Morality and Films

Transformers 3 is out in the cinemas this week. It’s terrible, but that’s to be expected from Michael Bay’s sequel to Transformers 2. But with it comes the endless debate on what films are a good idea to watch as a Christian. And what films should you tell your young people to watch. Often we go by the moral standard of the day. Is there swearing, violence, sex, swearing, guns, and sex in it? Are there lots of bad things in it? If it crosses the threshold with enough bad things then our young people shouldn’t watch it. If it crosses a further threshold then we may not even watch the movie.

While there is merit here, I wonder if there is a better question to ask is “what does this movie delight in? What is held up as beautiful and gives me pleasure in watching this?” Because if the movie is done well you will end up delighting and enjoying that too. And so one of the problems with just checking for sex or violence or whatever is that films with really anti-gospel messages –films delight in things that teach us the opposite of the good news of Jesus Christ– don’t necessarily contain sex and drugs and violence.

But before we look at films that don’t contain sex and drugs and violence, let’s look at one that does. Let’s look at what the main delight of Michael Bay’s greatest film is, let’s look at Bad Boys II.

Bad Boys II for those of you who haven’t watched it, is Michael Bay’s greatest achievement. It is a distilation of everything ‘good’ about a Michael Bay film- car chases, gun fights, explosions, snappy comic dialogue all delivered in an impressively balanced amount. It’s as if Michael Bay heard all his critics slamming his movies for having too much action and explosives and comic moments and set out to prove them wrong, not by directing a serious epic, but making the best possible action explosive gun-fight car chase film possible. It also misses out the gross sexism, racism, and stupid giant robots from later Michael Bay films. Bad Boys I is also pretty great, having Will Smith and Martin Lawrence definitely helps both, but what makes Bad Boy II is the level of excessiveness it goes to. While Bad Boys I ends with an impressive blow everything up gun fight, Bad Boys II ends with them invading Cuba and winning.

It also is one of the sweariest films around. And for a film that’s not grossly sexist and racists it’s still at times quite sexist and racist. But it’s underlying delight? It is something like “isn’t it awesome to be some bad-ass who blows up stuff and shoots things and get’s the praise of everyone”. This clearly isn’t the world’s greatest message, but then it’s not perhaps as bad as the message of that great twelve year old girl film; Grease.

What does Grease delight in? Being really cool, independent, and disaffected and in changing yourself to be that person. That and retro fifties delight and cheesy songs. But as much to become this cool person. Worse still it’s the outcast girl who has to change to meet the lifestyle of the popular and cool guy who doesn’t have to give up anything. That’s not the exact opposite of the gospel, but when we believe in the story of the man who gave up literally everything in the cosmos and become a servant to come save and woo his bride from her inability and unwillingness to change, it’s pretty far wrong. And it’s wound up in a saccharine glitzy love story that slips below your radar.

Which of the two films is more damaging? I know I’d rather go away from a filming thinking “hey wouldn’t it be cool to be a hard-ass cop who gets to blow stuff up” than “hey wouldn’t it be great if I was this cool person who refused to change for my beloved”.