This dawned on me at some point when I was watching Shia the Beef run around spazzing out without any Autobots or Decepticons in sight. Yes, the film is called Transformers. Yes, it stars a heroic robot named Optimus Prime, an evil robot named Megatron and a none-too-bright but good robot named Bumblebee. It has transforming robots in it.
But it is not Transformers.
All Michael Bay's Transformers movie has in common with the beloved Transformers franchise that we grew up with and that kids today still grow up with thanks to Cybertron and Beast Wars and Armada Animated is a few pronouns and a basic concept. Nothing else. When I talked yesterday about Transformers being more than toys and being a franchise, I mentioned that there was some hard-to-describe aspect of Transformers than created so many die-hard fans in the '80s, and why kids keep falling in love with Transformers when Hasbro relaunches it every few years. There's something about it that works, that is fundamentally entertaining and cool about the Transformers concept, even when that concept is altered and tweaked for new generations and aesthetics.
The Bay-pologists say that Transformers is just a new incarnation of the franchise, that it's its own Transformers universe, just like any of the cartoon series. It's not.
• The Transformers franchise is about giant robots who transform.
• The Transformers movie is about a kid named Sam Witwicky.
This is a fundamental difference between the two. Because the movie is about a boy, it barely has the time to make the Transformers into characters, which is the real core of the franchise; meanwhile, we get plenty of scenes of Sam's buffoonish parents, or his first day at college, or his relationship with the town's skankiest motorcycle repairwoman. Think about the core TF characters that have basically appeared in every TF incarnation: Optimus, the heroic leader of the Autobots -- and then think about how few scenes in the movies portray him leading in any way. Megatron is the evil leader of the Decepticons -- he's barely in the first movie, and he spend most of the second toadying up to the Fallen. Bumblebee, possibly the most beloved character in the franchise, isn't even allowed to talk in the movies. And almost none of the other Transformers get any screen time than isn't horrible comic relief (see the Racist Twins) or for some "cool" scene, like Ravage infiltrating the military base and vomiting insecticons. The Transformers have no personalities because Bay doesn't give a shit about them. He just wants to blow shit up, and the giant robots are only a means to that end.
It was at the point when Sam's mom was freaking out after eating the pot brownie during the scene of his interminable first day at college when I realized: This could not be less what I wanted from a Transformers movie. An old woman gadding about and shrieking, Shia the Beef spazzing out like Woody Allen without the chutzpah, and not a single robot in sight. And that's when it hit me: This is not Transformers. It's a movie using the same name. That's it.
Watching the movie with this revelation, it became clear that Michael Bay did not and does not give a shit about the Transformers. He's much rather just have shots of jets firing missiles and tanks rolling out and aircraft carrier looming somewhere in the ocean. Frankly, the giant fucking robots basically get in the way of him having shit blow up; I think it's pretty telling that Starscream stays in jet mode for most of the final fight scene so he can fire missiles and the Beef and the Fox can run away from the explosions in slow motion. It's not about the robots for Bay, which is why they're always pissing and vomiting and farting and humping, because he frankly has no idea what to do with them otherwise. I think that's incredibly juvenile, but some people like that stuff. Either way, it is nothing that anyone should consider to be Transformers.
For me, this is a comforting revelation. For instance, when the screen filled up with a preposterously unnecessary close-up of John Turturro's hairy, creviced ass -- it was nice to think, "Holy fuck, if this had happened in a real Transformers film I probably would have killed myself. Instead, it's just happening in a shitty Michael Bay movie."
I asked yesterday if people who considered themselves Transformers fans enjoyed the movie, and some of you said yes. I honestly don't know how this is possible, because I don't know how any of you see any part of the franchise you love in the movie. Yes, it had some big robots beating each other up, but not for any decent reasons, and not so you could really tell what was going on. And while I might have a stick up my ass when I say Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a shitty movie, I don't think you can say that about me when I say the movie seems virtually separate from the franchise you grew up loving. Not G1, not Beast Wars, not Animated here -- I'm talking about Transformers here, and I mean every bit of it.
TF fans didn't want a Transformers movie to be Casablanca or Citizen Kane; that would be equally inappropriate for the franchise, and really boring besides. A smart, talky movie isn't the opposite of a Michael Bay film, although he would like very much to think it is. The opposite of a Michael Bay film is a good film, a genuinely entertaining film, and that's all that TF fans were hoping for, and that's what they didn't get. I think most of them would happily accept Optimus Prime being a goddamn motorboat if it meant that there were Transformer characters we'd care about and plot with any semblance of coherence. I know I would.
So... yeah. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is not a Transformers film. A Transformers film would have featured robots with personalities, robots that we cared about. It wouldn't have contained robots that piss and fart and have testicles and and vomit (seriously, both Megatron and Jetfire vomit every fucking time they speak, and god only knows why). It wouldn't have featured 15 minutes of nonsense about some doofus going to college, nor 15 minutes of footage of military stock footage. And most of all, it wouldn't have featured a massive close-up of John Turturro's bare ass.