June 24, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Slow down - we have to keep this up for
another 149 minutes

Grade: D

Director: Michael Bay

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, and Ramon Rodriguez

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 2 hours, 30 minutes

To quote Team America: World Police (and shouldn’t we all?), “Why does Michael Bay get to keep on making movies?” It is little surprise that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is as visually bleary and bombastic as Bay’s lucrative, aesthetically-reprehensible forerunner. Or that the plotline grafted together by usual suspects Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci is as mind-numbing as it is derivative. Or that Bay’s robotic approximation of women are as panting sexpots while African-Americans are jive-talkin’, gold tooth sportin' illiterates – “We don’t really do much reading,” admits Autobot Mudflap (voiced by white actor Tom Kenney) when asked to translate some ancient Transformer hieroglyphics. Or that Bay’s inferiority-fueled self-aggrandizement again rears its pathetic head: Following his passing homage to Armageddon during the last Transformers, the sequel features a Bad Boys poster plastered on the wall of a college dorm room and Bay revisiting Pearl Harbor when Decepticons demolish the U.S. Pacific fleet.

What is notable is that it only took almost 160 days for the first anti-Obama movie to snake its way into theaters. In the midst of an ongoing mission to root out and destroy Decepticons (codenamed NEST), a new National Security advisor and presidential liaison (John Benjamin Hickey) steps brashly onto the scene, aiming to dismantle the Autobot-human cooperation agreement – with the blessing of the new president, he continuously reminds us – under the foolhardy notion that if the U.S. military, er, Autobots simply left the Middle East, er, Earth, then Al-Qaeda, er, Decepticons would stand down and leave us in peace. And, if that 2x4 metaphor doesn’t smack you in the head hard enough, Bay makes sure that, during coverage of a Decepticon offensive, a CNN television reporter conspicuously mentions that “President Obama” was being taken to an undisclosed location, and later, images of Obama are interspersed throughout a Decepticon terrorist video played over hijacked television airwaves.

It is no wonder, then, that the film’s climactic donnybrook is fought in the middle of Egypt, or that the only Arab country to come to the aid of American soldiers are the Jordanians. Still, even if Bay’s conception of geopolitics and U.S. foreign policy is as shallow as Megan Fox’s Daisy Dukes, all would be forgiven if he had the dexterity to finally rise to the occasion and put some talent where his money is.

A college-age Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and main squeeze Mikaela (Fox, seen mostly running in slow motion wearing a halter top) again find themselves in the middle of a war for universal supremacy between the Transformers, including a resurrected Megatron (Hugh Weaving) and his master, The Fallen (Tony Todd). Megatron’s mission is to track down some hidden power thingamabob that the Fallen will use to revive a machine used to destroy the Sun, while also killing Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), since only a Prime can vanquish the Fallen.

Frankly, I have seen backstories to Mario series video games with more depth than this storyline – indeed, sitting through Transformers is like watching a 150-minute long arcade game. Any serious attempt to decipher the pointless plotline, with its pilfered elements from Star Wars, Indiana Jones, and Lord of the Rings, is stymied by a nonstop hail of gunfire and other assorted weaponry that riddles every scene. It’s not enough to suffer the constant barrage of shape-shifting robots veering wildly across the screen; Bay throws in helicopters, cargo carriers, fighter jets, motorcycles, battleships, submarines, tanks, amphibious assault vehicles, and an unmanned aerial drone in a pear tree.

In order to stave off mental atrophy, I allowed my thoughts to wander, considering how – in a haphazard attempt to incorporate LaBeouf’s real-life hand injury – Sam manages to locate and dress himself with gauze and finger splints seconds after being violently teleported into the Sahara desert. Sadly, I wasn’t able to miss the juvenile yuks from two instances of dogs humping each other, which mirrors a later scene in which a miniature Transformer humps Fox’s leg.

Bay’s schoolyard notion of masculinity is epitomized by his steroid-infused filmmaking style. Perhaps it also accounts for why Mikaela’s chosen insult for Sam is to repeatedly call him “such a girl,” or why Bay expresses on odd predilection for testicles: First, Mikaela’s lands atop the gonads of Sam’s roommate (Ramon Rodriguez), then an ex-government agent (John Turturro) reports the coordinates of a mammoth Decepticon while hiding in the shadow of his dangling scrotum.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen might be a fanboys’ wet dream, but most audiences will find it rather flaccid. To further the scatology, this insipid, sensorially bloated film, like its predecessor, is merde that meets the eye.

Neil Morris

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