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Movie of the Day: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

23 Jun

I had a conversation once with a former associate who argued that the best way to enjoy the films of director Michael Bay was to simply sit back, turn off my brain and enjoy them. What he was saying essentially is that I needed to simply lower my standards and ask for less. Note that I said this was a former associate.

Michael Bay makes blockbusters. He makes them loud, crude, violent and profitable. He made ‘Armageddon’, about rocks that threaten to destroy earth. He made The Rock, about a terrorist that threatens to destroy San Francisco. He made Pearl Harbor about how the Japanese destroyed a navel base. Are you seeing a pattern here? He makes profitable films in which things get blow’d up real good. His excuse is that he makes films for audiences, not critics. Well, so did Hitchcock, but at least Hitch wanted to play us like a piano, not like a set of drums.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a loud, crude, dumbbell action picture that has the appeal of throwing a set of cookware down a long staircase. The heroes and villains are robots from another world who can disguise themselves as mobile objects like cars, jets, tanks etc. They can even take the form of household objects like toasters or blenders. The reason they are here on earth is laid out in incomprehensible dialogue that is difficult to follow. It really doesn’t matter anyway. The final scenes are an assault of noisy special effects and whip-cut editing that never allow you to get your bearings. It plays like a two-and-a-half-hour commercial for itself.

The robots are seen early and often. There is no build-up or mystery about them at all. They are built of a convoluted mess of shiny metal pieces formed into something 40-feet tall with arms and legs. They have faces that aren’t expressive but rather hidden by all the metal – it takes you a second or two to decipher where the eyes or the mouth are or if they even have them (why do they need them?). When they speak, they having nothing interesting to say. Their speech comes in three forms: Formal comic book boilerplate (“Die, like your brothers”) and pop culture buzzwords (“Punk-ass Decepticon!”).

They make no logical sense in that you shouldn’t ask how a 50-foot robot can contain enough metal to transform into a half-sized pick-up truck.Worse then trying to figure them out is watching them. All they do is fight, smash things and shoot lasers. A lot of things get smashed and a lot of lasers get fired. There are a lot of things that get blown up, a lot of things that get destroyed. The robot’s bodies are made of metal, wires and gears. They look like moving scrap-heaps and when you get a bunch together to fight, you can’t tell one from another.

You have to ask why creatures from another planet would be metal robots anyway? Why is their speech such a mess of stale mechanical blandness? What do they have to offer besides weapons that can destroy stuff? What is their planet like? Where do they come from? Are there other organic beings out there? Do they know about us? Who built you guys? What’s your technology like? How were you able to convincingly create a robot who was a human look-a-like? See, they wouldn’t want to visit me because I would never shut up with the questions.

The human characters in the movie aren’t smart enough to ask those questions. The males in the movie are either college slobs or military archetype. The female are all gorgeous, smoldering in heat, and dress like Playmates. Shia LeBouf, the hero, runs through this movie looking dazed and confused while shouting at special effects. Megan Fox doesn’t fare much better but at least I can give her credit for tiring of this material and bowing out of Transformers 3. The only romantic conflict between LeBeouf and Fox is the idea that he won’t tell her that he loves her. Trust me, if a guy has the heart of a girl who looks like Megan Fox, the problem would be getting him to STOP saying it.

Movies like this anger me. They are a determent to this art form that I love. They seem to have been made by people who don’t know what movies are suppose to be about. Made by committee, they are filmed deals, made for box office, merchandise and beverage tie-ins. I like movies that ask something of me, they engage me and have a narrative that plays with my senses and my expectations and my sense of wonder. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is, I’m told, a movie that I am suppose to simply sit back and enjoy but, for me, that would be asking me to enjoy getting smacked repeatedly upside the head with a frying pan.

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