On Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Following the success of Transformers, a sequel was of course planned by director Michael Bay. The film, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, is known to open up to poor reviews as according to The Washington Post‘s article, “Theatergoers Flock to ‘Transformers 2’ Despite a Slew of Negative Reviews” stating:

The critics spoke last Friday. “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” is a Hindenberg of a movie.

he audience responded: So freakin’ what? They forked over $215 million (and counting) to see the widely panned sequel about shape-shifting robots. It became only the second movie after last year’s “The Dark Knight” to make that much in its first five days. “Transformers 2” was director Michael Bay’s worst-reviewed movie — worse than 2001’s “Pearl Harbor.”

“A horrible experience of unbearable length,” wrote Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times.

“Striking, shrieking incoherence,” wrote Peter Travers in Rolling Stone.

“I think they reviewed the wrong movie,” Bay told the Los Angeles Times. Critics “just don’t understand the movie and its audience. It’s silly fun. I am convinced that they are born with the anti-fun gene.”

Not that it matters, though. For decades, summer blockbusters have vacuumed up people’s money in spite of how bad the reviews are.

“Critics don’t affect the box office,” says Brandon Gray, president of Box Office Mojo. “The bottom line is it’s about the premise of the movies and how they’re marketed. ‘Transformers’ is assembled in a way to appeal to as many people as possible. It has all the scenes and plot devices — well, not plot, actually — that worked in the past.”

But there’s something astounding about the gap between “Transformers’ ” voluminous receipts and excoriating reviews.

“It’s not a gap — it’s a chasm. It’s interplanetary space,” says Joe Morgenstern, film critic for the Wall Street Journal, who called the sequel “appalling.” “The truth is, most summer movies these days are made to be critic-proof.”

After reading Morgenstern’s review, one online commenter provided further context: “I want to see things blowing up, alien robots battling each other, and . . . of course, Megan Fox.” (She’s the pornstarrific eye-candy amid all the whirling gadgetry.)

Entertainment Weekly critic Owen Gleiberman gave the film one of its few positive reviews, likening its appeal to that of a giant-monster movie like “Godzilla.” He says Michael Bay has become the official whipping boy for critics — unfairly held up as everything that’s wrong with Hollywood. The reviews of “Transformers 2,” he says, are as guilty of excess as the movie itself.

“I don’t defend it as a piece of storytelling, but I think it’s a lot more fun than a lot of weak stories I’ve seen.”

Of course, it’s unsurprising for me to see films with a poor plot be a box office hit, such as in the case of X-Men: The Last Stand, which was a travesty (“lots of neat-o special effects,” “competent mechanics move the story efficiently but with very little soul,” and “third time’s not the charm“).

Speaking of Megan Fox, that’s another issue worth discussing. According to Going Rampant blog post, “Sexism and Racism in Transformers Sequel“:

So, for Independence Day celebration, my family went out to see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. It was actually pretty good for a sequel. I’m not a big fan of the whole Transformers franchise, but the movie displayed cool special effects and had a generally entertaining storyline. However, there were certain parts I find worthy of criticism, namely the sexual objectification of the love interest and a “Terminatrix” redux, as well as racist stereotypes manifesting in the comic relief.

Mikaela Banes, the girlfriend of protagonist Sam, is constantly depicted in sexually alluring poses. I don’t remember the first movie well enough to know if that was an issue there, but it certainly exists in the sequel. She is a bit of a subversion of cliché in that she works in her father’s garage, but as her body is used as eye candy for the perverted male viewers I cannot find the character the slightest bit progressive. If anything, it just adds a style to her status as a sex object in the film.

The “Terminatrix” redux is a Decepticon spy sent to get close to Sam. While all the other Transformers took the form of anthropomorphic machines, this one appeared as a sexy girl with robot features. Initially, the character appeared to be a sexually aggressive co-ed who tempted Sam away from his long-distance girlfriend.

Looking sexually attractive at every moment, she manages to pin him down on his bed and tries to kiss him as he more or less rejects her advances. The camera focuses on her rear with her thong underwear visible as a robotic tail tipped with a needle comes out. Like the T-X’s finger drill, the Decepticon’s tail carries a seductive sway. Of course, she’s interrupted by Sam’s girlfriend who catches him kissing the Decepticon, who just looks like a hot girl at this point, tail retracted.

Breaking up with Sam, Mikaela runs off, and the Decepticon then openly attacks him. Her tongue extends into a long tentacle-like appendage, which she uses to pick Sam up by his neck and throw him across the room. Her tongue is physically similar to her tail, and has the same sort of sexual qualities associated with it. A chase scene ensues, and Sam is reunited with Mikaela, who runs over the Decepticon and would seem to kill her.

And finally, we have the twins. Reinforcements called in by Optimus Prime, the twins Skids and Mudflap embody racist stereotypes. They are essentially dull-witted black urbanites who are obsessed with displays of bravado and have dopey physical appearances, Skids possessing a gold tooth. While it is a plot element that only ancient Transformers can read the glyphs Sam has encoded in his brain, the twins’ denial of their ability to read specifically falls in line with the stereotype of illiterate black characters.

In conclusion, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a generally entertaining movie. However, it possesses sexist and racist elements that make aspects of the film very unappealing. I can only hope for a future film with both awesome special effects and a progressive theme.

Notably, the “Terminatrix” depicted can be categorized as an Evil Demon Seductress (see Feminist Frequency‘s #4). Despite such advanced technology at the disposal of the Decepticons (to have a human-appearing robot), it’s use is rather silly, and never featured again in future films.

According to Roger Ebert:

“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” is a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments. One of these involves a dog-like robot humping the leg of the heroine. Such are the meager joys. If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together. Then close your eyes and use your imagination.

The plot is incomprehensible. The dialog of the Autobots®, Decepticons® and Otherbots® is meaningless word flap. Their accents are Brooklyese, British and hip-hop, as befits a race from the distant stars. Their appearance looks like junkyard throw-up. They are dumb as a rock. They share the film with human characters who are much more interesting, and that is very faint praise indeed.

The movie has been signed by Michael Bay. This is the same man who directed “The Rock” in  1996. Now he has made “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” Faust made a better deal. This isn’t a film so much as a toy tie-in. Children holding a Transformer toy in their hand can invest it with wonder and magic, imagining it doing brave deeds and remaining always their friend. I knew a little boy once who lost his blue toy truck at the movies, and cried as if his heart would break. Such a child might regard “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” with fear and dismay.

The human actors are in a witless sitcom part of the time, and lot of the rest of their time is spent running in slo-mo away from explosions, although–hello!–you can’t outrun an explosion. They also make speeches like this one by John Turturro: “Oh, no! The machine is buried in the pyramid! If they turn it on, it will destroy the sun! Not on my watch!” The humans, including lots of U.S. troops, shoot at the Transformers a lot, although never in the history of science fiction has an alien been harmed by gunfire.

There are many great-looking babes in the film, who are made up to a flawless perfection and look just like real women, if you are a junior fanboy whose experience of the gender is limited to lad magazines. The two most inexplicable characters are Ron and Judy Witwicky (Kevin Dunn and Julie White), who are the parents of Shia LaBeouf, who Mephistopheles threw in to sweeten the deal. They take their son away to Princeton, apparently a party school, where Judy eats some pot and goes berserk. Later they swoop down out of the sky on Egypt, for reasons the movie doesn’t make crystal clear, so they also can run in slo-mo from explosions.

The battle scenes are bewildering. A Bot makes no visual sense anyway, but two or three tangled up together create an incomprehensible confusion. I find it amusing that creatures that can unfold out of a Camaro and stand four stories high do most of their fighting with…fists. Like I say, dumber than a box of staples. They have tiny little heads, although Jetfire® must be made of older models, since he has an aluminum beard.

Aware that this movie opened in England seven hours before Chicago time and the morning papers would be on the streets, after writing the above I looked up the first reviews as a reality check. I was reassured: “Like watching paint dry while getting hit over the head with a frying pan!” (Bradshaw, Guardian); “Sums up everything that is most tedious, crass and despicable about modern Hollywood!” (Tookey, Daily Mail); “A giant, lumbering idiot of a movie!” (Edwards, Daily Mirror). The first American review, Todd Gilchrist of Cinematical, reported that Bay’s “ambition runs a mile long and an inch deep,” but, in a spirited defense, says “this must be the most movie I have ever experienced.” He is bullish on the box office: it “feels destined to be the biggest movie of all time.” It’s certainly the biggest something of all time.


2 thoughts on “On Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

  1. Pingback: On Transformers: Age of Extinction | The Progressive Democrat

  2. Pingback: On Jonah Hex | The Progressive Democrat

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