Transformers 4, Mrs Brown's Boys, and criticising fans

Feature Simon Brew 2 Jul 2014 - 06:51

The success of Transformers 4 and Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie is having an unpleasant side effect...

This weekend just gone saw two critically-reviled movies top the box office charts of the US and the UK. In America, Michael Bay's fourth and longest Transformers movie, Transformers: Age Of Extinction, hit the number one spot, eating up around $100m of business in its opening weekend. And that's just in America. The film has hit $300m worldwide, and it lands in British cinemas this weekend.

It might find unexpected competition, however. For over the weekend here in Blighty, Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie, a far more economical enterprise than Mr Bay's latest opus, helped itself to a staggering £4.3m in its first weekend. It crushed The Fault In Our Stars, the previous number one, and outperformed any number of blockbuster films in their opening weekend. Mrs Brown's Boys is a genuine movie smash hit.

Nice Things

It would also be fair to say that both films - or at least the existence of both films - cause a large amount of displeasure. Sample comments [we're removing names from comments, simply because we're picking a random cross-section, and not trying to aim ire at individuals], for instance, on our post about Transformers' box office numbers? "This is why we can't have nice things" and "this is depressing" for a start. You don't have to look much further afield on the internet to find things being phrased in a less constructive manner.

The success of Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie, however, has raised even further levels of unhappiness. "Pass d'rope", "feck off" and "I can't understand why anyone would watch this unfunny, turgid veal" are a sample. Again, look further, and the comments do not get kinder.

Firstly then, it's best I make my own position clear. I don't like the Transformers films. I just about tolerated the first one, but found two and three long, meandering, shapeless, borderline offensive in places and generally dull. Give me The Rock and Armageddon, however, and I'm happy.

Mrs Brown's Boys? I've watched the TV show. I think it's poorly written, but conversely - and I know this isn't a popular opinion - it's anchored by a central performance of character and strength by Brendon O'Carroll. My feeling on the show is that like or lump it, O'Carroll is a standout talent, however he chooses to deploy it (incidentally, it's worth checking out his excellent interview on The Graham Norton Show if you can from a few weeks' ago. A real eye opener).

The Audience

But here's the question: is it right that we sneer at the success of Transformers: Age Of Extinction and Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie - and more to the point, those who enjoy them? Because I'm not ultimately sure that it is.

This was best summed up by a lovely comment which was posted on the Mrs Brown's Boys box office report article. The commenter in question wrote, "when I was a kid watching sci-fi really wasn't cool and I was bullied constantly for my love of Doctor Who when I was in primary school in the early 90s. There's little worse than being mocked for watching something you enjoy by people who feel they're superior".

And it's hard not to see the point.

There's an assumption, after all, that you have to be stupid, ill, wrong or broken to enjoy either of the two films we're talking about here. Yet that's clearly not the case. Let's take them again in turn.

The argument runs, for a start, that Transformers: Age Of Extinction succeeds because it's aimed at children, and it gives them what they want. Notwithstanding the fact that children can be the toughest critics, the exit demographic information on Transformers 4 over the weekend revealed that the majority of the film's audience in America was over 25. It was 64% male, and only 42% were 25 or under.

That's grown-ups, then, making a decision to see a film that they want to see.

Furthermore, after four films in the series, the answer to the question 'who keeps going to see all of these films' seems to have been firmly answered. People who enjoy them. Again, I don't really get modern Michael Bay movies, but he has a habit of delivering what many people want to see.

It's not as if Transformers: Dark Of The Moon was a small hit, enjoyed by a weird cult of people. It took $1.1bn at the global box office, and is the seventh biggest film of all time. Does that depress me personally? Yes. I think it's a horrible film. I think the fact that it sits above every Lord Of The Rings film, every Batman film, every Toy Story film and every Star Wars film is all kinds of wrong. But then it's not up to me.

Furthermore, who am I to judge? Even the most vigorous haters of Transformers movies can't knock the fact that they get people into cinemas. And this may be naive of me, but I don't believe you get to $1.1bn at the global box office by boring the majority of your audience. I am in the minority on Transformers films, and so be it.

I will add one caveat: I've seen the argument put around this week that critics want to hate Transformers films, and that films like Age Of Extinction aren't supposed to be analysed to death. I don't buy the first part of that, and I also think that making a film for a wide audience shouldn't make you immune to a critical response. Else why did everyone bother warning the world off Batman & Robin, and encourage everyone to see Batman Begins?

Let's, then, move on to Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie.

Just to put its £4.3m take into context first. It's double the numbers the Alan Partridge movie did on its opening, and it's beaten the openings in the UK for The Hangover (£3.19m), Rio 2 (£2.88m) and One Direction: This Is Us (£3.47m), just to give a flavour of its performance. It's not far off Frozen's opening weekend in the UK either - Disney's juggernaut started with £4.7m.

If all of this had happened in the early 1990s, where the only way a British (or Irish) film could get a hit at the UK box office - in those pre-Hugh Grant days - was to call in Merchant Ivory, the success of Mrs Brown's Boys would have been, I'd argue, more kindly received. As it was, there was more disbelief and derision when that £4.3m number was revealed.

And I get that. I get that better comedies have come and gone without making anywhere near that dent. I look at the fact - and I know this isn't an apples for apples comparison - that a risky, interesting sci-fi movie such as Edge Of Tomorrow is going to make less at the UK box office than Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie, and can't help but feel sad about it.

Yet I'd argue that making generalisations - and pretty unkind ones - about those who have enjoyed Mrs Brown's Boys and supported it (legally) is not the way forward. Quite the contrary, in fact.

We should, in theory, be long past the point of calling people names for the films they like and don't like, and yet right across the internet, that's what's happening.

Furthermore, in the case of Mrs Brown's Boys, it's being said that it's getting some people to the cinema who wouldn't ordinarily go. A large part of me hopes that it tempts them to try something else, but even so: people supporting films on the big screen is surely a positive.

Add in too that the demographic for Mrs Brown's Boys is said to skew older, and again, that's got to be positive. If the common moan is that cinema is for, and marketed towards, teenagers, here's a film that's proven otherwise.

And one more thing: maybe lots of people - of broad intelligence, backgrounds, and ages - simply find it funny. That has not been outlawed in this country.

Success Stories

My preference would be that a blockbuster such as Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes or Edge Of Tomorrow was doing the Transformers numbers. And that a better-written comedy than Mrs Brown's Boys D'Movie would have taken £4.3m at the UK box office this past weekend. Both though have taken their critical battering, and both have prevailed, earning sizeable audiences. They set out to do what they set out to do, and you have to say, they succeed.

By all means love or hate the films, and even the idea of the films. But we've surely all been on the receiving end of nasty comments and perhaps even bullying simply for what we like. Attacking the films themselves? Fair enough. Attacking the people that enjoy them for enjoying them? It just seems over the line.

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