Monday, July 6, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Director: Michael Bay
Starring: Shia LeBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Turturro, Isabel Lucas
Running Time: 147 min.
Rating: PG-13

★ 1/2 (out of ★★★★)

For the longest time I've shared in the widespread belief that different people have different reactions to particular films. There's no right or wrong, just different opinions and reasoning for backing it up. Sometimes critics hate a movie that audiences love and vice versa. It's just the way of the world. When we don't agree, we agree to disagree. It's entirely subjective. Or at least that's what I thought before I endured Michael Bay's brutal, painful assault on the senses and brain known as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which is every bit as bad as you've heard and then some.

It's less a film than an ordeal and it's taken me nearly a week to recover from it. Having already grossed over $400 million dollars worldwide and counting doesn't it stand to reason that Bay must have done something right? No, he hasn't. I don't care how many people saw this movie and loved it, how "critic-proof" it supposedly is or how much repeat business it's drumming up. The audiences are WRONG.


The critics are RIGHT. Everyone was warned and didn't listen. There's hardly a single redeeming quality about this piece of cinematic trash and it was the first time I exited a theater in actual physical pain. I had a headache, my back hurt, my ass hurt and I felt nauseous. Going in, I felt fine. You may have read reviews of this movie that claim it "insults the intelligence" of moviegoers. How I wish that were true. I'm breaking one of the unwritten rules of film criticism to take a cheap shot at audiences. But you know what? They deserve it. And if you sat in the theater I did you'd agree with me. When the final credits rolled this film got a standing ovation.


I can't remember any movie I've ever seen that's gotten a standing ovation. But I should have seen it coming. So much enthusiastic laughter and applause filled the theater you'd think you were at a George Carlin stand-up show. What movie were they watching? What planet did I land on? You'll have to forgive me because during the course of this review I'll occasionally be referring to Michael Bay as "MIKE Bay." It just seems more appropriate... and funnier. Can't you just picture this guy him introducing himself with sunglasses and a smirk saying "No, call me Mike." So I will.

As much as I want to completely place all the blame on him for this nearly 150 minute disaster I just can't. He's just doing what he was paid to do and happens to do very well: BLOW THINGS UP .And he makes it look as pretty as possible. He's giving everyone what they want, which just might be the scariest revelation to come out of the success of this movie, other than the fact that Steven Spielberg co-produced it.

For the most part, I have no problems with Mike as a filmmaker. I enjoyed The Rock. Didn't mind Armageddon. Don't carry the same seething hatred for the ridiculous Pearl Harbor that everyone else seems to and thought the first Transformers film was crazy fun. I'm also all for "checking your brain at the door" and losing yourself in an action spectacle. But this doesn't even work as that. You know it's a bad sign when blatant racism is the LEAST offensive aspect of your film. Rather than re-cap the plot in detail (which would be impossible anyway) it's better just to list the things that sent moviegoers bursting into uproarious laughter and applause.

- A robot humping Megan Fox's leg

- A robot with testicles

- the words "bitch" and "pussy" constantly being thrown around for shock value in a film based on a children's toy line.

-John Turturro in a thong

- A middle aged woman getting high off hash brownies and making a spectacle of herself on a college campus.

-Two racially caricatured robots, Skids and Mudflap, speaking in ebonics and bragging about how they can't read.

How hilarious. Between those scenes, the loud explosions, robots killing each other and mile-a-minute editing, an incomprehensible story is somehow squeezed in. In an opening that comes off as a nursery school version of 2001: A Space Odyssey, we're informed that the war between Autobots and Decepticons has been raging since prehistoric times. Now the Decepticons, led by their original master, The Fallen (voiced by Tony Todd), have returned to Earth to resurrect Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving) and kill Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen). Once that's accomplished they can destroy the sun...or something like that.

The only hope is college-bound Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) who discovers he possesses a shard of the Allspark that's causing his brain to see all sorts of crazy symbols and images. When he's not busy trying to save Earth from an invading alien race he's dealing with his annoying, overambitious roommate Leo (Ramon Rodriguez) and fighting off the advances of a sexy student (Isabel Lucas).

The less said about the relationship with his parents (Kevin Dunn and Judy White) the better. At least they seemed like real people in the first film. Here, the script has them re-play the same tired unhappily married joke over and over again with the added detail that mom's a pothead. Sadder still, is that while poorly executed and unfunny, the college-set scenes are probably the most tolerable in the film. It's all downhill from there. The rest of the movie is some sort of seizure inducing blur. There isn't even a second to come up for air and reflect upon how messy everything is or how little sense it makes.

This is Mike's middle finger to all the critics who dared find fault in his 2007 film, which not only boasted a far more coherent story than this, but a genuine sense of wonder and discovery. It was far from any kind of landmark achievement in storytelling but it got the job done in an effective manner. It would stand to reason that a sequel would at least be able to equal that considering the bar wasn't exactly set too high to begin with.

Everything that worked in the first film is trashed all while managing to magnify what was bad to excruciating levels. Wanted more screen time for the robots? Now there's too much. Less human relationships? Now there's none. Ironically, the one relationship we cared most about in the first film, between Sam and his Bumblebee Camaro, is all but completely excised and, with the exception of a brief scene early, Bumblebee is hardly in the film at all.

The "relationship" between Sam and his porn star girlfriend Mikaela (Fox) is far less effective than in the original, probably because of the pathetic attempt made at evolving Mikaela from a lust object into Sam's girlfriend. Fox just isn't believable as ANYONE'S girlfriend on screen and I don't necessarily mean that the way you think I do. Can you picture yourself going to the movies with Megan Fox? How about just hanging out? Or playing miniature golf? See my point? She's just there to look hot and have Bay ogle (or more accurately, nearly rape) her with the camera. That wouldn't be such a problem if the screenwriters knew her role and weren't dense enough to actually force a dynamic between her and Sam.

There's a sub-plot centering around who will say those three magic words first. Of course, since the only three magic words we'd ever believe Mikaela would hear from anyone are, "I LUST YOU," it's a little hard to buy. I described Fox's performance (as if it mattered) in the first film as "fine." To call her performance in this wooden would be an insult to wood. To her credit she seems to understand that, or at least understands the necessity of giving quotable soundbites that cater to her many fans.

This is a movie where even she wears out her welcome. It's like being given a gourmet meal at a restaurant while the waiter keeps screaming in your ear how great it is. As a result, my appreciation for her decreased about 50 percent.The next Angelina Jolie? She has a ways to go. And this is coming from someone who doesn't think that's even an admirable goal to shoot for. But she's right. These films aren't about acting. In related news, the Earth is round. By dwelling on Fox this much, does that make me as bad as Bay? Maybe, but you can't deny that the public's fascination with her is a million times more interesting than anything in this film.

Spielberg's adopted son gives a performance that isn't awful so much as it's irrelevant. He's a little more grating than in the first with his stammering, awkward everyman character, but that's in line with Bay's tendency to amp everything up this go around. He does fine with what he's given but it's getting to the point where we have to ask ourselves why Spielberg hand-picked this kid out of every single young actor working today to become the biggest star in the world. We have to find out soon, before Shia's star power eclipses his talent, if that hasn't happened already. In other words, he needs to pick more diverse projects with better directors. If not, don't be surprised if he comes forward with some very incriminating photos of Spielberg soon.

I'd be more willing to let Spielberg off the hook for producing this and assume he took a more "hands off" approach this time if he hadn't been involved in the making of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Eagle Eye. But he was and each new project he's credited to these days seems to be yet another stain on his previously impeachable filmography. Now we're going on almost a full decade where he's not only failed to contribute anything of substantial value to the film world, but is responsible for producing some real junk. This begs the question: How much longer is he going to get a free ride from critics and audiences based solely on accomplishments from over 15 years ago?

John Turturro's eccentric goverment agent returns except he isn't a government agent anymore. But he's more eccentric. He actually gives the most entertaining performance in the film and his interplay with Rodriguez's Leo is a highlight. But most of that is relegated to the third act, by which point I was starting to lose conciousness from all the mind numbing effects. By the time Sam's parents just showed up in the desert for no reason and without explanation I was completely lost. And this was scripted by Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who were most recently responsible for penning the very successful recent Star Trek reboot. In the film's only improvement from the original, Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson's military officers are fittingly given nothing to do at all since their roles were pointless to begin with. You know things are bad when I find myself actually missing Jon Voight. The forgettable Isabel Lucas takes over for Rachael Taylor as the second place hottie and accomplishes the impossible in giving a worse performance than Fox with far less screen time.

The controversy concerning Skids and Mudflap is overblown not because the robots aren't offensive stereotypes but because they hardly see any screen time and serve no purpose other than to get some cheap laughs. Their inclusion is pointless, which may be the the most offensive thing about it. Comparisons to Jar Jar Binks are unwarranted. He's more annoying than these two, but at least his primary purpose wasn't to piss people off. It was just a bad judgment call on Lucas' part. This feels like something uglier than that. And stupider.

A temptation exists to give this a lower score than one and a half stars but doing so would be unfair since this is a "technically" impressive motion picture that could have only been made by a talented filmmaker. And at 147 minutes at least it doesn't drag. How can it when it's too busy pummeling you into submission with sensory overload? This is Bay at his absolute worst, or best, depending on your perspective.

This review is more indicative of my disappointment with the film's success and what it means for the the movie industry than the actual work itself, which is obviously pretty awful. One thing's for sure though: There's a party at Stephen Sommers' house and Sienna's bringing the keg. I'd be shocked if Sommers' upcoming G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra isn't a better Hasbro adaptation than this. Just watch me eat my words later on that. In any event, I'm sure he's waiting with open arms and knows it bodes well for him that audiences would so willingly embrace a film this dumb.

I'm not missing the point here. I know what movies like this are supposed to accomplish. We all do. Or at least I thought we did. This doesn't accomplish it. It's as if elements from previous summer blockbusters were fused together and Bay's faking it. I go to movies to watch stories with characters, not things blow up for two and a half hours.

My biggest worry when I review movies is that I come off as some sort of psuedo-intellectual snob. I just want to have fun and consider myself a fan first and a critic second. This appeals to neither in me and when it ended I had little desire to either talk or write about. The critics really earned their keep this time (with one predictable exception). But maybe I should stand corrected that fans fully embraced the film They did have one major problem with it: That Megatron bowed in servitude. Oh the horror. I don't know how I'm going to sleep tonight knowing such an oversight could be made amidst the film's other gargantuan problems.

2008 was a bad year for movies. Could 2009 actually be WORSE? Is it possible? If Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is any indication it very well can be. When it ended I felt ripped off...and I saw it FOR FREE. If audiences keep turning out for junk like this you have to wonder where we should really place the blame. Hotshot action directors need to earn a buck also. Michael Bay will continue making movies like this only as long as we go to see them.


Ben K said...

Brilliant! You review hit every vital point as to why this movie is such a monstrosity. There are more than enough reasons to give this movie less than one a half stars. The movie is technically well made, but that mattered less and less as the movie kept going and pummeling at what was left of my brain. I do have to say that I think you might be going a little too rough on Spielberg. He did make "Munich" which was a brilliant piece of cinema, and "Catch Me If You Can" was really good I thought. Still, an excellent review as always!

jeremythecritic said...

Point taken on Spielberg. Those were definitely good films (as was A.I.), but I'd still rank them among his lesser works. And not nearly good enough for me to forgive him for directing Indy 4 and producing this and Eagle Eye. I guess we can take the good with the bad. It just scares me that he sees any creative value in this film.