Thursday, June 18, 2015

Throwback Thursday: My Movie Review of Transformers 2

A rather klutzy amalgamation of worthier elements
by tommy (movies profile) Aug 4, 2009

Shortly upon leaving the theatre, I heard someone nearby saying, "That was more like a thrill ride than a movie." I disagree with this; indeed it's not much of a movie, but while I believe the first Transformers deserves the "thrill ride" honor, but this one does not. A good rollercoaster builds excitement up with all the suspense, foreshadowing, and creative turns that a good movie does, but "Revenge of the Fallen" seems like neither one nor the other--instead, it's a rather klutzy amalgamation of worthier elements.

The film begins with a flashback accompanied by an almost Lovecraftian revelation that humans have, in fact, shared the planet with transformers for a long time (well actually, it looks more like a scene from "10,000 BC," which many may read as an ill-omen), then throws the viewer into a present day narrative about the continuing war with the Decepticons, a rather colorful battle in Shanghai, and the coming-of-age subplot about the human protagonist as he heads off to college and tries to preserve the attention of his girlfriend.

Despite all these seemingly-important scenes being offered up front, however, the viewers will find themselves questioning the backstory of this movie, which is only explained in any detail by a new robot character introduced halfway through. Without that much-needed direction, it all feels like a gratuitous mess of scenes that would be more appealing had they only been more judicious. We get shots of robots fighting it out, shots of the protagonist's stupid mother bumbling around, shots of Megan Fox's physique, and shots of a few notable college personalities, and they seem so hammed up as to nearly insult viewers, as though the director sees no real reason to put any of them there, other than because he thinks we yearn for them and will love the movie for them, no matter how bad it is. To be fair, I don't think Bay was being so malicious; he seemed to be trying for something epic in scope with this movie, but he neglected the central narrative that must ultimately govern all good epics.

Nor are the individual scenes in this film always good on their own merit. By far the biggest disappointment in the whole film is that, although we have plethora of new robots to sample, seeing them fight just isn't what it could be in this film. Hand-to-hand combat between robots should not look nearly so fluid and organic, and frankly LIGHT, as it does here; there are points where they soar into what looks like kung fu, and in fact, stop just short of what might resemble ballet! Furthermore, the angles from which battles are often viewed were ill-advised; there are too many shots that zoom in so close and too many that view things from the rear, to the point that often one can barely distinguish which robot is clobbering the other. These worsened fight scenes are added to some recurring problems from the first film--the old transformers theme song again gets left out in favor of a Linkin Park ballad that doesn't fit, villainous spy-bots still look gross and weird rather than creepy and cool, and numerous elements thrown in to appeal to white-collar suburban Americans still abound to try and upstage the titular robots.

For all that I can say negative about so much of the film, though, fragments of a better movie are still visible, mostly in the film's humor. There is little that would be considered golden about the comic value of this film, or even innovative. It pulls countless gags out from all over the established humor book, with no less (possibly more) than three stupidly-neurotic characters (the mother, the roommate, and a shell-shocked veteran, the actor of whom seems to have trouble deciding whether he's supposed to be Italian or Jewish), an old robot who acts like a classic cantankerous old man, robotic twins who act a little like Abbot and Costello, and slapstick gimmicks ranging from slippling to tripping to ball-busting. Much of it could be appropriately-scored by "Yackety Sax" or ""That's All Folks," yet I still liked this film best when it seemingly realized that it wasn't worthy of being taken seriously, and so didn't even take itself as such. There's also a good deal of memorable acting here to liven things up; Fox serves mainly as eye-candy but in a few scenes channels the heroine archetype of the fast, tough Latina (Michelle Rodriguez might be proud or jealous; I can't rightly say which), the veteran proves to be the funniest of the "annoying" characters in the film, and Optimus Prime, even though he's just a voice, still compels viewers. Through even the worst lines he gets, the actor injects a voice that sounds deep, gruff, and booming, but never at the expense of also sounding kind and nurturing. The obnoxious jingoistic streak that Bay is infamous for is present here, of course, but ROTF also pokes fun at the US government through a thoroughly obnoxious bureaucrat who is elitist for no good reason, constantly pesters the military about how he wants them to approach a war, despite obviously being a pampered snob with no idea how to approach a war, and is brutally rude and snarky to Arabs. Politically-minded people will probably see more than a little satire of some recent politicians in this character, but all people will find it amusing to finally watch him get what's coming to him. Then, Optimus and the government also have a bit of a disagreement--subtle, but I wasn't expecting it in this film.

All of the above elements helped make TROTF a more watchable film, but the question of whether they made it worth watching in the first place is troublesome. The first film was a shallow-but-enjoyable ride that, though far from perfect, made me expect better from the series in the following titles, but this new film has drained my glass quite a bit. It simply plays out like long a roll of clips primarily useful to put together trailers as part of the film's overblown hype-machine. Since massive ad-campaigns, and not a more artistic, masterful touch--such as punctuates actual good action films like Terminator and The Matrix--seem to have become the strategy of Michael Bay's transformers series, I say he ought to be retired from duty in favor of new blood. Otherwise, our favorite robot heroes might as well be left around rusting.

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