The ritual stoning continues--Capone has his way with TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN!!!
Published at: June 24, 2009, 9:28 a.m. CST by Capone
Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.
I got home after watching the new TRANSFORMERS film a little dazed, with a mild headache, ears ringing, slight vertigo, and a low-level depression, knowing that a generation of moviegoers (perhaps even two generations) would watch Michael Bay's latest offering and consider it…impressive, groundbreaking? Who knows? But the film's complete and utter dismissal of anything resembling a cohesive story or even two-dimensional characters (three dimensions would clearly be asking too much) is what disturbed me most. And while I could be like many, and simply sit here and type a succession of expletive-punctuated statements about Bay's abilities as a filmmaker or the utter contempt he has for his audience's ability to appreciate a well-conceived plot, that's not what I'm going to do here. I'm simply going to walk through what I liked and what I did not, and hope that I don't let my emotions or my throbbing headache get the best of me.
I did something last weekend that I rarely do before going into a sequel--I went back and watched the original. I did this because I literally could not remember a single thing about the first TRANSFORMERS movie. I also went back to reread my review of the original film, and I was surprised by how accepting I was of large portions of what I saw two years ago. But I realized while watching REVENGE OF THE FALLEN that many of the elements I appreciated about the first film still hold true. The one thing I will always give Bay credit for is showing us something we have never seen before, and this film has about 5,000 such moments. Seriously, if I'd had the ability to turn off the audio on this film, I might have done just that, because the special effects are often mind-blowing. From the tiniest insect-size robot to the enormous, pyramid-destroying Decepticon made up of about a dozen different construction vehicles, Bay literally hurls new robot after new robot at us to the point where we barely have time to notice the Transformer characters from the previous film.
Bay stages battle sequences the way a three-year old plays with Lego’s. He dumps everything out at once in one loud crash, and just starts snapping pieces together and tossing them into each other. I’ll admit, there is something mildly awe-inspiring about watching that much money get hurled around the screen. And much like a child at play, things get loud, there’s a lot of screaming, and shit gets destroyed. I could go through all of the terrible plot decisions and confusing story elements that never really get cleared up, but there just isn’t the time and I don’t have the inclination. Okay, maybe one thing--if the Decepticons can make themselves look human (as one robot who visits Sam at college does), then why don’t they all just do that all the time? Wouldn’t that make their job of infiltrating and destroying humans so much easier? Here’s another question, Do any of the women in Michael Bay’s universe own skirts that go below the upper thigh other than Sam Witwicky’s mom (which doesn’t stop Bay from being the butt of some pretty overt sexual humor)?
As much fun as it is driving a semi through the plot holes of a Michael Bay movie, that’s not really reviewing the film. But it is part of the movie-going experience of seeing REVENGE OF THE FALLEN. So much of the film and the decisions the characters make seem counterintuitive. For example, why would there be dumb robots? For all of the discussion and sensitivity displayed on this and other sites about the home-bots, Mudflap and Skids (both voiced by a white voice actor named Tom Kenny, best known as the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants), nothing will quite prepare you for just how patently offensive these characters are. And I understand that the good-guy Autobots pick up human characteristics and voices from watching our media, but what the hell were these bug-eyed, gold-toothed, illiterate robots observing? Al Jolson movies? The filmmakers also decided to bring back John Turturro for this second go-round as the former Sector 7 agent from the first film, so we don’t really need additional comic relief from slap-happy ‘bots.
What else do you really need to know? Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox are back as now-established couple Sam and Mikaela. Sam is off to college, leaving Mikaela to work in her auto-body shop with her dad (now released from prison, in a wheelchair, and largely dialogue free). The AutoBots have incorporated themselves nicely with a special branch of the military that seeks out Decepticons and kills them. So all is right in the world until an ancient race of Transformers who visited earth thousands of years ago and are frozen under deep in the ice are set free. Then there’s some crap about Decepticons who still exist on the rapidly crumbling home planet of the Transformers. Then it turns out that some of the exhibits at the Air and Space Museum in D.C. are actually Transformers, but having just seen the NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM sequel (and having grown up in the D.C. area), it’s very clearly not the real museum. Then there’s the old British Decepticon who it turns out has switched sides; then there’s the Decepticon named The Fallen (voiced by Tony Todd) who’s even more evil than Megatron (still voiced by Hugo Weaving). Then Sam gets a secret robot language imprinted on his brain. Then they end up destroying pyramids in Egypt. Got all that? Now explain it to me, please.
Look, I don’t need a film to make 100 percent sense for me to enjoy watching it. But when a film like REVENGE OF THE FALLEN does everything in its power to create as much noise and chaos as it can to push you away from the screen, how am I supposed to get engaged in a film like that? The truth is, I’ve always appreciated Michael Bay’s ability to direct large-scale, complicated action sequences, but this is the film that finally defeated him. The sequences just don’t make any goddamned sense a lot of the time. There are too many characters, and, yes, I’ll say it, a lot of these robots look alike, so sometimes I can’t even tell who I’m supposed to be rooting for. As I mentioned earlier, the special effects in this film are seamless, while being almost impossible to appreciate fully. This was the absolutely most frustrating part of watching this movie. I could tell something cool was going on behind all the dust and spare parts, but I’ll be damned if I could pass a test on what I was seeing or hearing.
Look, I’m neither a Michael Bay apologist nor a knee-jerk hater. I’ve admired some of what he accomplished in the first TRANSFORMERS effort, and was utterly turned off by most of what was going on in REVENGE OF THE FALLEN. The entire experience watching this film was like witnessing a filmmaker dare his audience to try to make sense of, or even like, his movie. I’m not the sort of person who can turn off my brain entirely or lower my expectations in advance of any movie, but TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN really made me wish I could have done either. This isn’t the worst film I’ve seen this year, or even this summer, but it’s the one that tries the hardest and still manages to fail so completely.