Monday, July 20, 2009
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
The shape of things breaks open, cracks like a glass bottle and only light comes out, light and the awful sound of voices, distorted beyond recognition into guttural howls. An explosion crackles in my ear and the light flickers, that supple and mysterious light that bends with the sound into the shape of a spectrogram of one long scream. Something is becoming, but it remains formless, only light and screams and that crackling in my ear. I look, but I see nothing.
Oh my god, I think, I’ve gone blind.
It’s an hour into Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and I’ve gone blind. I’m staring at the screen, but I can’t see anything. Everything has descended into chaos, and even though my brain is gamely trying to process the visual incoherence of two giant walking scrap-yards smashing into each other, my eyes have given up. I panic.
I’m sure this all sounds like melodrama for the purposes of taking cheap shots at Michael Bay’s latest monstrosity, but I assure you the panic was real. I’ve never walked out of a movie before, but I came perilously close in this case, if only because I was momentarily terrified at the thought of exposing myself to another hour and a half of a movie that my body seemed to be physically rejecting.
Never before have I been so grateful for Bay’s grating comic sensibility as I was here. Those prattling, obnoxious scenes of forced wackiness and sitcom one-liners are as soothing to the ear as a dentist drill to your back molars, but visually they refresh like eye drops when compared to the onslaught of the action sequences. At the very least, they allowed my eyes to come back into focus and let me brace myself for the next wave of optic insanity. Whoever coined the phrase “Non-stop thrill ride!” should be shot out of a cannon. Into a burning building. While the sun explodes. This is the world you, anonymous jackass, have wrought.
How do you write sensibly about a movie that lays siege to your very senses? How do you critically review a punch to your own face? How does one assess, without resorting to hyperbole or hysterics, a movie that instead of offering us a new way of seeing the world rather provides a new way of going blind? The movie’s style is so pulverizing (and the content so incoherent) that you can really only appreciate it on the most basic sensory level as two and a half hours of varying shades of colour and alternations between loud and louder. This is stimulation that will leave you numb, a movie to end all movies. You’ll become so wearied with constant excitement that you'll be left bored. Um, two thumbs down for the bright boom-boom?
If it seems like I’m ignoring the plot, I assure you that would be quite impossible, as one can no more ignore the plot of Transformers: ROTF than you can ignore God, Sasquatch, and other mythical creatures. Allow me a quick summary for the curious and the damned: a bunch of things are blown up on a computer somewhere in California while Megan Fox runs in slow motion in a tank top and Michael Bay lights a cigar with a hundred dollar bill. The end.
The more elaborate summary—the one addresses the heart of the film, such as it is—requires a bit more of a straight face, so let’s see if I can do this without being too snide. Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is about to go off to college. His impossibly dumb parents are struggling with the prospect of an empty nest, his mother weeping all over the place while his dad puts on a brave face and acts tough. Sam makes plans to maintain a long-distance relationship with his impossibly hot girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox), while his just plain impossible alien robot car is undergoing a bit of separation anxiety because Sam has sent it scampering back to its own kind like a wayward dog. Meanwhile, good alien robots fight bad alien robots, a perfectly fine pyramid is wrecked, and for good measure, there’s an attempt to destroy the sun.
The great unwitting joke of the film is that Transformers: ROTF is actually a tender coming-of-age story about Sam becoming a man—no, really—but this ostensible human foundation for the robotic carnage is largely forgotten amidst the explosions and aforementioned slo-mo shots of Megan Fox, to say nothing of the inordinate amounts of time spent on a dog-humping motif and the unpleasant (and now infamous) sambobots. Indeed, one could go on and on about the various incidental stupidities that dust the movie like little turd sprinkles on a big shit cake. When the long-buried emotional arc suddenly resurfaces during the climactic battle in Egypt, it’s hard not to laugh out loud at the movie’s self-deluding conception of itself. You mean this isn’t about tits and explosions, after all? I reiterate: two thumbs down for the bright boom-boom.
But of course it’s laughable that Bay's absurd demolition zone of a movie could actually be a plausible coming-of-age story. How could any movie that aims no higher than the sensibility of a fifteen-year-old boy really say anything about maturity or responsibility? And why does it even try? One of the most puzzling things about Michael Bay is how he makes such unrelentingly shallow movies while still attempting to add moments of emotional uplift amidst the sterile CGI carnage. Unfortunately, with such uniformly obnoxious, unlikable characters, any attempt to create touching or inspirational moments feels like cruel mockery. Good things do happen to shallow jerks like these people. As for the rest of us, we get Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.