Friday, June 24, 2011

Transformers, No. 3 - Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (need I really go into its backstory? No!) is the poster movie for the “just turn off your brain and enjoy” school of film watching. Amongst many thoughtful movie fans, it has generated an intense amount of hatred, with which I agree, though hopefully with moderation. As a sequel to Transformers, Revenge of the Fallen errs in a lot of significant ways. It doesn’t repeat to an absurd degree, possibly because even the relatively more stately Transformers is already a freeform jazz sort of blockbuster. Rather, Revenge of the Fallen takes the classic sequel maxim of going bigger, as director Michael Bay tests just how much bigger it can possibly become, but in a way that is still strangely mellow and inconsequential.

By sacrificing nearly every sane thought in human history in its quest to achieve every horrible sequel sin possible, Revenge of the Fallen loses the following – story, plot, characters, emotion, basic comprehensibility. Even while at least one lesson was learned – the action is clearer, especially in regards to the robots. Plus I took several Advils before this movie, and didn’t drink. Everything else is just a magnification of the rather damning faults already present in all “Transformers” media.

It’s like a litmus test. At what point do you totally bail on Revenge of the Fallen, or can you follow its arbitrary form of explosion-based stream-of-consciousness all the way to the overblown finale? For me, there are intentional moments of rule-breaking (changing continent in mid-scene with no justification, or altering the universe’s rules for a single set piece), almost as though Bay knew the challenge he was creating for calmer, more rational viewers. Do you surrender entirely to the willful anti-intellectualism of Revenge of the Fallen, or do you draw the line and say “No, I like a good popcorn movie, but even these unpretentious films need to respect their audiences to at least some degree?”

Because Revenge of the Fallen is, by design, an exercise in thumbing its nose at good storytelling (while embracing purely technical skill), it is not sporting to approach the film by standard means. As often individual shots have no greater context, rather I choose to just pick out random moments of known idiocy. Sometimes I shall just nitpick…

- 10,000 B.C. one-upped with a 17,000 B.C. intro, to no end

- The setting is now “today,” as opposed to Transformers’ “present day”

- General masses of collateral damage left unaddressed

- “Punk-ass Decepticon.”

- Sam’s (Shia LeBrlspltttt) parents maintain an obsession with rap culture

- Perpetual gay Chihuahua dog anus sodomy:

- Random object found (sliver of the Cube) just in time for the sequel, and never sooner

- Single scene Gremlins plagiary wedged in

- The state of alien knowledge changes in each scene, with hugely varying degrees of acceptance

- Bumblebee’s voice, though restored at end of Transformers, is gone again

- Sam gives up Megan Fox (Megan Fox) and a sentient transformin’ car for a frattastic college freshman experience, simply to artificially return us to “relatability”

- References to “the president” seem a preemptive rejection of Obama’s anticipated pacifism, following Transformers’ “parody” of Bush

- Sam’s mother buys “pure Hawaiian green” marijuana brownies, having missed all pop culture since 1936. As proof this is not our physical universe, the marijuana affects her like methamphetamines, which entirely demands a multi-minute detour, because this movie isn’t 147 minutes long or anything

- A Decepticon “camouflaged” as a gigantic metallic saber-toothed tiger doesn’t really make logical sense, but that’s consistent with the toy line

- Humans can rarely see Decepticons hiding in plain sight, because to them the CGI is not yet rendered

- Decepticons can now also transform into humans (specifically, supermodel blondes, for those odd males without a taste for Megan Fox), in keeping with no preexisting brand lore I am aware of. This fembot was presumably enrolled in advance at Random Generic East Coast College just in case Sam went there, and just in case Arbitrary Shard Rules X, Y and Z were to occur…or something

- Bumblebee cockblocks

- Bumblebee ejaculates on the fembot

- Autobots hide in a massive photogenic graveyard without repercussion (“without repercussion,” the Automot mantra)

- The screenwriters cannot do basic arithmetic (though they do cop to this), as 5 – 1 + 1 ≠ 6. Though maybe Decepticons count differently

- A general observation: The plot conditions change roughly every 5 to 10 minutes as it conveniences the latest pre-shot set piece

- Sam cannot stand Dwight K. Shrute, professor. Instead one of those loopy plot tumors inspires him to act out – i.e. to combine his mother’s stoned capering with LeBooooooooof’s Ian Malcolm

- “Standing up on web-chat dates” is now the grist for major emotional arcs!

- More traditionally, so does a male’s inability to mouth the word “love”

- “What’re ya lookin’ at, slobberpuss?”

- “Ow, that’s my eye, you crazy bitch!”

- Director in-jokes are usually hidden in some way

- The fembot reads textbooks on astrophysics. In America, this is how you know somebody is evil

- The fembot runs through a Terminator/Species “homage” (read: rip-off), which would completely upend the rules of this universe/franchise, if they were to ever to commit to an idea for longer than one scene. ADHD must be an entertaining condition!

- Sam vomits randomly. I do not remember this from the theatrical cut!

- In most movies, the hero dangling hundreds of feet in the air would have some excitement to it. Michael Bay’s approach kills that connection – a problem he shares with the Star Wars prequels

- Sam undergoes a variation on that “swallowed biomechanical insect” scene early in The Matrix, the assumption here (as when any movie is stolen from) is that Bayification makes a scene automatically better

- Optimus Prime dukes it out with multiple Decepticons in a forest, and I genuinely have no complaints

- …until I realize all other Autobots are lost in a continuity error, in order to facilitate Optimus’ rather early death (in keeping with The Transformers: The Movie)

- It has been shown robots can be resurrected by pieces of other robots, as with Megatron’s return; this will for whatever reason not work for Optimus. It has been stated Sam’s Cube Shard can restore robot life; this will for whatever reason not work for Optimus. What was that about the plot proceeding arbitrarily?

- The Decepticons just ripped down an American flag! That’s the last straw!

- France is a land of mimes, snails, and incomprehensible words. This is the live action, serious version of Team America

- Oh look, Michael Bay is destroying Paris…again

- The Decepticons just murdered at least 7,000 people randomly, without provocation, and without ultimate dramatic implication. At least it makes for a nifty special effect

- Skids and Mudflap:

- “That’s old school, yo.” “Read? We – we – we really don’t do so much readin’. Not so much.” “That’s ‘cause you a pussy.”

- John Turturro’s glorious wedging back in

- The movie has circled around a deep, dark conspiracy. As with all movies which do that, it turns out to be ancient alien architects. Why do people keep insisting the Egyptians couldn’t construct their own buildings?!

- “Wanna throw down, you pubic fro head?”

- Ass:

- The Shard, which might’ve been used to revive Optimus, is used instead to revive Jetfire, who reveals how to revive Optimus.

- Opening the doors of Washington D.C.’s Smithsonian reveals an airfield in Arizona. This decision was made solely for the better visuals

- A Decepticon (but not Megatron) humps Megan Fox’s leg

- Jetfire farts a parachute

- Jetfire teleports everybody to Egypt, even though he is a jet, an event which has never happened before, and never shall again, because the plot…

- “You landed on my testicles.”

- The Sahara is mistaken for Las Vegas, reflecting the characters’ small reference pool

- “Beginning. Middle. End. Facts. Details. Condense. Plot. Tell it.” A rare lucid moment from our screenwriters?

- Plot, revealed 90 minutes in: A million billion jillion years ago, possibly during the 15th century, the Deceptoboticons hid a sun-destroying machine within Egypt’s pyramids, for shits and giggles mostly, and to fuel a sequel, should the need someday arise. The titular Fallen wants to destroy our Sun, for Energon, but he needs the Matrix of Leadership, hidden a whole several miles away from the pyramids, inside Sam’s mind, and…Okay, re-simplifying: MUST STOP BAD GUYS

- Car chase: 25 seconds

- An Egyptian midget is played for laughs

- Sam and Megan Fox have their first opportunity for a calm heart-to-heart, in reference to something which happened an hour ago (movie time)

- Petra: within driving distance of Giza

- Skipping DVD. My player has entered self-preservation mode

- The pornographic destruction of the Great Pyramid proceeds for our delectation, with an expected minimum of cultural sensitivity.

- Oh hey, Luxor is also right next door to Giza!

- Marines arrive with Optimus’ body, for Sam to somehow revive (in a way even Sam doesn’t understand). Rather than airdrop it right next to Sam, they drop it several miles away, so Sam can race through an action sequence first

- Winds strong enough to suction up entire vans, but not Turturro

- Oh hey, Sam’s parents are here in Egypt now!...for whatever reason

- “I don’t know what’s going on!” More self-aware dialogue

- Military pornography. I’m impressed Bay held that load for so long

- Decepti-scrotum!

- This action sequence has been going on for twenty-five minutes, which is enjoyable in that lizard sort of way. It also temporarily cripples the critical facilities

- Sam dies and goes to Transformers Purgatory (!), which is apparently exactly what was needed to bring both himself and Optimus Prime back to life

- “Fulfill your destiny.”

- “This was always your destiny.”

- “Let’s roll.”

- With nigh a half hour of buildup, Optimus flies in to do battle at once with both Megatron and the Fallen. Oh, this is gonna be utterly kick-a- Oh wait, it’s over already…

- Sam loves Megan Fox, a touching and permanent moment – until Dark of the Moon

Many smart people I know have the enviable skill of being able to fully embrace Revenge of the Fallen on its own terms. They possibly notice the obvious plot holes and awkward non-plot, but don’t see that as important – not when shit blows up real good-like. I do not share this skill. When watching it with them (that’s back in 2009, shuffling to the theater with the same resigned sense of duty as we all once brought to Attack of the Clones), it was nearly an out-of-body experience. Am I that far beyond the average moviegoer? Why am I enjoying the movie purely as a sort of Manos exercise, while others are perfectly pleased to grant it just under a million jillion bazilgzjillion dollars in box office?

Then, two years later, I go and watch The Tree of Life with a like-minded audience of appreciative cineastes, and all is well. I think there’s a value in judging films by their own intent, and embracing an action movie on more simplistic terms than an art film. (I also hold art films to an impossibly higher standard.) Yet I believe that, despite my desires to be cinematically all-embracing, that there are certain movies that are simply worthless…and Revenge of the Fallen sure does straddle that line!

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