Criminal Kinnema #1 – Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
The trouble with being so damned enthusiastic about movies is that I keep posting about stuff I like, and forgetting the dreck I’ve had to sit through. So here’s Criminal Kinnema – or Crinnema, if you will – an occasional feature detailing the worst of the 700+ films I’ve sat through since I started reviewing stuff for y’all to read.
These turkeys are in no particular order; I loathed them all equally and considerably. Which is saying something, as I can always find things to enjoy in films that are despised by the majority…as you’re about to read.
My first pick is chosen largely because, having recently revisited the Star Trek reboot, it reminded me of the other sci-fi blockbuster written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman last year. The horror. The horror.
Transformers : Revenge of the Fallen
(Michael Bay, US, 2009)
Bay’s Revenge on a self-confessed Transformers fan: flatten everything in sight until not even guilty pleasures are left.
Michael Bay’s Transformers is one of my guilty pleasures. I watched the film three times in 2007, included it in my top 10 for the year and even, in moments of madness, toyed with putting it into my all-time top 100, which means I rate it higher than (amongst others) Vertigo, The Godfather Part 2 or The Shawshank Redemption. I don’t, really – objectively, I know it’s bad for me – but I gotta admit it entertains the hell out of me.
Sequel Revenge of the Fallen, though, might be too stupid even for me. Tonally, it aims for the same balance of broad comedy and hi-tech devastation as the first movie, and initially it seems it might just recapture it. An early sequence at college is certainly familiar, giving Shia LeBeouf the opportunity to give his stressed-nerd routine a work-out, and Michael Bay the chance to blow up a library, an effect that’s both sacrilegious and strangely compelling. He even takes the piss out of the Terminator films by including a muff-morphing robot femme fatale (apt revenge, considering how much McG stole from Bay for Terminator Salvation). But, after a dust-up between his metallic monsters in a forest, a setting that provides a startling, inspired visual contrast, Bay stops having fun and starts getting fidgety instead.
I get the sense that, having already established what he can do with the Transformers, Bay is simply bored by having to do it again – which is much the same feeling I got from his previous attempt at a sequel, Bad Boys 2. As cinema’s ultimate ADD-director, Bay needs new toys to blow up, otherwise he can’t disguise his contempt for getting stuck in the same sandpit. And without something shiny to distract him, he turns to his favourite subject: himself. The result is less a piece of storytelling than a narcissist’s handjob, lovingly crafted to show off how great Michael Bay is. Typically, Bay misses the point. We want Bayhem: the flurry of movement, edits and explosions that’s become his trademark. Instead, Bay wants you to ogle, and frequently slows down the action to slower than slo-mo so there’s no choice but to let your jaw slacken into a yokel’s cretinous gawp. You could shave half an hour off the running time just by cutting the fetish shots of Transformers transforming or Megan Fox’s cleavage bobbing up and down.
It’s porn, basically – a film hung up on Bay’s perennial concerns of women, vehicles and guns – only with marginally less plot than your average dirty movie. You thought the first film’s All Spark was dumb? Here, it turns out they didn’t even need it, ‘cause there’s an even older (and stupider) Macguffin, which everybody had conveniently forgotten about before. And Sam Witwicky is longer the Everyman wanting his first car and first shag, but a seasoned pro who might just be the Transformers’ Messiah. It’s the same mistake that the Matrix sequels fell into, getting bogged down in half-arsed mythology when it needs to cut fast and loose. Oh, and speaking of The Matrix, guess what the device that everyone’s after here is called? It’s a new low even for Hollywood when nobody can be bothered to come up with a distinctive name.
But ‘distinction’ is no doubt cowering under the onslaught of Bay’s sound and fury. Bay spends the movie’s final half-hour in a petulant rage, pitching ego and budget into a huge battle between the military and the Decepticons that – while impressive logistically – forgets that the joy of Transformers lies in the mad ballet of seeing the robots tussle with each other. Having spent two and half hours (!) building towards the promised big fight between Autobots and uber-Decepticon big bad The Fallen (so scary he’s voiced by Tony Todd, the Candyman himself), Bay runs out of ammo…or ejaculates premature. Either metaphor works here, as the climactic duel is over in a few scant minutes. The Fallen turns out to have got his name ‘cause he’s a pushover, and the only Revenge here involves me being retaught the lessons of Hollywood idiocy for having the temerity to have liked Transformers in the first place.