Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) (part 1 of 6)
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The critics rave about Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen!
“…Michael Bay’s latest bid to bludgeon audiences into dulled submission is the reductio ad absurdum of a summer blockbuster. It is loud (boom!), long (two and a half hours!), incoherent (poorly explained intergalactic warfare!), leering (Megan Fox in short shorts!), racist (jive-talkin’ robot twins!), and rife with product tie-ins (Chevy! Hasbro!)… John Yoo would not be able to draft a memo excusing the torment this movie inflicts on its audience…”
—Dana Stevens, Slate
“Bay stages battle sequences the way a three-year old plays with Legos. He dumps everything out at once in one loud crash, and just starts snapping pieces together and tossing them into each other… And much like a child at play, things get loud, there’s a lot of screaming, and shit gets destroyed.”
—Capone, Ain’t It Cool News
“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is beyond bad. It carves out its own category of godawfulness. And, please, you don’t have to remind me that the original was a colossal hit ($700 million worldwide) and the sequel will probably do just as well. I know it’s popular. So is junk food, and they both poison your insides and rot your brain.”
—Peter Travers, Rolling Stone
“If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together. Then close your eyes and use your imagination.”
—Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun Times
These days, it doesn’t feel like summer until Michael Bay gets the chance to visit upon us his latest cinematic abortion, and in the case of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, he has truly set the gold standard for awful blockbuster films.
I liked (or at least tolerated) the first movie. I didn’t think it was great cinema by any means, but it was reasonably entertaining and succeeded despite Michael Bay’s best efforts. At the time, I figured Spielberg had managed to reign in Bay’s habitual excesses, and actually found myself looking forward to the sequel.
How naive I was…
The film opens in the year 17,000 B.C. (not to be confused with the year 10,000 B.C., in which the really dumb shit happened). In the distant past, standard Stone Age tribesmen (looking a lot like Australian Aborigines, actually) hunt a tiger. A tiger? In Africa?
There’s an Optimus Prime voiceover, where he explains that his people have always been here on earth, and sure enough, the tribesmen stumble across a large Decepticon outpost.
A group of imposing-looking Decepticons surround the outpost, and some of the tribesmen get stepped on, and with that, the movie goes into modern times.
There’s a nice shot of Shanghai’s nighttime skyline. I know it’s Shanghai because of the caption, and I know it’s nighttime because that same caption says it’s 22:14 hours. Which is odd, because the skyline is illuminated by bright sunlight.
It’s possible that it’s meant to be 22:14 GMT, but later on in the movie, we see video footage of the upcoming events, and they’re happening at night. I chalk this up to Michael Bay’s Second Rule of Filmmaking: Continuity is for losers. The First Rule? Never shoot an air vehicle on the ground when you can instead film it airborne, against the sun, and through an orange filter.
The Optimus Prime voiceover continues, wherein he explains that since the last movie, the Autobots have teamed up with a multi-national military taskforce called Network Elements: Supporters and Transformers, or NAMBLA.
They travel the globe hunting down Decepticons while keeping the presence of the Transformers a secret. In the case of their current mission in Shanghai, they’re using a toxic spill cover story. And this cover story will actually work, because apparently even after seeing Los Angeles—er… Mission City, get leveled in the first movie, likely with lots of video footage (both amateur and professional), everyone has “forgotten” the Transformers exist.
If I may digress for a moment. There’s a common theme in a lot of science fiction TV and film that you can have a major, earth-shattering event (like “Mission City” being trashed in the first movie, London being menaced countless times in Doctor Who, Cardiff being menaced in Torchwood, and supernatural nonsense in Buffy the Vampire Slayer) that happens, gets witnessed, gets filmed/videotaped, and then everyone conveniently forgets about it and/or the government is somehow able to cover it all up.
This is particularly egregious in the TV series War of the Worlds, an otherwise forgettable ‘80s show that takes place a few decades after the events shown in the 1953 film of the same name. In that film, we see millions killed, cities devastated, and nuclear bombs set off. Yet by the time the TV series rolls around, there’s been a cover up, and everyone has “forgotten” all of that happened.
It’s the laziest kind of writing there is. It’s implausible, insulting to the audience, and just plain stupid. It’s like saying that if all the video footage and all the news coverage from ten years ago just disappeared, people would be sitting around saying, “September 11, 2001? No, nothing happened on that day. Why do you ask?”
Writers like to do this because it means they don’t have to spend a lot of time working out the full consequences of huge events. If giant robots had really beat the crap out of each other in downtown Los Angeles, the worldwide repercussions would have been massive. Especially once we found out the giant robots were aliens.
But the writers don’t want to deal with that, so they tell us there’s been a “cover up” and that’s all there is to it. Lazy fuckers.
Back to the movie, where the Autobots and the humans deploy onto the scene in Shanghai. The Autobots drive there (except for Optimus, who drops out of a plane), and the humans drive there too, in various Hummers and motorbikes, and some of them even deploy from the back of a semi for some reason. Also, get used to me using the words “for some reason”.
The two groups start to close in on two Decepticons, who appear to be just sitting around minding their own business. The attack begins, and as you’d expect, most of the humans get quickly killed. I’m not even sure why the humans are there, and why they aren’t carrying high-quality ammo. They’re using rifles, which they should know by now don’t work. What, there were no tanks available?
We do see some helicopters in the fight. They of course hover at a distance and fire HE rounds and missiles at the enemy. Actually… they don’t. What they do instead is get really, really close, fire their weapons, and then get shot down. Because apparently missiles are melee weapons.
I have to say, it’s really stupid for any humans to have been sent into this fight at all. It’s like sending ants to fight an elephant, when you have several elephants of your own just standing around doing nothing.
The Autobots go chasing after the Decepticons, leading to some big, exciting battles, which are reasonably well executed. One Decepticon moves around on a huge wheel, which is pretty cool.
Otherwise, this sequence is a lot of meh, and Big Wheel Decepticon is pretty much owning everyone, until Optimus Prime drops out of his plane and joins the battle. Why wasn’t he involved in the first place? Your guess is as good as mine.
Eventually, Big Wheel is brought down, though it takes quite a bit of effort, and surely results in millions of dollars of damage to Shanghai, and likely dozens, if not hundreds of civilian deaths. But don’t worry—the government can cover all this up! The presence of the Autobots will totally remain a secret!
At the end of the battle, Optimus stands over the defeated Big Wheel, who taunts him a little, and mentions that the Fallen will have his revenge. One of the NEST guys (Tyrese, reprising his role from the first movie) says this doesn’t sound good, and I entirely agree. The fact that the filmmakers felt they needed to use an obscure character like the Fallen instead of someone (or something) well-known like Unicron doesn’t sound good to me at all.
In response, Optimus shoots Big Wheel in the face. Yes, he executes him. Flat out murders him. I ask you, does this sound like something that the Optimus Prime we know and love would actually do? He’s presented as a noble figure, and then he goes and kills a prisoner in cold blood.
And the really stupid part? He kills the Decepticon without finding out when or where this “Fallen” character is planning to get his revenge. At least try to pump him for information first!
Leaving this happy scene, we go to Sam Witwicky as he gets ready to head to Princeton for college. He has some allegedly wacky moments with his insufferable parents. You know, the idiots who in the last movie thought a robot falling down was an earthquake.
They serve the same purpose here, which is overly exaggerated comic relief. They’re two of the roughly sixteen comic relief characters in the film, and no, that’s not an exaggeration. The Spoony One (and I still can’t decide if I think he’s hot or not) actually counted them, in a review where he also called Bay a “shit-flinging monkeychild”, which I just love.
Sam’s parents mostly spend this scene with the mom running around crying hysterically about her little boy leaving for school, including breaking down emotionally when she finds his baby shoes, and the father making crass sexual remarks to his wife and groping her in front of his son. Charming.
We’re also introduced to Sam’s two dogs. His two male dogs. They’re both obviously male. I only mention this because we get not one, but two, scenes of one dog humping the other. At long last, the unspoken taboo against gay dogs in movies has finally been broken! Thanks, Michael Bay!
Sam calls his girlfriend Mikaela, and Megan Fox is introduced in a shot you’ve no doubt seen in the trailer, where she’s on a motorbike in a pose that Playboy Playmates would find too skanky. By the way, isn’t “Mikaela” pretty much the female form of “Michael”? Are you trying to tell us something, Mr. Bay?
Sam and Mikaela talk briefly about the possibility of her coming with him to college. She says she can’t, because, among other things, she has to look after her dad, who was recently released from prison. I might be mistaken, but wasn’t he supposed to have been pardoned? Wouldn’t he have gotten out of prison two years ago? Why does Mikaela still need to look after him?
Regardless, he’s working at a bike shop. He seems to be doing okay. Most felons should be doing so well two years out of prison.
While yammering on the phone to Mikaela, Sam is going through his closet, where he happens upon the outfit he wore in the first movie. When he picks it up, a shard from the Allspark cube falls out. I guess Sam’s mother never does laundry.
When Sam touches the shard, it zaps his brain, and we journey into his eyeball and see all sorts of alien symbols projected there.
He drops the shard, which burns its way through the floorboards and down into the kitchen, where it zaps all the appliances, which promptly turn into robots ready to attack everyone.
Which reminds me of a problem from the first movie that’s carried over into this one, which is that for no reason, the Allspark only makes Decepticons. Every time it creates some sort of robot entity, the first thing that robot does is attack everyone. Ah, well. If I question everything that happens in this movie, I’ll be at this for a very long time.
A small battle between the robots starts up inside the house, and soon the house catches on fire. The robots spill out onto the lawn and attack everybody, and Bumblebee comes out from the garage and destroys the little robots. He then hides as the fire department and the police show up, and conveniently enough, it seems absolutely none of the neighbors witnessed the robot battle.
Sam’s mom is freaking out about the destruction of the house, but the dad reminds her that thanks to the Sooper Sekrit nature of the robots, there’s a good chance the government will pay for their house to cover up this incident.
And then Mikaela arrives on her bike and shows us what her real purpose is in the movie. No, not showing off body parts, but she does that, too. No, she’s mostly here to get annoyed when Sam won’t say “I love you”. All of this is revealed in a conversation where the camera spins 360 degrees around them. Because if you’ve seen a Michael Bay film, you know the only way to film two people talking is by having the camera constantly circle them.
And the whole “Sam can’t say ‘I love you’” thing is the entirety of his character arc in this movie. No, seriously. That’s it. I’m single now, but whenever I’ve been in a relationship, I’ve never had a problem saying “I love you” to the person I’m with. It’s just not that big of a deal to me. Apparently, it’s a huge deal to Hollywood screenwriters.