Hans here with a review of the film that has ruled the American box office for the last two weeks and, based on the crowd that I saw surrounding me, shows no signs of letting up.
My colleagues Quaid and ShepRamsey had no problems airing their disdain for Michael Bay’s sequel to his own riproaring opus of action idiocy in the days leading up to its release. I declined to chime in because, you know, why say things that don’t really need to be said, especially when your two comrades already have it and you’re jazzing up for Public Enemies?
I have reconciled myself to Michael Bay’s undeniable status as a filmmaker of box office power. This guy does what studios want him to do. He churns out movies that satisfy the masses and rake in a boatload of cash. As long as he continues on his present course (which, if you’ve ever heard the guy talk, is the only course he knows) he will always have a career. If you don’t like his movies or think he is the cinematic anti-christ, the best thing you can do is pretend that the guy only ever made two awesome action blockbusters (Bad Boys and The Rock) before being killed by a giant piece of fake meteor on the set of Armageddon, sparing us the embarrassment that was Pearl Harbor.
I had no intention of going to see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, but sometimes you just have to cave in. Quaid’s speculation about the possibility of Decepticon testicles in this one piqued my curiosity. The scathing, almost universally negative critical response the film has thus far received intrigued me further–could this film be laughably bad…like Guiness Book of World Records bad? The tipping point came when I was told (SPOILERS!) that at one point in this film, Shia LaBeouf is killed by an explosion and momentarily goes to heaven, where he encounters white Transformers walking on clouds who tell him that his work is not done and he must return to finish his mission. Anything with the potential to be this earth-shatteringly ridiculous deserved a look, and $6.50 be damned, I was going to take it.
I sat down ready to take the ride. What did I emerge with? Well, I’ll report that there are in fact Decepticon testicles, used to illicit a cheap, juvenile laugh in a movie with an endlessly cheap and juvenile sense of humor. And Shia LaBeouf does indeed go to Transformer heaven at one point before he is sent back to finish his task (I apologize to anyone out there who is angry at me for revealing this bit of information, but even you have to admit that its ridiculousness deserves to be mocked by the non-Transformers-viewing world). Is the film Guiness Book of World Records bad? I say this with a heavy heart, but not really.
Which is basically to say that the film did not impress me with its badness. It came no where close to Spiderman 3 (so bad). After this film was over, I felt pretty similar to how I felt at the end of the first one: I had just seen a bad movie. I was a bit more disappointed after the first film, as I had had higher hopes for it. With Revenge of the Fallen, I knew what I was getting into, and pretty much got what I expected.
Is it possible for someone to go see this movie and think it is the worst movie they have ever seen? Oh hell yeah, particularly if you haven’t been prepared by the badness of the first one. I am proud to report that there is not a single intelligent or memorable sentence uttered in this entire movie. There isn’t a single believable or realistic plot point. Action sequences seem to exist so that they can spin out of the control and go on for far too long. Human drama is inserted as a reprieve from the action sequences, which is another way of saying it doesn’t work. The Transformers are just as big, ugly, overly intricate (they really bring the appearance of a third grader’s art project to mind) and fake-looking as they were in the first film.
Yet there were times that I kind of enjoyed this movie. I liked its mindless, unbridled energy. It is entertaining. Most people who defend Transformers do so because it shows them a good time. There’s nothing wrong with that and it is easy to get swept away on the wave of this movie’s idiocy. It moves at such a breakneck pace that you give up on the plot after a little bit and just resign yourself to stuff blowing up around hot Megan Fox.
The plot only exists to propel the characters from action sequence to action sequence, but I will say that the hero is still Sam Witwicki (Shia LaBeouf) who has now moved onto college but still can’t leave his Transformer-past behind. He is still dating his inaccessibly hot gf Michala (Fox), who we first see in butt-hugging short shorts and a halter top spread atop a sun-drenched motorcycle as Green Day’s “21 Guns” lets fly a cool groove (nice work, Bayster). Anyway, they are trying to make a long distance relationship work, but Optimus Prime comes back and tells Sam that there are still Decepticon’s in hiding and that they will destroy the Autobots without Sam’s help. Sam finds a piece of the All Spark (the MacGuffin from the first film) in the shirt that he still has left over from the last adventure (I’m totally serious) and suddenly turns into a kind of Rain Man who can read a physics book in twenty five seconds and is somehow now the key to the Decepticon plot against the Autobots.
Somehow everybody ends up in Egypt. Oh, but first the gang has to seek wisdom from an old Decepticon who is on display in the Smithsonian. The film’s biggest laugh (one that it doesn’t intend) comes when they awaken the Decepticon, he angrily knocks down a wall in the Air and Space Museum in D.C., and they are all of the sudden in the deserts of Washington D.C. I would have liked to have been in on that production meeting.
There will surely be a Transformers 3, and Bay will surely direct it. I’m very “live and let live” with these types of films. I don’t have to see them if I don’t want to and the people who seem to like them generally only like them as dumb entertainment. But 100 good, smaller films could be made with the amount of money that it takes to make one Transformers. It is sad to know that Steven Spielberg is consistently credited as an Executive Producer. Does he not have scruples about enabling the career of a man who lacks even one percent of his talent or ambition?
Michael Bay is a fact-of-life, there is no mistaking that, but he also has no sense of how his films function outside of the box office. He is one of the big reasons why mainstream American film is thought of as loud, crass, silly, idiotic, and unambitious. His movies may each gross $100 million, but it is silly to think they are going to be remembered for anything except crowd-pleasing entertainment. There is nothing wrong with pleasing a crowd, but understand when they choose to forget about you ten seconds after they leave the theater.