'Transformers': Nothing Meets the Eye
James Rocchi, Special to MSN Movies
In 2007's "Transformers," director Michael Bay (who is also responsible for "Pearl Harbor" and "Armageddon") brought the Hasbro toy line to the big screen in the perfect marriage of plastic, mass-production subject and plastic, mass-production director. "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" brings Bay, his armada of effects technicians and his cast back to continue the Earth-bound battle between two rival groups of alien robots who can disguise themselves as vehicles so as to better hide among us. Based on a mythology created to rev up the promotion and profits between a toy line and an animated show during the '80s, "Transformers" was big and dumb and loud and fake, full of slapdash storytelling and special effects that leapt off the screen and clawed at your retinas in the hope of distracting you from just how badly made the movie was. "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is not as bad as "Transformers"; somehow, in the face of long odds, it is actually worse.
Where the first film was desperate, this one is desperate and sad. Where the first film sent mixed messages about ethnic and racial groups and women, this one is overtly racist and sexist. Where the first "Transformers" was clumsy, "Revenge of the Fallen" is paralyzed with its own stupidity. I literally could not stop laughing out loud during "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" -- not at the moments intended as comedy, which are not funny in any way, but rather at Bay's superhuman ability to look at his own film and not see that it's nothing but broken bits, desperate distractions and empty explosions. (I can imagine Bay braying "Wonderful! Cut! Print!" after every scene regardless of its quality, Ed Wood with hundreds of millions of dollars, not just hundreds.) Screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman wrote this summer's fun, smart, breezy "Star Trek"; alongside Ehren Kruger, they're credited with the screenplay for "Revenge of the Fallen." How can one of these things be so good and one of them be so bad? Look to the director's chair, and who makes the ultimate decision about what goes onscreen and why, and you'll get that Bay has no interest in character or story or real excitement or any aspect of moviemaking that's built on anything more than the retinal equivalent of a sugar rush.
And, to deal with the token objections of the film's defenders, I have an inner child; he's just not an inner idiot. And if how much money something made had any correlation to how good it actually is, doctors would recommend you get more cocaine instead of more leafy greens. And no, I can't shut my brain off and have fun, anymore than I could rip out my tongue and enjoy a meal, because my brain is where I feel fun. And I could talk about the plot and characters and performances of "Revenge of the Fallen," but why should I care about those things when it's so clear that Bay doesn't? Many will walk out of "Revenge" praising the action and the special effects, but they'll be indicating that they don't know what they're talking about. The action is badly cut, confusing and incoherent, with no sense of space or distance or dynamism aside from close-ups of brutal blows and long shots of explosions. The effects are either too swift to be truly seen (Wasn't one of the pleasures of the Transformers toys slllllllowly ... clicking ... each change into place?) or so phony you can't bear to look (like when walking big-rig Optimus Prime, a giant multiton mass of metal, moves and fights with the lithe lightness of a 12-year-old gymnast). "Revenge of the Fallen" isn't good; it's just expensive, and while Michael Bay can't tell the difference between those things, a reasonably intelligent person can.
And I haven't even begun to talk about the racist-caricature robots of "The Twins," who speak in thug slang and "aren't much for reading" and talk about getting "up in that ass," and one of whom has, I wish I were kidding, a gold tooth. Or about how when the film isn't drooling over Megan Fox's poreless, lifeless form and visage, it's busy calling women "bitches" and throwing around "pussy" as an insult. Or how Shia LaBeouf's "performance" has him spend half the film doing third-rate Danny Kaye tricks to depict mental freak-out and the other half running in slow motion yelling "Optimus!" If Bay wanted to make a big, epic science-fiction battle, he failed by adapting a toy and television series made for kids; if he wanted to make a family-friendly adventure, he failed by larding it with violence and sex and smutty "humor" and dog-humping sight gags. Transforming robots can be two very different things, through the miracle of special effects, but Bay's bloated blockbuster wants to flip between high-octane action and fizzy-fun kids stuff and winds up failing at both. If you tell me you loved "Revenge of the Fallen" -- really, truly, loved it without reservation or complaint -- then you've essentially told me you can't tell something from nothing, good from bad, craft from cost. The best thing about "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is that it's perhaps the funniest movie of the year (Oh, look, Optimus Prime's fallen robo-corpse is being lain to rest at sunset, waaaah-wwwwwwanh, sad-trom-bone ...). The worst thing is that ticket-buying masses will shower stupid spectacle with success one more time because they don't want, need or expect anything better from big Hollywood.