‘Transformers 2’: Less than meets the eye. Much less.
Complaining about Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen after you’ve actually paid to go see it is kind of like complaining after commanding someone to punch you in the face. They might not have done it the way you wanted them to do it, but you sort of knew what you were getting yourself into. It’s kind of your own fault.
Such is the case with the latest behemoth from Michael friggin’ Bay. It’s overblown to the point of absurdity, and yet I feel like an a-hole for complaining that it’s overblown, because, well, of course it’s overblown. I saw the trailer, didn’t I? I knew that going in. And I read other reviews that said the movie was bad. What was I expecting?
I sort of liked the first Transformers. On the guilty-pleasure scale I gave it a three-star rating, simply because, again, I knew what I was getting into, and the movie delivered on its silly level. And it made me laugh. And the voice of Optimus Prime was … the real voice of Optimus Prime, Peter Cullen. Which was awesome. Overall, it was sort of a more-frenetic, less-classy Independence Day.
And, of course, directed by Michael friggin’ Bay.
Love him or hate him (I typically fall into the latter category) one thing you must admit about Michael Bay is that his movies are visually distinctive. He’s like the Frankenstein monster that Jerry Bruckheimer created. Among the Bruckheimer stable of gloss-first directors, Bay stands alone.
Unfortunately, Bay’s excessive stylistic gloss is the one of X-treme marketing and overgleamed movie trailer shine. Every damn shot looks like it was polished within an inch of its life to look like a trailer for a $200 million movie. The signature Michael Bay shot: A camera revolving, like a satellite, around one or two characters from a low-angle perspective, looking up at them, usually with skyscrapers in the background towering over them (sometimes exploding and/or on fire).
Take another director in Bruckheimer’s usual stable — Tony Scott, director of, among many other things, Domino, one of the most excessive movies ever made. And yet there’s a cheeky, hilarious subversiveness to Domino, whereas Bay’s productions just seem like style overmilked to look like corporate Hollywood product.
But anyway. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. It pretty much follows the template of the first movie, which is to follow Shia LaBeouf’s character through various comic situations early in the film before introducing a goofy action plot which especially in the last 30-45 minutes devolves into a witless free-for-all of monotonous robot carnage. The problem here is a big case of the law of diminishing returns. The conclusion reached by the end: I really didn’t need to see this movie.
I always found the notion that the mayhem from the end of the first movie — namely several square blocks of downtown Los Angeles being destroyed by 50-foot robots locked in a prolonged battle — could be “covered up by the government” to be among the most ludicrous things about the first Transformers. That’s a plot point here as well, no less ludicrous, but made into something of an amusement by the notion that Sam’s college roommate is a conspiracy theorist who thinks that downtown L.A. was in fact destroyed by alien robots, and not by the reasons supplied by the government’s lame-ass cover story.
Like the first movie, there’s a certain enjoyment to find in some of the goofy comedy early in the film. I have no idea if Shia LaBeouf has any real acting range, but I do think that the hyperdrive manic personas that he has played in the films I’ve seen him in have worked on their level. LaBeouf is actually the best thing about both the Transformers movies. There’s something about him that is slightly mad, which is the right choice in a movie that surrounds him with unending madness.
Megan Fox is hot, okay, but Bay lavishes upon her the most ridiculous camera treatment, lighting, and makeup, which dooms the character from ever being taken as seriously as even this film needs her to be. She is, again, simply her own product placement, with the product simply being Hot Chick. She spends half the movie with her lips about half an inch apart, which hammers away, “LOOK! HOT CHICK!” It gets really tiresome.
But hammering away is pretty much what this movie does best. The plot is an arbitrary concoction, naturally, but, worth noting, not entirely godawful. It’s simply relentlessly mediocre. It manages to bring back most of the cast of the original, including John Turturro, whose presence is welcome, if hopelessly hammy. The story movements end up being a low-rent Indiana Jones adventure, and indeed, there’s one location that I’m pretty sure is the same location that was used at the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. (I did not bother with a Google search to confirm.)
As there’s still a part of me that remains of a once-ago 10-year-old Transformers fanboy (I had many of the toys and watched the 1980s cartoon show), I grinned at the inclusion of the Matrix of Leadership and the (spoiler alert!) death of Optimus Prime. But that’s really all there is for old-school fanboys. To me among the biggest problems with Transformers is that it doesn’t make any of the robots recognizable except for Optimus Prime (Bumblebee, as a mute, is more of a pantomime than a character). The Decepticons are practically interchangeable. By the end of the movie, I could’ve sworn Megatron had been destroyed three times, but I was wrong. Must’ve been some other huge silver robots that were Decepticon-looking and evil.
And still not nearly enough is done with the rivalry between Megatron and Starscream. That was probably one of the best parts of the cartoon series. Here these robots are nothing but action props. Should I expect more? Probably not, but I still think that I have the right. Why bother having Megatron and Starscream if you’re not going to have them constantly undermining each other for entertainment value?
The only robots with “personality” are actually the worst thing about the movie: The “twins” were annoying to the level of offensiveness. Charges have been leveled at the film that these robots can be read as crude racial stereotypes, and I can’t say I disagree. Every time they were on the screen I wanted to cringe. They were like Jar Jar Binks crossed with a robot minstrel show.
Ultimately, Transformers 2 is undone by its length and utter excess. Way too long. Way too many CGI shots. Way too little impact to any of it.
There was a time when an action movie had “set pieces.” The lulls and the clarity of an actual strategy brought interest to the action. Here, there is no strategy, and the entire last 30 minutes of this movie are a mammoth set piece. And more is not more. More is less. At one point, a U.S. aircraft carrier is hit from space and sunk. This would be a huge event in most movies, but here we barely have 30 seconds to process it before the next barrage of metallic noise. There must be 50 other similar examples of immediately forgotten destruction elsewhere in the film. The level of the mayhem is shot at us at such a fever pitch for such an extended period with so little consequence that it all becomes meaningless white noise.
There are endless scenes of military guys trying to mobilize to do something, and I’m thinking to myself, you might as well try to mobilize against a tornado. It would be as effective, and make about as much strategic sense.
And for a movie about Transformers, this movie doesn’t feature much transforming. And when they do, you can’t tell what’s happening. With the toys you could actually tell where the parts folded upon themselves. Here they don’t typically bother with making it visually coherent. Then again, that’s pretty much the mission statement of the film.
I like a good action movie, but this ain’t it. It’s a barrage of too many images to process and no reason for caring. It goes on and on and on. There’s definitely not more here than meets the eye. When you consider how the action is conceived and edited, such a feat would be mathematically impossible.
Rating out of 4: