Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

There are a couple of reasons why I've chosen to write this review: A) I needed an excuse to break out my "one and a half star" image; and B) I wanted to offer a comparison to all those who look at the trailer for Pacific Rim and say "that looks stupid". For some reason, American audiences have chosen this summer to look down on an effects-heavy action film when every summer a Transformers film is released Paramount makes a killing at the box-office. To give a little background, I first saw this film when Lara and I were in our first year of marriage. I remembered having a positive reaction watching the previous film and hoped for a similar experience going into this one. Admittedly, we went to a dollar theatre to watch it, so my expectations weren't through the roof. I'm going to attempt to summarize this convoluted and often nonsensical plot as the first exhibit in my defense of Pacific Rim:

Thousands of years ago, an ancient race of transforming entities arrived on the planet Earth, hoping to establish a "Sun-Harvester" that would sap the energy from our sun and convert it to Energon (the Transformers' source of power). However, their laws restrict harvesting suns with life-sustaining planets in its orbit. Breaking this law, a rogue Transformer tries to start the Sun-Harvester but is banished by the Primes and christened "The Fallen". Flash forward to present day, where Sam Witwicky is about to leave for college. By pure happenstance, a shard of the Allspark falls out of the pocket of Sam's sweater and starts bringing appliances all over the house to life (as well as passing some "important" information to Sam). For reasons unknown, Sam travels across the country for college leaving his super-hot girlfriend and extraterrestrial guardian behind (though of course they're going to reunite later in the film).

While in an Astronomy class (Why is Sam even going to college? Shouldn't he be helping the Autobots do whatever it is they're doing?), Sam has a break-down of sorts and speed-reads his text-book before writing Cybertronian symbols on the blackboard. Later, Optimus meets Sam in a graveyard in a (very, very misguided) attempt to convince him to be the Autobot advocate with the U.S government. Claiming this is not his war, Sam promptly gets abducted by a Decepticon and nearly killed. Meanwhile, Megatron is brought back to life with yet another shard of the cube (How many of these things are there?) and the remaining Decepticons regroup with The Fallen on one of the moons of Saturn. Claiming Optimus is the only one who can kill him (though he's still somehow the "leader"...), The Fallen commands Megatron to kill the Autobot leader and capture Sam, as he now has the full knowledge of where the Matrix of Leadership (the key to ignite the Sun-Harvester) is hidden... nevermind the fact that Megatron was just resurrected with a shard of the Allspark, which would logically have transferred him the same information it had just given Sam... but the brief moment of contact with Sam's fingers was clearly far more impactful... Anyway, the Decepticons attack and kill Optimus as Sam makes a run for it with his girlfriend Mikaela, Bumblebee, his annoying roommate, an even more annoying mini-Decepticon, and two characters so abhorrent I won't even bother to type their names. After a lot of nonsensical exposition and a gaggle of bathroom-humor hijinx, they meet up with an ancient Decepticon named Jetfire who magically teleports (He's a jet, people! Have him fly there, not teleport!) them to Petra, where the Matrix of Leadership is kept hidden. 

To wrap things up, Sam finds the matrix in pieces and despite the fact that there is no possible way it can be reconfigured, he insists on carrying around the shattered remains of the Cybertronian relic with the hopes of resurrecting Optimus. With the help of their deplorable comrades, they somehow manage to stop the Sun-Harvester, run through a battlefield completely unscathed, travel to and back from Transformer heaven, and magically rebuild the Matrix of Leadership so that Optimus can return to life and destroy The Fallen (though of course Megatron and Starscream survive to appear in another sequel... I mean, fight another battle...).

Whew, that was rough! Michael Bay has never been my favorite (see Transformers: Dark of the Moon for more on that), but never have I seen a movie that is so reliant on special effects and potty humor than I have in this complete mess. Whenever I think about one of the worst films I've ever seen, this is one of the first that comes to mind. Part of the incoherence of this screenplay is due to the writer's strike of 2007, but that is not an acceptable excuse. Any aspiring writer could come up with a script far better than this with a word processor and an hour of free time. The loops and swirls of the storytelling doesn't cohere into a fun and exciting tapestry like Indiana Jones (a film Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen clearly wishes it was), but rather a tangled, garbled mess that leaves no reward for the questions it raises.

Here's the argument Transformers fans are sure to bring up at this point: "Well, it's all about the action scenes. The story doesn't have to be amazing." True, if all you care about is catering to the least demanding viewers then you can settle for that. But even dumb fun doesn't insult the intelligence of its audience like this film does. It's constantly writing itself into corners and rather than establishing a logical progression of events that ties up loose threads from the beginning of the film, it simply creates some new unexplainable character or situation that "solves" that problem and promptly disappears inexplicably. This is why I get so frustrated when people see the trailer for Pacific Rim, a movie that for all its faults doesn't go on a wild goose chase of incomprehensible story threads just to give you adrenalized action sequences. It sets up a relatable (if slightly contrived) scenario where two titanic foes can do epic battle while giving us characters we like and a spectacle that isn't muddled by inexcusable storytelling.

That's not even getting into the ridiculously stupid humor that Michael Bay force-feeds the screenwriters. I don't want to see dogs or robots humping peoples' legs, giant wrecking balls positioned to look like a scrotum, offensive African-American stereotypes personified in the most deplorable Autobots, or seasoned actors like John Turturro running around an air museum with his pants down. This is the epitome of Hollywood crap. I give this film a generous one and a half stars for the visual effects technicians that did what they could with the terrible hand they were given.

TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, language, some crude and sexual material, and brief drug material.