Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
June 24, 2009
Michael Bay is not a director; he is a general. He marshals resources, lashes together vast armies of cast and crew, travels the world and blows ten kinds of hell out of every landmark he sees. He innovates in the state of his field’s technological art to wreak havoc and chaos on his opponents, and in the style of excess heaps bombast on them until they submit. The good news is that he is technologically proficient. The bad news is that his opponents are the audience.
As an exercise in the numbing effects of relentless noise and whirling, nonsensical CGI, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a triumph. Even if your tolerance for such things is very high, the sheer length of it all will beat you down: Transformers clocks in at around two and a half hours, an hour of which—consisting entirely of plot chatter no one could possibly care about—could have disappeared with no one the wiser. This is not a movie. This is an endurance trial.
In brief: the good-guy Autobots, in league with the United States Armed Forces and plucky kids Sam (Shia LeBouf, who tries hard, bless him) and Mikaela (Megan Fox, who calls to mind a talent-free Bratz doll), must stop the evil-robot Decepticons from turning on some kind of energy miner that will destroy the sun.
There, that wasn’t so hard, was it? That summary took me as long to write as it took you to read it, but Bay (and writers Ehren Kruger, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman) seem to think this is very complex stuff, so we have approximately seven hours of humans chattering and globe-trotting and trading lame quips and trying to decipher ancient robot languages. Does this sound like the sort of thing you want to see when you pay for a ticket to Transformers?
What I am telling you is that a movie about giant robots who kick each others’ asses does not feature giant robots kicking each others’ asses for approximately 80% of its running time. But there is a cameo by Rainn Wilson, and that was nice.
I had a hard time figuring out who this movie was for. The few action scenes there are are actually pretty nifty; the opening chase through Shanghai is probably the best sequence in the movie, and some of the closing shots at the anti-climactic final battle at the Pyramids had me raising my eyebrow in appreciation. The eight-year-old kid sitting next to me was into those.
So I figured, yeah, this works pretty well as a kids’ action movie. Not for me, but not everything needs to be. But there’s so much adolescent sexuality, so many genital jokes and unnecessary profanity, that there’s no way this was planned as a kids movie. So: too profane for kids, but way, way too stupid for adults and (I hope) most teenagers. Who is Bay talking to here?
I mean, yeah, the characterizations are childish. It’s no secret that this movie and its predecessor are product placement ads for GM and the USAF as much as anything else. So there’s a lot of “soldiers rule, bureaucrats drool” ra-ra stuff, with Tyrese Gibson’s soldier character hanging around to make sure you know how to feel at the end of each scene with the snivelly rep from the White House. Bumblebee is around, a little, still speaking entirely in movie quotes and song snippets—clearly the nerd identification character. Optimus Prime has little screen time and less presence.
But then there’s the twins. I don’t know what their names are, but they’re two small car/robots who are, shall we say, a little shocking. Some might call them racist caricatures, but that’s only true if you think if you think illiterate guys with gold teeth and huge ears who talk bad street slang is racist. It would be more offensive if it wasn’t so utterly tone deaf.
So that’s a crapshoot. What of the (comparatively very little) action? Well, there are one or two pretty cool sequences. The rest is, I’m sorry to say, like watching a bunch of highly-articulated heaps of garbage slug it out; when enough Transformers get into the mix you quickly lose sight of who’s who and why you should bother caring. There are a lot more Transformers in this movie than there were in the first (or so I’m told), but that ends up not mattering much. They don’t even get named and most of them die anyway.
My friends think of me as something of a curmudgeon. I’m sure they knew how I’d respond to the movie even before I walked in, but I promise you I tried to keep an open mind. This charity was in vain; there is too much here that is inexcusable for Transformers to approach anything like a good time. It is detestably stupid and relentlessly dull. There was a time when Michael Bay could craft an enjoyably schmaltzy over-the-top action sundae, but it appears that time has passed.
Oh well. Life goes on.