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Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: A List of Compliments For Michael Bay

If you’re reading this review, it comes as no surprise to you that Michael Bay has taken a critical drubbing for his latest opus, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. The most pointed quote comes from Nicholas Barber from the London Independent, who called it “the pretentious, nonsensical, sexist, jingoistic, militaristic, CGI-dependent, product-placement-packed, hectically edited, punishingly loud, wearyingly long, eye-wateringly expensive, and, I predict, phenomenally profitable exemplar of everything that is most repulsive about Hollywood today.” Ouch. Instead of continuing to pour the same hate onto Michael Bay, I’d like to take the high road and give Michael Bay some compliments for his film, which entertained me despite its flaws and lack of overall storytelling intelligence. I have provided these compliments in list form. Here we go:

1. Nicholas Barber clearly isn’t an average American, a.k.a. Michael Bay’s target audience. The average American IS sexist and jingoistic, Nicholas! Michael Bay is giving the crowds what they want. We want to believe that the Everyman Shia LaBeouf can not only land Megan Fox (Fox being the operative word), but that he refuses to tell her he loves her until she pledges her devotion to him first. This is the country we want to live in. The Everyman also can go to college and on the first day get a hot girl to straddle him for seemingly no reason, even though he tells her upfront he has a girlfriend. This is the country we want to live in. When aliens attack our country, and a government leader wants to exercise diplomacy to save troops’ lives, he’s regarded as a pest, one of the true villains of the film, and we cheer when he is disposed of. THIS IS THE COUNTRY WE WANT TO LIVE IN. Sure, you could say this is shameless pandering, bowing to the disease rather than attempting to fix it. But if you’re spending 200 million dollars creating a robot alien film, I guess you don’t want to alienate a single audience demographic. Speaking of which…

2. Much has been made of Mudflaps and Skins, the jive-talking black robots. Most critics have called them racist stereotypes, and Devin Faraci at CHUD.com went so far as to call them “little black sambots.” There is no denying that these are the most blatant black stereotypes in a big budget film in history, and they make Jar Jar Binks look innocuous. They cuss up a storm, fight all the time, tap knuckles, make fun of Shia’s Latino roommate, sport gold teeth, and there’s a bit obviously meant to get a laugh where they say “we don’t do much readin'” that failed to amuse me. The audience I saw the film with, however, thought these characters were hilarious, and they got consistent guffaws– even applause when they called one character a “pussy” and then tapped knuckles. And no, dear reader, this wasn’t an all-white racist audience either– it was at least half-black. This may just be my one screening’s reaction, but judging from the overwhelmingly huge ticket sales, I don’t think it is. I think Michael Bay has once more given the audience what they want.

Devin Faraci also said of these characters, “Bay went on to say that his vision of the Twins is that he wanted bots with whom the younger audience could really identify, and the funny thing is that I actually believe him. I don’t think he set out to make two grotesque caricatures; I think he honestly believes these characters reflect some aspect of youth culture…It’s stunning to think that anyone in the 21st century looked at the character designs of the Twins or listened to the voice tracks and thought that this was ‘okay.'” In theory, I agree wholeheartedly– the characters aren’t funny, and they’re absolutely black stereotypes. But Faraci is way off in thinking that these aren’t characters that the youth identify with, and in thinking that audiences wouldn’t think this is okay. You’re giving Americans WAY too much credit, Devin. Michael Bay doesn’t– he knows this is exactly what his audience is looking for.

3. I tell you this– one of the most memorable special effects in the whole film is a 20-second sequence of Megan Fox running in slow motion in her low-cut top. Is this because I’m a sexist? Possibly, but I don’t think so– I think it’s because Michael Bay WANTS you to remember it. Like Bo Derek in 10, or Phoebe Cates coming out of the pool in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, I predict Michael Bay has given Megan Fox her early career-defining sequence. The women in the world of this film are incredibly tan, incredibly thin, dress in incredibly skimpy clothing, and always wear incredible amounts of lip gloss– and in this world, Megan Fox is the alpha female.

4. In Shia LaBeouf, Michael Bay has found a young man who has the Everyman feel of Tom Hanks mixed in with the fast-talking shtick of Vince Vaughn. He’s a charming, appealing lead, and even when he’s taking a backseat to the scores of other characters, he still has the charisma to draw your attention right back. I’m sure some will disagree with this, and it’s easy to see LaBoeuf as a polarizing actor, since he’s been enormously successful and has actually earned the crown of “Next Big Thing” rather than simply inheriting it by the media, so his exposure has been massive. To this critic, he has the perfect blend of wide-eyed amazement and quick-thinking improvisation, as if he’s stunned by what’s going on around him but refuses to let it sweep his legs out from under him. The scene where he’s apologizing to Megatron when he’s being held prisoner and the scene in which Megan Fox is mad at him for being found in a compromising position with a new girl in college are both excellent examples of this quality.

5. Michael Bay is always smart enough to put reliable supporting actors into his films as comedic relief. Kevin Dunn and Julie White are both back as Shia’s parents, with their parts in the plot expanded this time around. Kevin Dunn is incredibly recognizable from his many roles in TV and film, and he has always been reliable every time he comes out to deliver a solid performance– he excels in the bigger part. He’s one of the few dads in cinema that can shout the line, “I’m not letting you do this alone!” and seem earnest. Julie White, a Tony-winning actress, is always funny, and here Bay trusts her with several moments of comic relief, some natural, some forced (a pot brownie gag in particular falls flat, although again my audience went nuts, so what do I know?). John Turturro has made a career playing oddball characters like this one, and when you see John Turturro climbing up the Pyramid of Giza chasing a robot with giant wrecking-ball testicles, you’ll think, “I wish I had a career in which I could climb a pyramid, make alien robot scrotum jokes, and get paid to do it.” Finally, the addition of Ramon Rodriguez as Shia’s Latin roommate is a terrific addition, since it provides a new character to witness the robots for the first time and to continue to freak out as he discovers more and more about them. Michael Bay knows, if anyone is going to share the screen with Shia and John Turturro, he needs to be able to speak just as quickly as they do, and Rodriguez plays the role perfectly– it’s the best performance in the film (other than the one given by Fox’s tanktop).

6. While robot-on-robot action is fairly inscrutable, and it becomes challenging at times to tell which robot is which and how the fights are playing out, Michael Bay does provide a vivid display of metal-crunching sound effects to make you feel like you’re right in the thick of it. The more distinguishable robots are the ones whose fights you care more about– Prime, Bumblebee, and a new robot named Jetfire who I liked a great deal. He had a unique physical appearance, unique personality, and not based on an offensive ethnic stereotype– the trifecta! Also, there are some impressive explosions and fight sequences. The action doesn’t blow you away the way it does in a film where the editing is cleaner and the storyline is more important, but there is one sequence in particular that should give you goosebumps– the fight between Optimus Prime and the Decepticons in the forest while Shia is running and hiding (boy, does he have to do a lot of running in this film). It was the first time, perhaps in both films, that I felt the unrestrained rush of joyful nostalgia to the old TV cartoon. The editing is at its clearest, the characters are mostly distinguishable, and the effects of the robots continually uprooting the trees are impressive (there’s another agenda for you, Nicholas Barber– Americans like machines that destroy the environment!).

7. Finally, there’s the robot with the big metal wrecking-ball testicles. To me, this is where Michael Bay placed himself into the movie. Just as I made this list of compliments for Michael Bay, I think he made his own list before this movie was written of the things that he knows American audiences love that American critics hate, and he decided to make a 200 million dollar orgy of robot alien action using everything on that list. It could have backfired– after all, Mike Myers took a list of everything critics find unfunny and tried to make a comedy out of it called The Love Guru. However, Michael Bay has a long list of films that critics hate and audiences love– The Rock, Con Air, the Bad Boys films, Armageddon, and now these Transformers movies. He’s not incapable of telling a creative story well, as he proved with The Island. But American audiences spoke up when Michael Bay made The Island, and they said, “What’s all this creativity and storytelling you’re giving us? Why did you make us wait so long before you blew something up?” And Michael Bay listened.

John Turturro’s character says to Jetfire when he’s rambling on about old robot days, “Beginning. Middle. End. Details. Plot. Keep it moving.” That’s the Michael Bay mindset in the Transformers films. When it comes to the plot, don’t let things like character complexities and coherence stop you from keeping it moving. Out of the criticisms I hear about this film, I can understand nonsensical. I can understand racist, sexist, and jingoistic. I can understand militaristic– I’ve never seen so many montages of pilots boarding jets in slow motion this side of Top Gun. But I don’t think it’s boring, and I certainly don’t think anyone can say what Michael Bay has done here is stupid. It may not be the most clever or original film, but every element is meticulously calculated for its ability to please the standard American moviegoer. It won’t float every boat, as some will feel this is pandering and taking the audience’s intelligence for granted. Unfortunately for those people, the box office receipts and the response of the public at large will cancel their opinions out. Michael Bay has big metal balls, and hate his ego and his product all you want, he’s going to keep swinging them.

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~ by russellhainline on June 25, 2009.

19 Responses to “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: A List of Compliments For Michael Bay”

  1. quite a review. you need a tomatometer or something tho.

  2. I also agree the scene in the forrest was more like the end of every episode of the original G1 cartoon. Prime was Prime, unlike in the first movie. And for the record, it’s Mudflap and Skids….neither of which I liked that much. I’d rather have the original characters (Trailbreaker, Mirage, Cliffjumper, Hound, Brawn, etc) over the new TFs. And don’t you like how GM is bankrupt but rushed a Volt into the movie, had Malibus as cop cars in China and created a one off prototype Corvette for Sideswipe’s character (who was one of the ‘twins’ in the original series with Sunstreaker…Sideswipe being a red Lamborghini and Sunstreaker a yellow one). I liked the movie though.

  3. Russell – You said upfront that you were taking a contrarian position, on TRANSFORMERS 2. And maybe your whole review was meant in a more ironic spirit that was clear to me. (Though your comments about how Bay’s crap was pleasing to the audience seemed condescending – to the audience.) But I wondered if you weren’t confusing aesthetic merit with commerical success – the confusion that our culture continues to wrestle with. Just because we ACCEPT crap doesn’t mean we’d PREFER crap, if we were offered an alternative. And if audiences approve of ethnic stereotypes in TRANSFORMERS 2 – that doesn’t let Bay off the hook, for employing those stereotypes. Given the infinite possibilites of the movies – to ignite our imaginations… it seems like the deliberate refusal, on the part of blockbuster directors like Bay (and the James Cameron of the loathesome TITANIC) to gives us both a great thrill-ride AND thought-provoking content… is sad, and a waste.

    • Oh I agree, Neal, it doesn’t let Bay off the hook at all. It was meant mostly ironically, but I was taking offense to the critical stance that Bay is out of touch by believing these characters are out of whack with the youth culture of today. It is extremely sad, but these characters in my experience in the theater are indeed in touch with that youth culture.

      I agree that it’s both sad and a waste. Like I said, I LOVE the Bay film “The Island,” and I recommend it to you if you haven’t seen it. And a large part of me is sad that Bay gave the audiences a film with thrills and content, and that the audiences rejected it, persuading Bay to return to non-stop story-free thrills. Bay is absolutely at fault… but when we as audiences reject his better films, and then buy ten times as many tickets to Transformers, what can we expect him as a businessman to deliver? People like Bay are businessmen first, artists second, unfortunately.

      Also, I was just tired of reading the same Transformers snark in every review, and thought I’d give y’all something fresh, lol.

      • But I think “The Dark Knight” basically negates your whole argument.

        TDK’s a great action movie that also offers competent film making fundamentals and it’s one of the biggest movies of all-time.

        People are rushing to see Transformers because it’s giant robots fighting each other. They would’ve loved it just as much (more?) if there was a coherent story and decent writing wrapped around those fighting robots.

        Bay shouldn’t get an ounce of credit for his sloppy, lazy, pandering work.

  4. Did you not name Pearl Harbor in #7 because both critics AND audiences hated it?

  5. Dr Jones: I’d say it’s easier to create a psychological drama regarding a vengeance-filled human than it is to create a meaningful drama regarding alien robots who are engaged in war. But maybe that’s just because on TV and in movies, I’ve seen Batman work on that level, but never for Transformers, which was always just alien robots engaged in war.

    I do believe something interesting can be made from Transformers. I’m actually working on an article about it right now. My piece was meant mostly ironically.

    Sidenote: TDK had its share of editing problems too. But I digress.

  6. Thanks for this great post! I look forward to reading more from you!

  7. This is the first movie I walked out of in a looooong time. Fucking unbearable, I thought.

  8. the movie was out standing but my brother told me that micheal bay showed Optimus prime the most and we were not able to make up what was the name of the decptecons which were fighting with the aurobots but the movie was inbelivable

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