Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

I Feel Cheated

This film felt like a slap in the face of US President Obama's message of peace to the world, if things in Michael Bay's Transformers world were to be taken literally at face value. It is nothing more than American military propaganda from start to finish in a huge 2.5 hour commercial, championing their military might showcasing every conceivable weaponry from deep sea submarines to spy satellites and right down to a classified laser beam known as the “rail gun”, and marching into “enemy” territories like China and the Mid-East to take out terrorist targets called Decepticons, piling on civilian damages with total disregard. National monuments and natural wonders of the world become collateral damage for good measure too.

Yes, you might say this is only a science fiction movie, but one wonders what kind of contacts Michael Bay has with the US Department of Defense to allow such blatant exploitation to be incorporated into what could have been a roller coaster ride of a summer action blockbuster. We don't need militarism to be creeping into what's essentially a movie made to sell lots of toys, and while scribes Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman have hit the high point with their reboot of the Star Trek franchise, they seem to fall very short here in their story treatment with input from co-writer Ehren Kruger, with plot loopholes abound, and a film that took leaves from films like Terminator 3 (with its female T-X equivalent), The Matrix (for those cheesy I Love Yous), National Treasure in which the run up to the finale became, and plenty more which I do not bother to list down.

The story, if it's any excuse to call it one, involves Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and his girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox) facing some teenage existential romance issues, quite petty amongst the world's concerns that the Decepticons are not yet a done deal, with the Autobots joining forces with US soldiers forming NEST, an operations unit with jurisdiction just about anywhere in the world, because the world does not have soldiers, or competent ones at that – Jordan only has 2 choppers being swatted down like flies.

Throw in more bureaucratic nonsense like a rehash of the first film, the return of Josh Dumahel and Tyrese Gibson giving a collective to soldiers on the ground, John Turturro for some weak linkage to the previous movie while demonstrating it's possible for a civilian to order a naval commander around, and a highly irritating, immature Ramon Rodriguez in a nerdy roommate role who got caught up in situations he never bargained for. If it's allowed to show this Rodriguez's character shit in his pants tastefully, trust me it will be done. In fact, there are so many frat boy situations (interrupting a lecturer, having a cute chick come up to you sexually, owning a cool car, plenty of sexual innuendos etc) and lame jokes tossed around, that it made it seem that the scriptwriters and filmmakers all had some repressed teenage fantasies they needed to play out on screen. Needless characters, just like the Witwicky parents, just bloat the screen and the runtime, just to have more human presence in the story, but serving little purpose other than to elicit some cheap laughter.

Sure, Michael Bay had responded to fans clamouring for more robots in disguise, but that had translated to a load of nameless, faceless robots either created just for laughs thanks to a renegade allspark fragment, or introduced so that they can be blasted to smithereens. Even the final assault of Decepticons were made up of unknown, generic looking robots that were there for cannon fodder. As for Devastator, what a big let down and a cop out. That on screen is not the composite giant robot I had known through the years, and reeks like the Americanized Godzilla where its orientation became severely changed, here to serve nothing more than a huge vacuum cleaner.

Nameless, faceless robots extend to the Autobots too, with Optimus Prime and Bumblebee taking up most of the screen time being obvious fan favourites, with others being Ironhide, the newly created and bitching Twins (childish and unfunny by the way, some saying even racist in Jar Jar Binks terms), and supporting acts like Arcee and Sideswipe, together with loyalty flipfloppers like Wheelie (whom I thought all along was supposed to be an Autobat) and Jetfire (this stays true, in a way). The biggest let down of all would be the Fallen, supposedly one bad-assed transformer with a huge axe to grind, becoming nothing more than a lazy bastard whose threats he made get forgotten about totally, in between snarls.

If there's anything of merit here, then yes, hats off to the CGI folks who have upped the ante with their numerous detailed transformations of robots to vehicles, and vice versa. There were action sequences intricately crafted, but alas some dodgy camera angles sometimes get in the way of their creative genius. There were a handful of action sequences which fell prey to extreme close ups and resulted in a huge mesh and mess of clanging metal being welded together and thrown about onscreen, where you can hardly tell who's who, made all the more difficult when the Decepticons aren't as brightly coloured. The finale is some 30 minutes, but largely reminiscent of the old cartoon series where you have two opposing combatants occupying one side of the screen each, and firing everything at one another, and missing a whole lot. Then wash-rinse-repeat, or cue heroic Autobot who rips apart the enemy without dripping engine oil.

Fans of the history of Transformers might feel a little mixed with the origins of the Transfomers explained here in a little bit more detail, a continuation of the allspark artifact seen in the previous film, with biblical elements like the fallen angel with the featuring of an important element such as the leadership matrix. Even a moment of the Transformers animated film found its way here, though I will not reveal what it is since it's a huge plot point and fuels pretty much the entire 2nd half of the film. And if there's one major gripe I have to make, it is this – Bumblebee is a four-seater Camaro (and we're reminded about this time and again), but to Sam, he'd rather pack his folks into the car, while opting to run some 4 miles in the desert dust to a common destination amidst a raging all out war. Right, yay to illogical heroic moment misconstrued to be sacrifice.

And how can I not mention the luminous Megan Fox? While the first film had entrenched her character to be quite the Ms Fix-it, here she's relegated to a flower vase role and has to do a lot of running away, while finding time for some tender moment to bigger about who has to profess their love for the other first. A girlie-girl now whom Bay had directed with his eyes closed to “act hot”, and we get constantly reminded just how smoking hot her character is by every bloody male character in the film. Yes we know, now can you all please move on?

I will unabashedly say that I've enjoyed the first Transformers live action movie, but this sequel is obviously churned out to milk the fanboys of their money, together with so many blatant merchandising opportunities with variations of toys. But that's what the fans want, and that's probably what they got and lapped up, given the reaction of the audience who laughed at every single unfunny moment, cheered at every robot death, and roared with approval with every shot of a military vehicle put in just because Bay could. One should be offended by what went on screen in a total waste of time and budget, and this goes down in my books as an over-hyped and stale summer blockbuster that's pure junk, and should have headed straight for the scrapyard, not the cinema.

More Entertaining Than Bay's Shit-piece

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