Transformers 2: Revenge of Michael Bay

Before I begin on my attack commentary on Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, I need to set the stage.

During the week, I had a lot of trepidation about going to see this, to the point where flat asked why I was going to see a movie I expected to be bad. I didn’t have an answer at the time, but it really comes down to the fact that I support the Transformers franchise. I’ve watched and read just about every version of Transformers — maybe not every episode or issue, but I at least looked into it. I’ve been a fan for 25 years, and I expect I’ll be a fan for 25 more. So I have a strong interest in seeing any version of Transformers succeed.

Further, I had heard so many bad things leading up to this that I had very low expectations. Living through the disappointment that was Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull also killed off a chunk of my soul. I even read (and reposted on Twitter) io9’s hilariously scathing review. I had resigned myself to trying to watch the movie as if it was just a movie about alien robots beating the shit out of each other. I set my opinions and emotional investment in the franchise aside. I also tried to get into the mindset of braindead appreciation that allowed me to (accidentally) appreciate Terminator Salvation as an entertaining movie.

So, keep that in mind: I’m a fan that wants to see the franchise succeed, but is willing to set that emotional investment aside and try to see the movie outside of my own nerdrage. And I recently was able to appreciate a movie that was criticized for many of the same flaws as this one. I’m not sure how much more sympathetic and biased I could be toward this movie.

And even then, I was still surprised at how fucking horrible this movie was.

From this point on, I’m going to talk about the details of this movie. I hesitate to call them “spoilers” for the “plot,” since it’s hard to spoil this movie any more, and the plot is practically non-existent.

First off, within the first fifteen minutes it contradicts the previous movie. Bumblebee got his voice repaired at the end of the first movie, and in this one it’s gone again, with some lame line tossed in that Bumblebee’s “faking it.” There are other subtle elements, but the point is that there doesn’t appear to be a strong interest in creating a new, cohesive mythology.

Then, there was a bit where Sam admits he still has his shirt from the first movie (and specifically mentions it was two years ago), and yet just now he notices that there’s a fragment of the Allspark trapped in his clothing. The same fragment proceeds to burn through two floors, but doesn’t burn through his shirt or the kitchen table. So the movie is internally inconsistent.

In the same first act, we spent a fair amount of time establishing that Sam is in college, and he laments that he has normal problems and needs to live a normal life. It looks to be (another) version of Transformers where the “human element” is on the same level (or more elevated) than robots beating the crap out of each other. Later, this subplot is pretty much ignored, and the characters introduced are missing or relegated to a tiny role in the next two acts.

To recap, this isn’t a movie about the previous movie, it’s not a movie about a cohesive plot, it’s not a movie about robots beating each other up, and it’s not a movie about humans trying to have lives during the civil war.

SO WHAT IN THE FUCK IS THE MOVIE ABOUT?

And don’t pick apart my examples above — these are just a few points. Every time I tried to explain that the movie is trying to be a certain kind of movie, I can find multiple examples of how it isn’t that kind of movie.

For example, let’s say that Michael Bay is trying to do a Transformers movie that isn’t for Transformers fans. Fine — it wouldn’t be the first time a creative team has pissed on an established fanbase in order to attract a more mainstream audience. Yet why put in elements like “energon” and “The Autobot Matrix of Leadership” and “growing Transformers” (when previously the Allspark was necessary) and then never fucking explaining them? This isn’t fan-service (like Optimus Prime saying “Let’s roll out” before he… flies away); this is referring to concepts that only fans could know and then expecting the audience to work them out. And not casual elements, but aspects that are directly and prominently related to the events in the movie.

But let’s say that it isn’t about the plot, but rather about giant robots beating each other up. Okay, fine — like I said, I liked Terminator Salvation, and that’s basically the same premise (well, humans beating up robots and vice versa, but it’s the same core idea). Then why spend any time trying to establish new characters and then ignore them? If we’re supposed to focus on the action, Sam’s college roommate really serves no function other than the all complexity and texture to either Sam’s romance with Makala or to his need to keep silent about his friends, the Autobots — neither of which he really has any meaningful impact on. We need humans to act as a sympathetic connection to the robots? Okay, that’s fair, but we already have those characters. Lots of them, in fact — I can think of at least eight human characters with regular speaking roles through the course of the movie.

Then again, isn’t it all about robots beating each other up? Well, there’s certainly a lot of that, and I can see exploring what it means to lose friends in a war, whether they’re robots or humans. Okay, fine. So why make one of those characters who had the ability to speak suddenly not able to speak anymore? Doesn’t that add a barrier to sympathy? Or what about established characters like Ratchet not having any lines at all, but spending lots of screen time on comic relief characters like Skids and Mudflap who didn’t even show up in the last movie? (I’m not even going to get into the idea of killing off one “black robot” that was actually intelligent and skilled and replacing him with two “black robots” that are idiots.)

But okay, maybe it’s about building up the bad guys to be a big threat, and we don’t have time for characterization. So there’s certainly no need to set up an entire subplot about killing off one of those characters and needing to resurrect him, right? Let alone one character on each side of the conflict? And even setting all that aside, why would you introduce a giant robot that’s made up of at least a handful, if not a dozen, other Decepticons and really play up how terrifying he is only to be punked by the weakest comic relief character and a previously unmentioned HUMAN-BUILT weapon?

what if it’s not about that? What if it’s really all just a lead-up to Optimus Prime taking out the big bad villain, the Fallen? What if it’s about another Autobot sacrificing his life to show the cost of that titanic struggle? Jetfire does that — he gives his life and his parts to help Optimus kill the Fallen. Great, awesome. So why does Optimus shed all of Jetfire’s parts like so much junk at the end without a single comment about the damned sacrifice?

Note that I’m not even going into the plot holes, the bad acting, the CGI flubs or the terrible editing. Some of it, I’m sure, is because the writers basically handed over the first draft to film. I’m not sure if anyone in particular is to blame. However, this feels like a lot of people wanted the movie to be a lot of different things, and it ended up never being any of them. Regardless, even as much as I want to apologize for a lot of the problems with this movie, it’s still just really, really bad, because no matter what you want out of this movie, it won’t deliver on any meaningful level.

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