13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Review — Thanks Obama

The soldiers you sacrificed have allowed for this movie that condemns your ways to exist.

I’m no fan of military fiction. You guys all know that. And yet, that bias couldn’t stop me from getting hyped for Michael Bay’s new film regarding the 2012 Benghazi attack. Unlike most people on the Internet, I consider Bay one of the best current movie directors in the industry as well as one of the saddest. I’m sure most people are aware by now that he’s set to direct the new Transformers film because apparently that’s the only way he can get his better and more personal R-rated movies green lighted. And whilst I don’t think he hates making those movies, I’ve noticed that with each sequel, he gets increasingly critical of the audience underneath all the racism and corporate America pandering that make up the surface of those movies – like in the last one when Bumblebee expressed disgust over the fact that the evil car corporation was making a new “toy” and said toy eventually got wrecked. Not to mention the increased hypocrisy of Optimus Prime in order to lash out at fanboys around the world that they’re some of the most hypocritical beings on the planet.

Needless to say, I like Bay’s post mid-00s films because they’re full of critical metaphors against the very “evil America” people say he embodies. All the racism, bloated corporate pandering, nonsensical action, and machismo attitude. It’s this embracing of those horrible traits whilst secretly turning it against the audience that makes both Clannad: The Motion Picture and Guilty Crown two of my favorite anime of all-time, and it’s also the same reason why I enjoy those Transformers movies as well as Pain & Gain (which admittedly, makes its intentions more obvious). And considering my favorite anime also include Eden of the East, Terror in Resonance, Un-Go, Concrete Revolutio, and Patlabor 2: The Movie, I’m known to really support stories that are critical of their own government whilst accepting that they don’t have the answers because you’re not going to get that from the entertainment industry (and 99% of the time you do, it’s by some smug idiot who doesn’t know anything at all). Some people may call it having your cake and eating it too. I call it “telling it like it is whilst knowing your limitations”.

Which leads me to 13 Hours as a movie. Let’s just cut to the chase: I loved this film. It’s practically everything that all the recent war films (from The Hurt Locker to Lord of War) that criticize how harsh soldier life is should be, as well as why Gundam will always be a shitty franchise if it doesn’t get out of that 80s mentality it’s been stuck in with each new installment. Fuck anti-war messages. Fuck telling me that being a soldier sucks. These are all boring and overdone cores to build a story around, and I love how 13 Hours never really dwells on them even though they inevitably have to show up considering the event said film is based on. Instead, the movie is built around Bay’s one-of-a-kind vision of criticizing America, and this time he strikes at the heart of our very own government in a way that’s almost impossible to ignore. I don’t necessarily agree with everything the film says about Obama and all that, but you don’t have to agree with something to find it interesting.

I just loved seeing how the Obama administration repeatedly screws with our heroes – the six soldiers that defended the Benghazi – as they did their best to defend the outpost. From the way the drone is clearly overseeing the action, yet no backup is provided, to that time when they request air support, but it never comes. And yet, Bay never really goes political with the movie (which he shouldn’t, because he’s a movie director that knows his place in the world). You only see said drone and request about once or twice throughout the film, because he assumes you got it the first time and doesn’t want to treat you like an idiot. He knows that most people will only be entertained if we focus on the consequences of America’s crimes rather than seeing America do said crime. And the fact that the surviving soldiers (spoilers, but c’mon, most of them survived in real life too) have to use foreign airports to get home – something the movie NEVER explicitly points out even though you can clearly see the planes aren’t exactly Continental – was just the perfect way to end the thing. Could you ask for a more fitting ending to a movie that’s getting misunderstood everywhere?

Whilst the movie couldn’t get me over my soldier bias as well as, say, Metal Gear Solid, it does a pretty good job of making me interested in what these guys are fighting for, and not just because of all the background stuff going on. Main character Jack is played by John Krasinski, and seeing Jim from The Office fire a gun holds a perplexing charm towards it. Not to mention, you don’t even see the characters in uniform for a good chunk of the movie, let alone throw out soldier jargon. The first forty minutes or so of the movie mostly consists of the characters preparing for a mission to rescue hostages, only to get held back from doing so because their president won’t give them the go-ahead until it was too late to save one ambassador. Then when the fighting actually starts, you mostly see Jack and the crew just wearing vests and the occasional helmet as soldier gear because they were unprepared, and the action is more over-the-top Bay violence rather than the gritty realistic kind that’s even worse to look at than the quick-cuts in Transformers will ever be. I could not stop laughing inside when a missile attack rained down on our protagonists like the AV drone scene in Saints Row: The Third.

I’ve heard a lot of people complain about the pacing of this movie, but I never got worn out the way Transformers’ finales tend to do – probably because of my preference for R-rated violence over PG-13 stuff along with everything I said before. Personally, my main problem with the film is that there’s so much chaos surrounding our leads that it tends to drown out the audio to the point of needing subtitles. I’ll have to watch the movie again when it comes out on Blu-ray and I can switch the things on. Nevertheless, I got the gist of the thing even before I saw the movie thanks to all the positive and negative reviews highlighting what I like about Bay and I’m glad to see that 13 Hours didn’t disappoint. I’m sure there’s a ton of governmental jabs that I missed on first watch (I was watching this movie pretty late), so I can look forward to finding those on rewatch too. Whilst I’m not sure how the rest of 2016 will be in terms of movies, this is one strong start.

Screw Full Metal Jacket. Screw Apocalypse Now13 Hours is the soldier film people should be heralding as a classic.

Minor Quips

  • Still need to rewatch my blu-ray cop of Age of Extinction.
  • Not sure if Inglourious Basterds counts as a war film or not. That’s like saying Ilsa: She-Wolf of the SS is high-art.
  • How many Transformers movies are we going to get before Optimus Prime actually confronts the true enemy anyways?

7 responses to “13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi Review — Thanks Obama

  1. I’m pretty sure you will be the only one to hold those view about Michael Bay for a long time, possibly forever. I’ll be honest here: I hate everything Bay touch. He has the same way of directing as Saekano. I’m sorry, but knowing what you do is wrong and still doing it does NOT make you a witty guy. It make him an asshole. Trash is trash, whether a person intentionally producing it or not.

    I also think I have said this a lot, but I value the craft of art over whatever message it has. For me, art is about emotion and how to deliver it. If it gave me as much emotional attachment as a college lecture, I’ll just take the lecture. And I don’t believe in the fresh messages stuff. A Buddhist book from 3000 years ago has more to say about machismo, materialism or pandering than Bay’s entire filmography.

    • I’m sorry, but knowing what you do is wrong and still doing it does NOT make you a witty guy. It make him an asshole.

      Not when you criticize the audience for enjoying your wrong thing within the thing. And Saekano’s problem (and Monogatari’s problem as well for that matter) is that it doesn’t have anything interesting to say with its ironic statements. It’s just point at the nerds and laugh AND they spell it out way too blatantly, like fucking Syriana. Bay goes straight towards the big A itself. Pretty sure you can’t get criticisms against a country in Buddhist work.

      Also, I never said Bay wasn’t an asshole. Of course he’s an asshole. Most pop artists are assholes. I don’t see why that should affect the quality of their work.

      I also think I have said this a lot, but I value the craft of art over whatever message it has.

      Oh well. Most people do. That said (and I know I’ve said this before), I don’t think the craft and the message are mutually exclusive things. I even mentioned in this review how the movie only brings up America’s crimes a few times throughout the film.

      • I’m not sure why just focusing on America or Obama is a good thing. A great film can cross border and time. Vietnam war was over for 40 years, but I can feel the emotion when watching good film about it. Same with comic like Watchmen. Bay’s films, plus many US cartoons have a very narrow viewpoint. They just react to a recent event, without considering wider context or ideas. I don’t live in the USA, so it’s even harder to care. My friends in the shit hole third world country loved Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad, but don’t care about comedic cartoon like Simpsons or South Park for this reason.

      • Bay’s films, plus many US cartoons have a very narrow viewpoint. They just react to a recent event, without considering wider context or ideas.

        I don’t see this as a negative in any way. There’s a limit to what you can accomplish in the entertainment medium in regards to that sort of subject matter as is, and I think in Bay’s films, he elaborates enough regarding what he sets to say. Moreso than that awful Pearl Harbor movie at any rate.

        Vietnam war was over for 40 years, but I can feel the emotion when watching good film about it.

        Unless you count Aliens since a lot of the plot was meant to symbolize the war, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Vietnam War film I liked. My history teachers showed me quite a few in high school and I always hated how they’d say “war turns you into a monster”. Kubrick is one of my favorite directors of all-time and yet I could barely sit through Full Metal Jacket.

  2. I kind of liked Pain and Gain less than Bay’s other movies because the social commentary was obvious in the script, but visually he portrayed everything exactly the same way. It got samey and tired, and it failed to make a tonal distinction between anything it depicted. Some people would say the same thing about Transformers, but I think those escalated on a much greater scale than Pain and Gain.

    I expect this movie will probably be better than both, if it’s closer to Transformers’s scale and closer to Pain and Gain’s art design and R-rated violence.

    Do you have an opinion of Starship Troopers? I thought it was also kind of pro-soldier but anti-government, but it sounds like this movie approaches that in a very different way from what Starship Troopers did.

    • That would be a more accurate description of the original Starship Trooper book if anything though. The movie was a weird mess. Verhoeven apparently hated the book (I’d guess on political grounds) and set out to make a mockery of it, thus demolishing some of its most interesting, if unsettling, points about the usefulness of the military and the philosophy of war. In their place we got a big boomy thing with CGI alien insects.