So if you haven’t heard, there’s a new Transformers flick coming out this summer. The fourth in the franchise, this will be the first without Shia LeBeouf (since he’s “no longer famous,” Mark Wahlberg’s the new male lead), but Michael Bay is still behind the camera.
Back in February, Paramount teased the flick with a big Super Bowl spot. Your Facebook feed was probably full of images of Optimus Prime riding on Grimlock. The other day, the studio unveiled its first full trailer for the movie that’ll likely rule the summer box office:
Meh. I am still not excited.
Since it’s Throwback Thursday, I thought I’d share this review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. I know it’s five years old, but it’s important to me because it’s the movie that really made me hate this franchise. I hated it so much in fact, I actually sold my DVD copy of the first movie as soon as I got home.
Anyway, this was first written on June 25, 2009. Enjoy.
So I just got out of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: The IMAX Experience. That’s a lot of colons. (By the way, props to the Maryland Science Center for finally showing Hollywood movies in their IMAX theater! I’ve been lobbying for this for years — or at least since The Dark Knight came out last summer. No more Fake IMAX at AMC for me!)
Anyway, as I was saying, TF:ROTF:TIE. Where do we begin? This flick fails on so many levels, not least of which are the Stepin Fetchbots that have been getting the brunt of the negative press. More on them later. I think a lot of my problems with this movie are the same ones I had with the first one: mainly, the robot designs are too busy and indistinguishable, the human characters are corny, the action is hard to follow, the humor is crass, and the storyline is nonsensical (or maybe non-existent?). Only these problems have been magnified a thousand fold.
For instance, I read that there were dozens of more robots this time around. I wouldn’t know because they all looked exactly alike. Especially the Decepticons. You know how I could tell the difference between Megatron and Starscream when they were on screen together? I couldn’t! Everyone’s a jumbled mess of chrome and metal.
And the human characters are even worse this time around. Every time Sam’s parents were on camera, I wanted to shove a Decepticon probe-bot in my eye sockets. Seriously, whoever thought a scene in which Sam’s mom gets high on “special” brownies must have been high on “special” brownies themselves.
Oh, Michael Bay. Sometimes “awesome” doesn’t equal “good.”
As I mentioned, I saw the IMAX cut of the flick, and like Christopher Nolan did in The Dark Knight, Bay and company actually shot several scenes using an IMAX camera. Also like TDK, the aspect ratio changes whenever an IMAX scene occurs and the letterboxed image expands to fill the entire 50-foot screen. Unlike Nolan, though, there is no rhyme or reason to Bay’s use of IMAX footage. In The Dark Knight, whole swathes of the movie were filmed and presented in IMAX — like aerial establishing shots of Gotham, the opening bank heist, the Bat-Pod chase, and the climax. In TF:ROTF:LMAO, Bay cuts back and forth between IMAX footage and standard 35-mm footage IN THE SAME SCENE! Not only is it distracting, it’s pointless. Whenever The Dark Knight switched aspect ratios, it was meant to put the viewer directly into the environment. Nolan had each IMAX shot last several minutes so you could take in the whole scope and breadth of the scene you were witnessing. With the constant cutting between 35-mm and 70-mm in Transformers, the effect is actually the opposite. Rather than being enveloped by the experience, you’re being jarred in and out of it.
The only time IMAX really worked was during the forest battle near the beginning of the film. This scene worked for two reasons: one, Bay limits the shifting aspect ratio and keeps most of the scene in IMAX, and two, with the characters fighting on the green background of the forest, you could actually see and comprehend the action. Kind of.
The battle in the forest is also the setting of Optimus Prime’s “death.” I had the feeling this was coming from some of the trailers. While it was a much cooler death than the one Prime got in the animated movie 25 (Ed note: now 30!) years ago — I’ll never forgive Hot Rod for getting Prime killed! — my only issue with the scene was the fact that they were killing off Prime in only the second movie. Fortunately (or not) Prime gets resurrected during the end battle (using the Matrix of Leadership, no less!) so that was cool. Speaking of “deaths,” Sam gets to visit Autobot Heaven, too.
So let’s break the flick down into the GOOD, the BAD, and the UGLY:
THE GOOD: the aforementioned forest battle is cool (though the whole time I was thinking, why aren’t the other Autobots helping Optimus? Why is he taking on five Decepticons alone? It’s not like the others weren’t around). I also liked Soundwave as a satellite — and that he was voiced by Frank Welker, the same voice from the cartoon — with his projectiles transforming into Ravage (what, no love for Lazerbeak?). I also really liked Optimus’ heroic unveiling in the beginning of the movie when he was airdropped over Shanghai. That’s how you make an entrance! I also appreciated references to classic G1 things like the Matrix of Leadership and Energon.
THE BAD: Um, everything else? The human Decepticon (again, WTF?!), the annoying roommate, the blurry CGI. Seriously, why spend hundreds of millions of dollars on ILM when the finished product is just a bunch of grey and green blurs on the screen? Also, how can you ruin the Constructicons? Devastator was one of the coolest toys when I was a kid.
For some reason, though, the Constructicons in the movie combined into a lumbering gorilla-bot that can barely move. Oh, and of course he has mechanical testicles. Of course.
Maybe it’s just me, but I also got a strong anti-Obama streak throughout. He’s clearly POTUS in the flick. There’s mention of him being evacuated to a bunker during the Decepticon assault. But that isn’t what bugged me. Instead, I thought the NSA pencil-pusher character was a veiled criticism of this administration’s “diplomacy first” foreign policy. There’s a scene in which said pencil-pusher, on direct orders from POTUS, tells Josh Duhamel’s Marine character that they are basically going to sit down and negotiate with Megatron. I was waiting for him to finish his sentence with “without preconditions.”
THE UGLY: Seriously, though. Who came up with Mudflap and Skids? I know Jazz (who’s always been my favorite Autobot, by the way) from the first flick got some flack for being too “urban,” but it’s as if the writers thought to themselves, let’s take that criticism and make it even more offensive! Like I said, Jazz was my favorite Transformer (too bad Scatman Crothers is no longer with us), but I don’t recall him being a jive-talking robot. Also, it isn’t just the fact that Mudflap and Skids speak in “urban slang.” They also happen to be illiterate buffoons with giant bug-eyes and gold teeth that serve no other purpose than to be laughed at. In other words, they’re minstrels in disguise.
Bottom line is that I disliked Transformers 2 so much that not only am I not going to buy the DVD, I’m going to sell my copy of the first Transformers 1 to a used DVD store.