Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Review

Overall Grade: C-

Reviewing a film is a tricky art and a movie like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (from here on referred to as Transformers 2) only magnifies that difficulty. On the one hand, I thought the film was idiotic, boring, and condescending. On the other hand, Transformers 2 presents its own clearly drawn cinematic world along with a directorial vision with the same scope and magisterium of an Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, or even a Steven Spielberg. Like Hitchcock, Kubrick, and Spielberg, Michael Bay filters every aspect of Transformers 2 through his particular worldview, his cinematic lens. The difference being that the aforementioned directors had worldviews that aspired to understand, explore, and learn about humanity and its range of experience; Michael Bay has the worldview of a horny teenage boy in arrested development given over to all his indulgences. I guess the question is, do you want to spend two and a half hours looking through those eyes?

The cinematic vision of Michael Bay has always been prevalent in his earlier films, but they seemed to have found some kind of balance to become bearable. In 1996's The Rock we got a heaping dose of Michael Bay's swooshing, twirling camera and his heavily stylized lighting, but the great interplay between Sean Connery, Nicholas Cage, and Ed Harris seemed to balance the film out. 1998's Armageddon displayed for us Bay's penchant for epic destruction (he takes out Paris with an asteroid, in Transformers 2 he returns with a destrucive Decepticon landing), loud bangs, and juvenile humor. Thankfully, that film also found a little balance in a grounded Bruce Willis as well as decently plotted script. By the time 2003's Bad Boys II rolled around, Bay's vision was firmly in place. Thankfully, the first Transformers was tempered by a fairly simple plotline (a young teenage boy gets his first car and tries to score the girl) that Bay was able to fill in with his own style. However, either due to the sucess of the first film or the convuluted script of the second film, Bay seems to have let himself completely loose in Transformers 2.

In what may have been bearable for an hour and a half, entering into Bay's cinematic world for two and a half hours was an exhausting and uncomfortable experience...in the bad way. (Munich by Steven Spielberg is an exhausting and uncomfortable experience in a good way). Rather than entertained and amazed, I felt pounded into submission by a juvenile worldview. For that is exactly how juveniles try and get across their views, with loud and base arguments rather than engagement and discussion.

Everything in this film is seen through the eyes of horny teenage boy in arrested development. All the relationships our main character Sam (Shia Lebouf) has are at an arm's length distance. There is no sense of intimacy, no revelations, no connections. Everyone is an object of use or desire, an obstacle, or just a thing to our characters. Any woman outside of our main character's mom is objectified primarily as a sex symbol. Bathed in golden yellows and filmed with a peeping eye, the portrayal of women here is immature in the least, repulsing at best. Most of these women are found at the college Sam attends and it too gets the Bay treatment. Sam's dorm is co-ed, where all the women look like hot models (his roommate compiles a 'Freshman Top 50') and apparently come out of the bathrooms and walk the halls in just towels. In fact, from the first day at college, one of the women tries to throw herself at Sam, doing anything to get him to have sex.

Getting the adolescent treatment as well is the military. Michael Bay should be the first person the military hires to film their commercials because he films the military in the same way he films women, with an objectified and leering camera. However, Bay gives us shot after shot of military porn without any depth or context whatsoever. The military commanders and soldiers (which the first film at least gives them something to do) are so one note and unexplained in the film, that one could guess they really were written by a teenage boy.

Of course, it isn't all bad to see the world through a teenage boy's eyes. There really is a 'cool' factor to Transformers 2 that other films have a hard time matching. Bay is masterful at incorporating visual effects to the locations and giving us some incredible visuals. Of course, as with any juvenile 'cool', it's empty and hollow and forgotten afterwards. There is scene that plays out for nearly five minutes where a decepticon robot infiltrates a military compound by turning itself into little balls and reassembling itself. Its a 'cool' scene that must have taken hundreds of thousands of dollars and months of an effect houses time. However, it reminded of the virtuoso mechanical spider sequence in Speilberg's Minority Report, where Cruise and a Spider struggle to keep his eyes blindfolded. Integrated into the story and the characters, Spielberg's spiders may not be as complicated and 'cool', but they are memorable and effective.

The other advantages of this worldview are that we are treated to a bunch of action sequences. The action sequences range from good (a forest encounter between Optimus Prime and three Decepticons being the best) to outright boring and frustrating (the entire action finale). Included with this worldview are cartoonish stock characters and an over-reliance on sex and body fluid jokes. Some of them are funny, but we unfortunately have to sit through a parade of them to hear a couple good ones.

Is Transformers 2 a bad movie? It would seem a slam dunk 'yes' from my analysis above, but I am forced to conclude that Transformers 2 is a bad film only because I care nothing for the perspective in which Michael Bay has infused the whole thing. I have to give the film respect for being a big, bold, and unique artistic film. For those who don't mind the universe Bay has created in Transformers 2 (judging by the box office returns and some friend reactions there seem to be plenty), then I can understand how they give the film high ratings. This is not a lazy or slapped together film (even if the cobbled together plot suggests it). Transformers 2 represents the unique labor of an artist who has given birth to a film that fully encompasses his cinematic vision. On that alone, I give it respect that others seem to not pick up on. However, I just don't enjoy wallowing and celebrating in indulgent teenage immaturity. Call me a prude, but if that sounds like your idea of a good time, then this film is for you.

2 comments:

Joel Manahan said...

I think it would be bad for the director to continue in this line if more Transformers movies are made. Given what we're starting out with (A college freshmen movie), I can see the potential of character development (the movie being the adolescent character). If the director went the way of gaining maturity and accepting responsibility, the franchise could be saved and transformed into an overarching story where not only the main character develops into a man, but the series could as well.

Kyle Leaman said...

Thanks for the comment Joel. I definately see what you mean, and there really is potential for development in content and style in this series. However, if Michael Bay comes back to direct the third film, then I don't see how the massive success of this film just won't encourgage him to go further with his current style. Of course though, I will probably be buying a ticket when that third film does come out, I mean its fighting robots!

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