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maryann johanson, ruining movies since 1997

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (review)

The Empire Strikes Out

I’m certain that someday it will be acknowledged that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is like the most totally awesome artifact ever of the end of the American empire. It’s so us, a preposterously perfect reflection of who we are: loud, obnoxious, sexist, racist, juvenile, unthinking, visceral, and violent… and in love with ourselves for it. And Michael Bay is the high priest of our self-engrossment. It’s not enough that we like blowing shit up: the blowing shit up must be transubstantiated into something religious by having, say, a ridiculously gorgeous girl humping a motorcycle, her face aglow in the golden hour of sunset as she watches the shit get blown up, her glossy lips parted just a little in orgasmic joy.

What we have right here is the Easter Island statue of our legacy. People 1,000 years from now will gaze at Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen in wonder and mystery and marvel how we just couldn’t see. How could we not see?

I liked the first Transformers, two summers ago. It worked because it pretended to absolutely nothing, aspired to absolutely nothing beyond being a big dumb loud brainless advertisement for toys. Unlike every other propagandistic Michael Bay film, which all revel in their jingoism about justice or patriotism or heroism, Transformers felt no need to bother.

If only Hollywood could have left well enough alone. Of course, in Hollywood, “well enough alone” means you wear out a franchise with 12 movies, until even the fanboys are complaining that it’s stupid and a budget-bloated sequel finally bankrupts the studio. We’re nowhere near that, though. Transformer 3 is coming soon to a theater near you, you may rest assured of that.

I was ready for Revenge to be as agreeably inconsequential as the first film, and I was perfectly happy to be enjoying that it’s so completely fuckin’ bonkers from the get-go, when we discover that the alien robot things have been on Earth from 17,000 BC, when they apparently fought off Stargate SG-1’s Goa’uld or something for the right to pick on the poor uncivilized cavepeople natives. But then I got lost beyond that, for — unlike the first movie — this one either assumes that you’re steeped in the laughable mythos that Hasbro invented for its toys, or else screenwriters Ehren Kruger (The Brothers Grimm, The Skeleton Key) and the team of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek, Mission: Impossible III) invented a new laughable mythos. I’m not an eight-year-old boy, and I wasn’t in the 1980s either, so I don’t know which is which.

It’s something to do with an ancient bloodfeud between the good robots (the Autobots) and the bad robots (the Decepticons). You can tell which are the good robots — they have blue eyes and are nice and round and shiny and look like Japanese motorcycles or something Paul Walker drove in Fast & Furious or gas-guzzling, all-American pickup trucks manufactured by companies now in bankruptcy — and you can tell which are the bad robots: they’re very pointy and have red eyes. Beyond that, there’s a lot of high-falutin’ about wrongs done eons ago and such: it’s impossible to understand 90 percent of the Transformers’ dialogue, which is probably a blessing, because the other 10 percent sounds like Gandalf explaining to Frodo about the Ring, or Darth Vader grumbling about the damn Jedi Knights, but without the gravitas of either.

Apparently the good robots have discovered that Shia LaBeouf is Indiana Jones’s kid, because they send him on a mission to find an ancient doohickey from 17,000 BC in the North African desert. And luckily his superhot girlfriend (Megan Fox: How to Lose Friends and Alienate People) is along to gape in ecstatic joy at stuff blowing up and blue-eyed robots and red-eyed robots beating one another up over the ancient whatchamacallit, which is supposed to have the power to do something-or-other.

To call Revenge incoherent and bloated is to put it kindly. To say that Michael Bay fetishizes slow-motion and we still can’t see what the hell is happening the half the time is probably something he’d take as a compliment. But eventually I got so bored — for these two and a half hours feel much, much longer than the same two and a half hours the first movie consumed — that I lost track of the number of testicle jokes and taser jokes that flew by. The target audience will be pleased to know, perhaps, that yes: one joke combines testicles and tasers. It’s like the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of frat-boy humor. But it’s all good, because, you see, even though a Decepticon snatches the American flag from the Brooklyn Bridge as a show of contempt for us puny humans, it’s back later. America rules! Take that, Decepticons!

Welcome to Easter Island.


Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
US/Can release: Jun 24 2009
UK/Ire release: Jun 19 2009

MPAA: rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, language, some crude and sexual material, and brief drug material
BBFC: rated 12

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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