of the stories have been told and how comedy is dead and how there's nothing new anymore and how all of the things everywhere are dead.
I agreed with him at first, because sometimes I have to actively stop myself from being cynical. But there's a reason stories are told over and over, and it's not because creativity is dead and God is dead and everything in all the places is dead. It's because, for one, everything is a remix. But also there are important stories that everyone should hear except NEWSFLASH CALL THE NEWS PEOPLE most kids hate old things. Some punk kid isn't going to go on Netflix or WebWatcher and watch Old-Ass Thing. Some punk kid is going to watch Some Bullshit New Thing. Or something better, maybe. Who knows with these punk kids nowadays?
But I'll talk later about TV and Whitney and how super good I bet it is. Here, I'm talking about the final film in the Harry Potter series, a story of bravery and friendship and right and wrong and good and evil and magic and other stuff, probably. It's an old story, but it's this generation's old story. Not since the original Star Wars trilogy has a saga seen so filled with OMG THIS IS MY FAVORITE THING LETS WEAR THE COSTUMES AND WAIT IN THE LINES AND BUY THE TOYS AND MAKE THE FUCKING GIFS. Harry Potter is everywhere, and it ended this year.
But even though it's over, it is here to stay. It is the new Star Wars. For decades to come, people will be making Voldemort jokes and rewatching Harry Potter and hoping they make more Harry Potter and regretting that they made more Harry Potter. It's the newest version of the same old story we've seen. The only difference is that J.K. Rowling wears way less flannel, and instead of Vader being Luke's dad, Snape kills Dumbledore.
Piling on the Transformers series would make me the Transformers series of pop culture commentators. There's no reason to be the billionth person to dive on that pile, and if I decide to do it anyway, I'll be met with the standard rebuttal: "This isn't meant to be Shakespeare, old man! Climb down out of your ivory tower and allow yourself to enjoy some simple, dumb fun, Poindexter!"
But you have to hear me out, here. Transformers 3 (aka Transformers: Dark of the Moon) was 2011's Movie of the Year. Not the best movie, but certainly the most important.
You have to understand that if you're in the business of selling entertainment, the one thing you hate is being held hostage by erratic, egotistical creative types. You don't want the success of your movie to hinge on whether Will Smith is willing to star, or on some writer sobering up long enough to write you a groundbreaking script. No, you want to be able to turn out movies without those people, to assemble and distribute them as reliably as manufacturing toasters.
So the logical goal is to build a movie-making process that renders moot the actors and writers and the volatile process of birthing original ideas, replacing it all with an assembly line of already-established properties can be made and remade endlessly, even swapping out the stars without skipping a beat. The only flaw in that system is that it's expensive -- it costs money to buy the rights to a superhero or a toy line, pile on CGI and fill the producer's swimming pool with cocaine. But you can offset the budget with product placement and snack food tie-in promotions and merchandising dollars.
Transformers 3 is the result of that assembly line working to perfection: Each film in the series makes more money than the last (the first film made $709 million worldwide; the second made $836 million; the third, $1.12 billion). Hollywood has, with this franchise, finally punched in an Infinite Money cheat code. Hooray! And all they had to do was combine everything you've been complaining about in movies for the last 10 years!
Let's run it down:
A. Forget about unoriginality; this bastard is the sequel of a sequel based on a cartoon based on an American toy line based on a different Japanese toy line;
B. It's full of gleaming, detailed, yet supremely artificial CGI effects that are dazzling but that do not for one millisecond look like a real world that you could immerse yourself in;
C. It has a slapdash, zero-effort screenplay that abandons logic and story structure in favor of an action sequence delivery system;
D. It has a huge budget;
E. It's not just full of product placement, but seems to exist only as a vessel for it (the series builds parts of the plot around which car brands were willing to pay the most);
F. It doesn't have any kind of charismatic star at its core -- the lead could have been replaced with the most handsome member of your high school drama class and not a single ticket sale would have been lost. The CGI robots are the stars.
This was the logical end point, what the system had been evolving toward for the last 100 years. They'll eventually get to where they can eliminate all of the risk that creativity brings to the process by simply drawing from the same pool of characters and franchises that have been pre-approved by audiences and giving them a new CGI polish. Then it's just sequel, sequel, sequel, reboot, an automated system that will stamp them out every couple of months.