The outer limits of awful: notes on Michael Bay's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
[As of this time, 7:49 pm on Wednesday, June 24, 2009, the film doctor is still recuperating from his ill-advised midnight viewing of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. He had meant to write a review of the movie, but he was so traumatized by the jack-hammer-to-the-eyes-and-ears experience of watching it, he has spent much of the day muttering "Bumblebee, Allspark, Autobot" under his breath while twitching and wondering if his stapler is in actuality a Decepticon. He did manage to cobble together these few notes. He knows that his life will never be the same again. When he was younger, he could take a series of summer blockbuster wannabes in sequence. Now, with the one-two punch of Land of the Lost and this movie, he's not so sure.]
1) The definition of "Hack" from Dictionary.com: "a person, such as an artist or writer, who exploits, for money, his or her creative ability or training in the production of dull, unimaginative, and trite work; one who produces banal and mediocre work in the hope of gaining commercial success in the arts." Michael Bay is a successful hack.
2) Most every excruciating aspect of Transformers 2 can be explained by Point #1. For instance, take the odd cliche-spouting robots ("Damn, I'm good," "Vengeance is mine," "We can destroy your cities at will," "You picked the wrong planet," "The boy will lead us to it," "Fate rarely calls us at a moment of our choosing," "I rise, you fall!"). How do you try to lend some adult authority to these grandiose inflated Hasbro toys with World Wrestling Federation posturing? Answer: by bringing in lots of military footage of aircraft carriers, submarines, and various generals barking orders: "Man your battle stations!" And so on. Whether it be the pounding music, the length of the movie, the size of the protagonists, etc., Bay inflates everything. No emotion can be earned. Bay must figure out a way to rig it first.
3) According to /film , Bay wrote this on his online forum back in April:
"Steven Spielberg sat next to me in a big 100 person theater at Sony today. There were 98 empty seats. The lights came up after we just watched my cut of Revenge of the Fallen. He turned to me and said ‘It’s awesome’ He felt this movie was better then the first - and probably my best, who knows - at this point in a movie you start to lose your objectivity. I just hope the fans like it.”
This comment, if true, crushes my great respect for the director of Duel, Jaws, and even Close Encounters of the Third Kind (which Bay steals liberally from for Transformers 2). Then again, Spielberg may have been having fun imagining what would be the best Bay film: The Rock, perhaps?
4) Then there are the dubiously caricatured robots, now in competition with Jar Jar Binks as the most ill-advised creatures in cinematic history. Skids, with his gold tooth and floppy ears, and Mudflap, the two goofybots who say things like "I'm gonna a bust a cap in yo' ass" could have just as well been called Amos and Andy. Bay says he invented these characters for the children in the audience. Minstrel show robot humor for the kids? The internet inquiry is just getting started on those two.
5) I find the correlations with other films curious. Bay begins with a nod to 2001: A Space Odyssey when robots appear back in the beginnings of civilized man. As the savages ran around, I wondered, is there some correspondence here to Year One and the apemen of Land of the Lost? Did screenwriters in Hollywood stand up at one point two years ago and say "I know! Cavemen!"
6) One of the Decepticons kept calling another one "Master" in a servile way. Is he meant to be an Igor to the other's Frankenstein?
7) While the first Transformers movie was kind of fun for awhile, mostly because of the novelty of watching the bots transform into cars, jets, Rock -em, Sock -em robots, and so on, this sequel tends to settle into long involved fight scenes between Autobots and Decepticons where you can see Shia LaBeouf at the bottom of the screen jumping over a tree limb or something to give the CGI fight scale. (These scenes raise the question: why do humans matter with all of this robattling? Just because LaBeouf's character has something in his brain that the Decepticons need? Most of the humans seem included for comic relief only.) At any rate, the movie feels physically aggressive to the eyes as the military score pounds in your ears. I felt bludgeoned, and the entire last full hour in the desert seemed tacked on for one last combined military/robot battle. Revenge of the Fallen is not quite right. Michael Bay should have called it Cringe, Viewer, Cringe.