Whoa! I remember half-liking Michael Bay´s original Transformers. The franchise was built off of a line of Mattel action figures, and the Saturday morning cartoon and 1986 animated movie were little more than advertisements for the toys. But Bay – himself a prolific figure in the world of TV commercials before venturing into feature films – captured this essence about as well as could be expected, and the 2007 film was one of his better ones.
And now, here´s his worst. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen doesn´t even work on the level of toy commercial: it´s an all-out assault on the senses and the mind, an unbearable 150-minute endurance test, the cinematic equivalent of the kind of music torture used by US forces in Iraq or Guantanamo or against Manuel Noriega, who surrendered after being “bombarded by hard rock music and “The Howard Stern Show” for several days.” Now they can use Transformers 2 when it hits DVD.
The military connection couldn´t be more apt, what with all the right-wing politics Bay assaults us with. Barack Obama is blamed (yes, by name!) for attempting to pull the good Autobot forces out of the global conflict and allowing a resurgence in evil Decepticons, who now want to destroy our sun. Optimus Prime, the Christ-like Autobot leader, delivers a lengthy pro-war monologue that might have been effective if he wasn´t a 30-foot-tall robot in a live-action Transformers movie.
And the attempt at pathos, my God, Bay takes this thing more seriously than he did Pearl Harbor. A climatic slo-mo sequence features poor Megan Fox running to Shia LaBeouf, her breasts bouncing inside a tank top like this was the opening of Baywatch; she reaches his lifeless body, tears stream down her face, a helicopter blade churns slowly overhead and the orchestra strikes up. Cut to his parents, the military, the robots, and his near-death robot-religious experience; this scene – the worst of its kind since Darth Vader threw his arms to his sides for a good old fashioned why-God-why “nooooo!” in Revenge of the Sith – drags on for a good 10-15 minutes.
With Star Wars in mind, no awful summer blockbuster would be complete without a Jar Jar Binks alien CGI creation that doubles as a racist stereotype. Revenge of the Fallen features no less than two of them, and they may have the most screen time (along with Bumblebee) of any of the robots in the film: Mudflap and Skids are two illiterate, hip-hop Ebonics talkin´ Negrobots that transform into bright red and green Chevrolet vehicles “designed to appeal to young car buyers in urban markets.” Of course, these two characters were created specifically for this film.
Now, you will expect the film to be loud, dumb, and yeah, even a little offensive. But you simply cannot prepare for this; Transformers 2 far exceeds any expectations.
Yet, I can forgive any and all of the above if the movie simply delivers on its own terms: this is a Transformers movie; all we want to see is some robot-on-robot action, Godzilla vs. King Kong-like fisticuffs. I don´t care that the alien robots should be more advanced than this; that´s how we played with the toys as kids, banging ‘em together and stuff.
But Revenge of the Fallen contains precisely three action scenes that account for maybe 10 minutes total robot-vs.-robot action: a brief Shanghai chase that opens the film, an even briefer Megatron vs. Optimus Prime forest fight, and an extended Egyptian sequence that features an entirely anticlimactic fight between Optimus Prime and The Fallen. The first two scenes work just fine; the third features way too much human stuff and precious little of the robots. But in-between these scenes, to pad out the rest of the 2.5 hour movie there is quite literally nothing.
Oh yeah, there was a movie in here, too. I think. The plot is incomprehensible but here´s what happens: Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) is about to go to college, leaving girlfriend Mikaela (Fox) behind. But before he can go, a piece of the AllSpark, stuck in his jacket for two years since the events of the last film, alights and fills his head with a mysterious robot language; he gives the AllSpark to Mikaela for safekeeping. Meanwhile, Autobot forces – who have been working in cooperation with the US government fighting Decepticons for the past two years – are directed to leave Earth by President Obama, in hopes that the Decepticons will leave with them.
They don´t of course, and Megatron is resurrected from a deep sea-tomb by another shard of the AllSpark. He´s directed by The Fallen – an ancient Decepticon who once walked the Earth with cavemen – to kill Optimus Prime so he can return; Prime – for reasons never disclosed – is the only Autobot who can defeat the Fallen.
So Sam goes to college, his mother buys some pot brownies and freaks out, he keeps seeing strange symbols, calls Mikaela to come with the AllSpark, a hot college girl tries to seduce him but it´s really a Decepticon in disguise (now that would make an interesting toy – a Barbie that transforms into an evil robot). Decepticons attack, Autobots come to the rescue, Optimus Prime is “killed”, and Sam, Mikaela, Sam´s roommate Leo (Ramon Rodriguez), Sam´s car Bumblebee and The Twins, soon to be joined by ex-Sector 7 Agent Simmons (John Turturro) are left to figure out what to do next. We´re halfway through the movie, and it’s pretty bad so far, but it´s about to get a whole lot worse.
We delve into Da Vinci Code territory for about an hour, as our heroes locate an ancient robot that can translate the symbols in Sam´s head and discover the Decepticons want to activate an ancient device buried in Egypt that will destroy our sun. They travel to Egypt to prevent this, and there´s a disappointing action movie climax that fails to match the big city fight of the previous film.
Where are all the colorful Autobots from the previous film? We get Bumblebee and Prime but barely glimpses of anyone else. The Decepticons get plenty of screentime, but most of them look like thrown-together piles of scrap metal that rarely transform into anything interesting. Five or six of them combine to form a massive piece of junk that scales a pyramid and looks ridiculous in the process.
And yet, I´m in awe of the supremeness of this film. It´s a disasterpiece of epic proportions, reaching a level of badness that only lots and lots of money (reported budget: 200 million USD) can produce. While it´s boring as hell much of the time it can still be enjoyed on a perverse level, with plenty of unintentional humor and what-were-they-thinking moments to get you by.
Also opening: Anne Fontaine’s Coco Before Chanel, a biography of the famed fashion designer starring Audrey Tautou, Benoît Poelvoorde, and Alessandro Nivola. Coco Chanel is screening in French with Czech subtitles on Prague screens.