Monday, June 29, 2009


Man, Mondays can be tough, especially when your work week starts out with a trip to the dentist. Agh, good times. I need an Advil.

Speaking of which, here's my review of Michael Bay's latest ...


- I'd need to do some serious bad-movie watching to prove this, but is it possible that Michael Bay made a great movie in THE ROCK and that each subsequent film has gotten progressively worse? Is it possible that, with each new film, Bay shows less and less restraint when it comes to giving in to his worst creative impulses? Is it possible that with each new Bay film, the blow-'em-up filmmaker increasingly forgets about making a great movie and, instead, simply panders more and more the absolute lowest common denominator? The first Transformers movie was pretty bad, but if nothing else it was worth seeing for its eye-popping f/x. Now that the novelty of the CGI is gone though, what is left for the bigger and badder sequel? How about a script that makes less sense than ever, a story devoid of heart and soul, direction that is obnoxiously ADD, and despite all that, a running time that is way, way too long.

Transformers has a couple of things going for it. Let me list them for you:

a.) The guy who plays AARON PIERCE on 24 is in this. Even though his character is given nothing cool to say or do whatsoever, the mere fact that it's AARON PIERCE: AGENT OF AWESOME in the movie, or a character who might as well be him for all we care, is kind of cool if you're a 24 fan. At the least, if you get bored or frustrated with the movie, you can look forward to not-Aaron Pierce showing up and giving the movie a slight injection of gravitas.

b.) Peter Cullen as the voice of Optimus Prime. As in part 1, everything Optimus Prime says is pretty darn awesome simply because he has an incredibly badass cartoon superhero voice. Even the most cheesy line sounds pretty kickass when Prime says it. So of course, this means that OP barely talks or is given any real characterization throughout the entire 2 1/2 hour movie.

c.) There is one pretty cool, and surprisingly coherant, fight scene about halfway through the movie, in which Optimus and co. duke it out with the Decepticons in the middle of a forest. Pretty badass hand-to-hand robot fighting here, and Bay reigns it in enough so the fight actually has a bit of dramatic momentum and gravity. Of course, this is not emblematic of the movie's action scenes as a whole. The movie's final half hour is basically one giant shoot-em-'up action scene that pretty much makes no sense, has no internal logic, and cuts back and forth between characters with reckless abandon. Dammit all.

d.) The opening two minutes or so of the movie is pretty sweet - I'm not sure what happened, but it's Optimus Prime's narration telling us something about how Transformers met humans way back in ancient times, and they fought or something. But basically just the juxtaposition of the narration with some random scene of dudes with spears fighting some giant robot is kinda cool.

And ... yeah. Everything else is pretty bad. The script is bad. But maybe, just maybe, the over-the-top plotline about an ancient race of Transformers called The Fallen COULD have been kinda cool if given more time to be fleshed out. But instead, we get endless "humor" in the form of dogs humping each other, Shia LeBuff's mom eating a pot brownie, etc. Oh yeah, there's two jive-talkin' sidekick robots who make Black Vulcan and Apache Chief from Superfriends look like racially-progressive characters. As for Shia, he's just flat-out goofy for most of the movie. You never once buy him as a dramatic lead, and there's never any real suspense around his character. He just kind of runs around aimlessly, and there's really no good reason why he's supposed to be some kind of chosen one. There's brief moments of him saying how he just wants to be a normal college kid, etc. But we never really explore that. But, guess what?! We do spend several scenes with Shia and Megan Fox and the big drama that threatens to tear their relationship asunder: will he or won't he say "I love you." Dude, I just spent a whole season watching that storyline play out on Gossip Girl (seriously), and I don't need to see it in friggin' Transformers!

Meanwhile, a ton of cool actors are pretty much wasted. John Turturro is one of my fave actors, but his character is annoying as hell here. He's like Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day except if you took away every shred of what made that character work. And Michael Bay's spastic editing ADD doesn't help. I mean, in the final, climactic battle scene, Turturro gives a whole speech about how this is his big moment to do something good for his country. He proceeds to climb a giant pyramid on which is affixed a planet-eating doomsday device. On top of the pyramid is an evil Decepticon looking to activate the device. Now, Turturro climbs the pyramid, and we keep cutting to him flailing away and yelling every five seconds. But what is he trying to do?! Why is he climbing a giant pyramid? When he gets near the top of the pyramid, he enacts his heroic plan ... he radios for help from a nearby aircraft carrier! And why did he need to climb a giant pyramid to do that? Damn you, Michael Bay.

Let's see ... Rainn Wilson of The Office is in the movie for a couple of minutes. Megan Fox does nothing the whole movie, except, if she bats an eyelash it gets its own slo-mo shot. There's something about how her father just got out of prison and how she is conflicted about a long-distance relationship with Sam (Shia), but hey, that's all a lot to process when we've got things to blow up. And I just found this out: the great Hugo Weaving is the voice of Megatron. And Tony Todd is The Fallen?! Wow, they really took advantage of their talents in this one, folks!

The crazy part is that with the movie being so long and drawn out, the actual robots seem like they're barely there. The three most featured good-guy robots are all comic relief - the blaxploitation twins and then Bumblebee, who's isn't-he-cute not-talking schtick was old halfway through Part 1. Optimus is cool when he's actually on-screen, and the other Autobots are rlegated to background players. And hey, how about the villains? They should be cool, right? Well, the main "villain" in terms of screentime is a miniscule Decepticon who eventually becomes good and likes to hump Megan Fox's leg. Yeah, there's a lot of humping in this movie. Megatron and Starscream don't do much at all, except there's one scene where Megatron randomly beats down his weaselly lackey that is sort of cool. But yeah, the new big bad here is The Fallen, who I guess is like The Emperor to Megatron's Darth Vader. Except whereas the Emperor kicked ass, The Fallen is just another robot who doesn't seem all that different or more dangerous than any of the other robots. Except he can only be killed by a "Prime," of which Optimus is one (duh). Why that is, I don't think we know, and by that point in the movie, we probably don't much care, either.

What kills me about this movie is that it has a couple of cool moments, but there's no way in hell you can tell me it's a good movie. There's the camp that says "oh it's a big fun summer movie and I have no expectations for it other than Megan Fox and explosions." To anyone that says that: you are a moron. There is an art to making quality films of any genre, and that includes blockbuster action movies. And on most counts, Transformers 2 fails. There aren't characters that you care about. There isn't a plot that gets you invested in the action. Even the action doesn't get you invested in the action, because every time dramatic momentum begins to build up, we cut away to a random shot of F-16's zooming through the air or random soldiers walking on an aircraft carrier in front of a red horizon. WTF. Not only that, but the tone is all over the place. I'm all for well-timed comic relief, but you can't have an epic movie about killer robots also feature approximately one leg-humping joke a minute. It doesn't work that way. But back to the artform of blockbuster action movie-making: look at movies like Jurassic Park, Raiders of the Lost Arc, Lord of the Rings, Wall-E, King Kong, Die Hard, The Dark Knight, Spiderman, Star Wars, Star Trek, and countless others - these movies combined style with substance, action and wit, visual flair with iconic characters. Transformers may be the equal to those movies in box office gross, but in all other ways, it's not in the same league, no way, no how. Even campier, less serious films like The Mummy and Independence Day make Transformers look completely weak by comparison. When the basic storytelling of a movie doesn't hold up, it's hard to give it high marks. Even visually, as cool as some of the CGI is, the art style is more often than not like a bad Rob Liefield drawing come to life, with so much unnecessary visual detail that the robots become a chore to look at and to try to follow. What happened to simple and iconic design?

This is Action Movies for Dumb People. There's no imagination, no drama, no momentum. I know, what do you expect, it's a movie based on an 80's toy-line and Saturday morning cartoon, right? But man, those old cartoons had spark, they had imagination, they had characters that kids loved. This movie isn't even appropriate for kids - it's too focused on leg-humping and sex-appeal to remember that it's supposed to be a giant robots movie for ten year olds. Sadly, the cartoons for ten year olds back in the day were way smarter than this.

My Grade: C-

- And that's all for now - until next time!

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