Thursday, June 25, 2009
Remember that old gag in the movies where the hero dropped a huge bell on the villain and then struck it to deafen the foe inside? As a child, I always wondered if that really worked, especially since the bell was on the ground and therefore wouldn’t really be given to reverberation. Sadly, I didn’t grow up near a cathedral, so I never got to satiate my curiosity. Well, now I know, because I’ve seen Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, a a loud, stupid and even louder disasterpiece as dizzyingly frantic as it is devastatingly boring.
You can tell from the get-go that continuity doesn’t play a large role in the Transformers universe: Bumblebee fixed his voice in the last film, but it’s not working here; the robots are hiding, even though they tore apart Los Angeles. Now the Autobots work with the U.S. government and answer to the President. Apparently no other country can ask anything of the aliens, except for a few British soldiers, because at least they speak English. That's God's language! It's what Bible is written in and everything. And the aliens continue hide in bright neon cars, which is extremely helpful in their covert ops to flush out remaining Decepticons.
Plot-wise, you better buckle up. The first “Transformers” suffered from a needlessly convoluted story, but this takes the cake: apparently the robots have been on Earth since the dawn of man and they built the pyramids to hide their weaponry. This is all explained in turgid patches of exposition. Why are the pyramids seemingly the one thing in the Bible that everyone's always willing to change? You know, the one thing with actual physical proof; clearly it was made by aliens, not Jewish slaves. Oh, and the Decepticons want to kill our sun. Not our sun, Decepticons! That’s where we get our light and heatness! Who will the moon talk to?
Obviously, this film is for children, but it’s simply insulting. Furthermore, I wouldn’t recommend taking a child to this film, because it’s filled with swearing and endless non-veiled innuendo. This is a film about toys, for Pete’s sake. Now, I am of the generation that grew up with Ren & Stimpy and Rocko’s Modern Life, so I know a thing or two about innuendo in children’s programming. But at least that was buried; Transformers 2 is a barrage of leg humping, pot brownies and – I’m not kidding – robot testicles.
Worst of all are the racist caricatures of two Autobots named Mudflap and Skids. The last film featured a jive-talking Autobot (they even called him “Jazz”) who existed to be not only the first Autobot to die but the only one to die. This is worse: the pair not only speak like stereotypical ill-educated black people but are illiterate and actually have a simian appearance. One of them sports a gold tooth. There are Asian and Arab stereotypes here and there but these two are downright appalling, yet they got the biggest laughs of the film. Apparently, space racism (spacism?) is hilarious.
Not that the women fare any better. In Michael Bay's world, the women don't get to be funny, unless they're having a nervous breakdown concerning their children leaving home or stuffed with pot (at which point they act nothing like a stoned person). No, they just have to stand there and look pretty, or at least what Bay thinks is pretty. Megan Fox's dialogue consists of a few atrocious sentences of flirting subsequently replaced by shrieking "SAM!!" in a terrified voice. Bay just plays her up for eye candy, but he does everything in his power to make her look plastic and creepy. In a film where one human is revealed to be a Transformer, I kept waiting for Fox's character to be thus exposed, though I suppose it would lack an iota of surprise.
LaBeouf himself is unmemorable; I think that Spielberg could turn him into the next Tom Hanks yet (at least in terms of an everyman quality; he certainly doesn't have Hanks' range and charisma), but the kid needs to pick his roles more carefully. He gives an admirable go of trying to play this nonsense with a straight face as everyone around him plays the fool. Speaking of which, let's just not even mention how much scenery John Turturro is chewing. Nor is it any use, I imagine, to point out that the same man who was in Do the Right Thing, the greatest commentary on race of the last 20 years, here works in a deli run by his Jewish harpy of a mother. I think he just might be the titular Fallen.
Now, I know what the fanboys are about thinking right about now: “Hey, man, I just like to shut off my brain to see a move. Sorry it’s not La Dolce Vita.” Such nonsense says more about that person than it ever does about a film. Second, Transformers 2 is the first film that will shut your brain down for you: its four (!) editors cannot keep a single moment of action from being disorienting, and every fight is nothing more than a mesh of unidentifiable fluorescent metal as the humans run from explosions in slow-motion. These action scenes are big and flashy, but they’re so damn confusing you have to wait until it’s all over to figure out what happened. And why do the just punch each other when they all sport missile launchers and heavy cannons? The only time you have any sense of clarity is when each side is firing at the other with some distance between them.
A more levelheaded person might suggest that I not expect so much from a film based on toys, which is an apt observation. But this film is nothing more than a string of advertisements and product placements for all the companies who bankrolled it. I fear that I incur the snide eye-rolling of the Internet by calling this the worst film I've ever seen, but which would you rather watch: a movie with such abysmal production values that it becomes bizarrely hilarious, or a morally bankrupt, artistically corrupt celebration of the very worst ideals that America has embodied over the last eight years, of fascism, isolationism and flag-wavering superiority? With a second act that drags like molasses and an utter lack of thematic exploration, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is an 80-minute movie crammed into two and a half hours. Michael Bay didn’t bring the Transformers to life; he made a $200 million adaptation of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots.