TR Review: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
If you want the short version — and you should seriously consider it, since this is going to go on for a while — here are two statements that cover everything I’m about to say.
? Watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is marginally better than shitting your pants, but it takes a lot longer.
? Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is not a Transformers movie.
Let me begin with the first statement. I have always thought Michael Bay was a terrible fucking director. I will fully admit he has an amazing sense of spectacle — how to make the most frenetic, action-packed, explosive (mostly literally), x-treem scenes ever — but he has never had any ability to make anyone care about those scenes or what happens in between them. Transformers 2 has plenty of spectacle, but without any regard for anything that would make that spectacle meaningful. If shit blows up, Michael Bay does not care why, and he assumes you will not care.
Some people don’t, obviously, and Bay’s box office will clearly back that up. But that’s not me, and I don’t think that makes me an elitist douchebag (I am an elitist douchebag, of course, but not for that). I can be and am impressed with Bay’s technical work on Transformers 2, but it’s things like plot and characters and motivations and interaction that make me care about a movie and allow me to enjoy it. Transformers 2 has none of these things.
Or I should say: Transformers 2 has all of these things, but only insofar as they serve Bay’s spectacles. The plot changes randomly to serve whatever action set-piece is coming up next, thanks to three utterly interchangeable macguffins of the Allspark shard, the symbols the shard puts in the Beef’s brain, and then also the Beef himself. Characters disappear and re-appear randomly, just so Bay can get the scenes how he wants them — what does it matter if Bumblebee was standing next to Sam a minute ago? It’s cooler to have Sam and Mikaela run in terror from Decepticons for 10 minutes, then have their asses saved by Bumblebee at the last second. Shit gets made up on the fly, just so Bay can half-assedly connect the dots between his scenes. Need to get the characters to Egypt? Well, the elderly Transformer can teleport for some reason, and hey, he might as well teleport Bumblebee and the Racist Twins along too, although they were nowhere nearby in the previous scene. Bay has never cared much about continuity before, but Transformers 2 never once even cares about making sense. Bay isn’t raping our childhoods in TF2; he is raping continuity in the most savage, brutal way imaginable.
When the Bayformers defenders say you should turn your brain off and enjoy the film, I think they must mean it literally. Because if you think about any part of what’s going on at all, it’s really, really fucking stupid. This is what I cannot handle. Transformers 2 is too fucking stupid for me to derive any enjoyment from whatsoever.
I don’t know when “stupid” became an acceptable attribute for summer movies — especially when we’ve had Iron Man and The Dark Knight in the last two years, two summer movies that were smart and fun and wonderful and required no brain turning off. And this isn’t because I’m a snob, because I like dumb movies. For instance, Crank is a very dumb movie, but it is also awesome — because although it’s a hilariously simple story in a cartoonishly violent world, it’s a goddamn world that includes people with at least minimum motivations interacting with each other and everything seems to at least obey the goddamn space-time continuum if not the rules of reality.
More precisely, I could sit and enjoy the stupidity because I didn’t have to wonder things like why the Autobots, who were with Optimus Prime like five minutes ago, suddenly disappeared long enough to fight three Decepticons on his own. Or why they suddenly showed up the instant he died? (Answer: Because Michael Bay thought it would be cooler, and fuck you if you think what he’s shown you a minute ago is going to get in his way.) Why can only a Prime kill the Fallen? (No fucking clue.) If the Allspark shard can bring a Transformer back to life — as it does Megatron — why doesn’t Sam use the shard on Optimus instead of Jetfire, whom he hopes will tell him how to find another doohickey that might bring Optimus back to life? (Uh… explosion?) I can’t enjoy any of the action scenes because none of the rest of the movie makes any kind of sense.
Likewise, I thought the humor was terrible. With the possible exception of the Beef’s mom — who somehow buys a pot brownie without knowing what it is, eats it, and then freaks out as PCP were injected directly into her pineal gland (and, by they way, the pot brownie trope was being used at least as far back as Taxi, so this is some cutting-edge humor here) — the comic relief comes entirely through the robots. I’m not sure why, in an action film about giant robots, that Bay thought we’d also want them to fart, cry, piss, talk badly, fall down a lot, act like idiots, or hump Megan Fox’s leg. Call me crazy, but it’s a lot harder to think the Transformers are at all cool when one of them — the robot with potentially the most lines in the film, by the way — humps Megan Fox’s goddamn leg.
Frankly, it all boils down to Devastator’s balls. If you think Devasator having two wrecking ball testicles is funny — and again, I know some people do, because a few people in the theater laughed — then you think the fake scrotums people put on trucks are funny. Because they are the same thing. Literally. Same thing. I don’t find them funny, so let’s agree to disagree. Although I’m still boggled why Bay would try to cram so much “comedy” into his summer action spectacular.
Oh, the twins? They are hideously fucking racist. I will happily disagree with anyone who says otherwise on this, because besides the voices, besides the gold teeth, besides them yelling they “gon’ pop a cap in yo’ ass” and besides the illiteracy — it’s the native language of Cybertron, by the way, which even the humping robot can read — they look like robot versions of how cartoonists used to draw African natives back in the early 1900s. Big teeth, big mouths, big ears, small heads, like monkeys. It’s really, really awful.
And if the action scenes are supposed to be the film’s saving grace, I was not amazed. Honestly, the Transformer designs are so bad I almost never knew who was fighting or winning. Not that is mattered, since the plot was so infinitesimal that it never really mattered who won or not. The camera never stops moving, and the Transformers are so cluttered that it’s all just whirls of shards and debris, none of it making any sense or having any impact. And I mean that quite specifically, because Optimus and the other Transformers jump in the air and twist and contort like 12-year-old ballerina ninjas, lithe and light as a feather, instead of being enormous hunks of metal. Again, it’s Bay refusing to let any sense of reality intrude on what he thinks is cool.
So Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen offered nothing to me. I was not amused, I was astounded, and I was certainly not entertained. While its action scenes were… immense, they weren’t grand, because the film’s myriad flaws kept me from enjoying them. I know some of you loved it, but I honestly don’t know how. I know there were a few people who laughed in the theater I was in at every fart and oohed at every indistinct robot punching another indistinct robot, but mostly, the audience in my theater didn’t say a word. They watched. And when the credits rolled, they quietly got up and left. They didn’t look happy, nor did they look entertained. They looked like they’d just been occupied for two and a half hours. I guess they turned their brains off. But I can’t turn my brain off that far, and frankly, I don’t want to.
Terrifyingly, this is just the section of my review of the film on its own terms. If you want more hate, please continue to the next page.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is not a Transformers movie.
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 comm
on 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.