Starring Shia LeBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Turturro, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Ramon Rodriguez, Isabel Lucas, Hugo Weaving, Frank Welker and Eeyore
Directed by Michael Bay
SPOILER ALERT: These innocent-looking words may transform into evil, plot-revealing spoilers without further warning.
Michael Bay is often the object of much scorn and derision for directing films that favor style over substance, assaulting the audience with flashy special effects and booming soundtracks while seeming to eschew such things as character development and coherent storytelling. In spite of this, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen made thirty-seven bazillion dollars ((Net.)) over the course of its opening weekend.
Did I say “in spite of this”? I meant “because of this”.
The reason Michael Bay’s second Transformers movie made a metric ton of money despite reviews that are almost universally negative is simple: Michael Bay understands that the modern movie theater is tailor-made for big, explodey, in-your-face films featuring frenetic action and jaw-dropping special effects that push the audience right to the edge of sensory overload and keep it there for nearly two solid hours. Bay’s brand of filmmaking has all the elements that compel me (and millions of people like me) to step up to the ticket counter and plunk down eight or nine (or ten) of their hard-earned American dollars in exchange for a hundred and twenty or so minutes of larger-than-life, mind-numbing eye candy.
Mock me if you will. Call me a philistine. I’ll gladly cop to that charge. Why? Because when the theater shakes to the rafters each time Optimus Prime’s massive metal fist smashes into a Decepticon’s face it completely drowns out the sound of cell phones ringing. When a flaming meteor pummels a giant aircraft carrier, I can’t hear the people behind me—you know the ones; the couple who insist on maintaining a running narrative throughout the entire film—yeah, I can’t hear a word they’re saying, nor can I hear the baby crying off to my right. As an added bonus, those giant transforming robots beating the bolts out of each other in a fight sequence so fast-paced my eyes and brain can barely keep up renders me all but unable to even notice the jackass in the next row updating his Facebook status from his iPhone. It’s sheer bliss.
Compelling characters? Subtle, nuanced performances? Thought-provoking narrative? Please! That stuff has no place on a forty-foot-wide screen rendered in so much digital brilliance that I can count the sympathetic protagonist’s eyelashes as the camera zooms in for a close-up during his heart-wrenching, Oscar-worthy monologue. When I want to watch a film from a visionary director that provides some insight into the human condition—the sort of intellectually-stimulating high-brow cinema-as-art drivel I’ll be talking to my well-read friends about over chardonnay and canapés—I’ll buy the DVD and watch it at home. Where it’s quiet. Where no one is kicking the back of my chair. Where the only jackass with a cell phone is me.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a triumph of cinema-as-spectacle. That said, it is also an awful, awful movie. All that stuff about sacrificing ((Or just plain ignoring.)) a decent story in the drive to push action to the forefront; it’s all true. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a film that, like most everything Michael Bay has ever touched, makes me want to give him a high-five and then drive my knee into his tender, private bits.
The part of me that can switch off my critical brain and just enjoy the awesome sight of 40-foot-tall robots transforming into vehicles and then back into robots, all the while beating the ever-lovin’ hell out of each other doesn’t begrudge Bay one nickel of the admission price. The other part of me—the part that still geeks out over those transforming robots but cringes when one of those robots displays very obvious testicles or when the formerly-badass leader of the Decepticons is reduced to a groveling lickspittle at the feet of The Fallen or when the movie turns into Decoys 3: Alien Robot Seduction—that part howls for Michael Bay’s head on a pike.
Revenge of the Fallen obeys some bizarre, twisted balance that I will call Bay’s First Law, which can be simply stated as follows: For every moment of awesome, there must exist an equal and opposite moment of awful. ((Bay’s Second Law: An object, particularly a vehicle, at rest will disgorge its passengers in motion—slow-motion.))
|Transforming robots. Come on, that’s right up there on the list of The Coolest Things Ever.||Non-transforming robots. I’m looking at you, Ravage and The Fallen. Seriously, a robot that looks like a giant chrome kitty? Who the hell is that going to fool?|
|Robots in disguise. This might be a little redundant, but it bears repeating: robots that can transform into cars and planes and tanks and motorcycles are made of awesome! ((But I’m still annoyed that Optimus Prime has a mouth.))||Robots in disguise…as humans. No! No, no, no! A thousand times: no! Once you give Transformers the ability to assume non-mechanical disguises you ruin them forever! You need look only as far as the Dinobots to see ample evidence of this.|
|Devastator. What’s cooler than a car transforming into a giant robot? How about six or seven contruction vehicles combining to transform into a robot so big it can’t even stand upright?||Devastator. What’s not cool about a robot made of seven construction vehicles? How about a pair of testicles made of wrecking balls, dangling between said robot’s legs despite the fact that none of the vehicles comprising the robot had a wrecking ball?|
|Jetfire. The SR-71 Blackbird may be the coolest plane in the history of aviation; the only way to make it cooler: transform it into a giant robot…||…but not if that robot is my grandpa! He has a beard and a cane, for cryin’ out loud! Oh, and here’s something you probably didn’t see coming: he can teleport. Dude, if you can teleport, why do you need wheels or wings?|
|More Transformers. Revenge of the Fallen has a bunch of new Transformers, both Autobots and Decepticons. More giant transforming robots = more giant transforming robot fights. And that is cool.||Yeah, but…two of those new ‘bots (Skids and Mudflap) are best described as racist caricatures, while Arcee, the only female Transfomer, ((Don’t try to think about why a Transformer ought to be female; your head may explode.)) is killed after only one line of dialog. Definitely not cool.|
Then there are the humans, who exist solely to allow the budget some breathing room and to remind the audience that the Autobots have to watch where they step. Bay still drools over Mikaela (Megan Fox) with his camera, ((Megan Fox’s lipstick remains unsmudged whether she’s dry-humping a motorcycle or after two days of hauling her shapely backside across the deserts of Egypt, pursued by murderous Decepticons. Cover the Autobots in that same lip gloss and they’d be pretty much invincible.)) while Sam (Shia LeBeouf) remains the hapless, confused hero and his parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White) provide much-unneeded comic relief.
Whether they be searching for the elusive Matrix or stumbling (literally) through a painfully-long drug joke on an unnamed college campus, anytime the humans occupy the screen without the titular transforming robots present they drain a little more of the awesome out of the movie. Thankfully, there’s enough left that I’m waiting for my next opportunity to sit in a multiplex auditorium and have my senses overloaded by all of Michael Bay’s transforming sound and fury; even if, at the end, it signifies nothing more than meets the eye.