As of Sunday, Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen has grossed $201,246,000 in the US and an estimated $281,430,013 worldwide. So, why am I writing a review of a movie after it’s been out long enough to make its production budget back? Because with very few exceptions, critics got this film completely wrong.
I sat down to watch Transformers with low expectations. I wanted to see two things: I wanted Megan Fox to sweat, run, bounce, and never-close-her-mouth, I also wanted to see giant robots, rendered in exquisite detail, beat the living robo-shit out of each other.
What was everyone else expecting?
Roger Ebert, critic for the Chicago Sun-Times and owner of one of the most valuable thumbs in the industry gave this film one star, and began his review: “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments.” Which is all well and good coming from a man who has walked me through Fight Club frame-by-frame and provided a whole generation of movie-goers with solid critical opinion. But…
…in his companion article at the Sun-Times blog titled “The Fall of the Revengers” he begins the piece: “The day will come when “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” will be studied in film classes and shown at cult film festivals.” He argues this because he sees Transformers: ROTF as the biggest, most useless summer blockbuster movie and he can’t imagine that this will do anything but kill movies this big. In Ebert’s mind, Revenge of the Fallen is as far as we’re going to let blockbuster cinema go.
We don’t yet know if that’s true, but that’s exactly why I can’t give Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen anything but an incredibly positive review. Because I haven’t had my face raped this hard in awhile, and Bay pulls it off in that creepy/charming way where I’m starting to wonder if I egged on this film’s lustful robot libdo with my short skirts and flirting. I was asking to be brought to the brink of seizure by robot-battle cinema, so why should I be pissed when the film leaves me used, confused and with my critical pants around my ankles?
I’m not going to summarize the plot, both because it doesn’t matter and if you really want to know it and haven’t seen the movie there are dozens of sites and probably 3 or more of your friends who are willing to tell you how bad it is. The process this film went through when it was being developed doesn’t lend itself to a coherent plot. Screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman made a 20-page outline before the writer’s strike, which Bay developed into something like 40 pages as he started to design the robots (and if you think Hasbro wasn’t pushing cool toys all the while, you’re dead wrong). The strike ended and the film was already coming together, so what we have is a plot of faint ideas of why the characters should be in any given place at any given time. The character “arcs” are so one-dimensional that the dialogue is just padding to get us to the next racist joke, bout of physical comedy or massive explosion.
I realized this about the time when Megatron was raised from the bottom of the ocean. The military are tracking the Decepticons as they sink to the lowest depths of the ocean to retrieve the body of their leader, and the radar operator very clearly says there are 5 targets sinking to the depths. Megatron is revived after a tiny robot named “The Doctor” orders four of the Decepticons to destroy the smallest one for parts to rebuild Megatron. The Hugo Weaving-voiced robot then begins to rise our of the ocean along with his cronies and the radar operator says there are now 6 targets rising up out of the waves at an alarming speed. If you can count: 5 going down, one gets destroyed, one gets revived: there should be 5 targets, not 6, rising out of the ocean.
My reaction: “Oh, I guess I should stop listening to the dialogue or caring about the story, because it’s obvious Michael Bay and the script supervisor don’t give two farts.”
The film then goes on to actively try and fight whomever tries to follow the plot. Even if you gloss over the Optimus Prime-sized holes, the climax has Sam going to Autobot heaven before being resurrected like Robo-Jesus. If you haven’t given up on logic by then, I have news for you: You’re watching a movie where the biggest damn robot I’ve ever seen has wrecking ball testicles.
Remember the slow-news-day story of McG challenging Michael Bay to a dick-measuring contest because both of their summer movies had giant robots? Micahel Bay wins. Even though they both made movies that had plots I’d like to transcribe on my toilet paper so I could wipe myself with them, Michael Bay never seems to lose control of science experiment in BOOM. McG, for all his good intentions, made promises about his film that the flick couldn’t keep. The only promise Michael Bay made is that this movie would be the biggest thing you’ve ever seen, and guess what? It is.
I can see where most critics are ready to screw Transformers into the ground, because we’re a picky bunch. There’s always pressure to steer the audience towards something that’s going to elevate the storytelling form. Films that swim around in shark-infested festival waters only to emerge as a popular indie get championed because they had to pay their dues with the sweat of their creative department, on the merits of their stories and characters. But that doesn’t mean that every film that comes out is meant to be judged in the same way. I’m not going to compare every movie to Citizen Kane or One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. If I want to see interesting dialogue, I’ll watch Coffee and Cigarettes. If I want a neat-o character study, I’ll pick up something like American Splendor. But, if I want to see a film that abandons what traditionally makes a film “good,” namely the story-telling elements, my critically-lauded choice is…I don’t know, something like Koyaanisqatsi.
Revenge Of The Fallen showed me visuals that made my mind want to explode, and since I sat far enough away from the screen, I don’t have any of the gripes about the action direction from Bay making things visually confusing. Bumblebee, the smallest Autobot, fights like a bad-ass every time he graces the final battle. He shakes Ravage to f-ing death! Optimus Prime is out for robo-blood in this installment and rips a robot’s face in half. The camera swoops, gibs, pans, flies and twists because it knows you’ve given up on the why, you’re just supposed to focus on the what. And the wow.
The film is like a calzone that has embedded jalapeños made of racial stereotypes and sight-gags. If those “jokes” weren’t so broad, you wouldn’t even notice them amongst the red onions of robot fights and banana peppers of Megan Fox’s blank-stare sexiness. The stereotypes in this film are just being as big as they have to be to get noticed, like the guy who brings fire-crackers to a dildo party.
Ebert might be right in the sense that this might be the pinnacle of the blow-em-up summer movie. Watching the previews for 2012 and The Last Airbender trying to prepare me for the massive CGI fest I was about to see just highlighted how much fighting robots work. Seeing Scorpionok return in slow motion and plunge himself into Jetfire happened so fast and was so lovingly rendered that prolonged shots of an aircraft carrier destroying the White House in the 2012 preview look gratuitous. Michael Bay only shows incredibly cool and unique action/CGI for 30 seconds while Roland Emmerich is doing little more than animating a mildly impressive storyboard.
If you want to see a movie with fantastic characters and a coherent, complex plot, I’m guessing you see a lot of movies in theaters between September and January. When Avatar comes along later this year with the high hopes of being a game-changer, I’ll coax it towards my face, making sure it’s aroused and ready to make love to me. With Transformers, I was straight up assaulted and abused, but I smiled through the whole ordeal.
How is that not a valid film experience?