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The effluence of affluence
A Capsule (oops, went a little far methinks) Cinema Review of
TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN by Camus
 
"It's a combination of Ben-Hur and Apocalypse Now..."
Director, Michael Bay

 

The best combination of Ben-Hur and Apocalypse Now, if my anagram generator has anything to say on the matter, is this:

"Bay's New Poop Launcher."

And even that doesn't do this egregious so-called 'film' justice. In science, there is a derogatory term for those with opinions so infinitely far off the mark and lacking in any discernable intellectual rigour so much so that they are beneath the rug that is itself beneath contempt. The retort is "they're not even wrong." Transformers 2 is not only one of the most witless and excruciatingly pointless exercises of summer blockbuster fare but a possible candidate for the very worst Hollywood film I have ever seen. I wish I were joking. This movie is so wrist-slashingly terrible, it liberally tars its own genre and hell, even the art of film-making, with a creosote so dark, you begin to question your own fragile grip on reality. And Steven Spielberg has his name on it? Is he insane? Is this the ageing master's attempt at being relevant to today's youth, to be hip before you need your own replaced? But is that the point I'm missing? A lot of younger people want to see big robots and care little for caring about anything else. My god. I'm old now. Or, he says, yanking himself up out of his pit of despair, I could be right and Michael Bay is the grim reaper of cinema.

It could not have been as bad as that, surely? No. No. It was significantly worse than as bad as that. It's an anti-film, a film whose mere DVD cover would nullify any movies of note on the same shelf, a film that encourages you to go back in time and assassinate the person who saw sand and thought silicon. Computers are not to blame but they do make Michael Bay's brain defecations and mind pukes a celluloid reality and this simply has to stop for the mental health of storytelling in general and the population at large. To say this movie was insulting to the intelligence of a comatose mollusc with special needs is to overstate the case but not considerably. I literally could not believe how bad this movie was and I'm still in some semblance of shock and it's been well over a week.

Let's find the good things in this débacle.

There. All done.

OK, OK, so the effects are stunning but that's like saying you have a gold plated septic tank – not only is there no point, it's a terrible, terrible waste of resources. Imagine this technical skill employed for good rather than banal. It says a great deal about us as a species allowing an overblown toddler to fry hundreds of millions in the sand pit of his woefully jejune creative juices. And I watch the actors running around trying to find the Bling of Matumbi, the Rock of Galosha or the Pump of Bazooma and all that's going through my mind is dear Vince and Howard and what the Boosh would have done with such a budget. I know John Toturro was in the first and perhaps contractually obliged to be in the sequel but I equate him with edgy and relevant work so it's always a shock seeing the poor bastard up to his neck in the worst kind of schlock. Apparently he enjoyed the pyramids. That's nice.

There is an excruciating scene in which the hero (played with a sort of desperate panic by a boy whose name sounds like 'A Mountain of Cows') has to make the decision that may cost him his life. A brief segue: OK, making fun of people's names (I've already nodded at 'McG' in Terminator: Salvation) is childish and not exactly happily nestled in a film review of any sort but if Michael Bay can back out dross like Transformers 2, I'm allowed some licence to deviate from well worn paths. I mean where did Shia LaBoeuf get that astonishing name? If I'd been christened Longdrop Lambchop, I'd (a) change it or (b) prepare for a tsunami of tease. Back to the scene. Shia's about to die and his parents can't let him go. Let me just explain a little about subtext.

This is all you have to know about it. Michael Bay's skill at subtext is as pronounced as his subtlety. The overblown parent-child "You must let go," scene has been done many times with varying degrees of success. The best, for my money, is most of the entire film of Finding Nemo. Another albeit tacky example (and because of the charm of the leads, it comes off), is in Spielberg's own Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. When dad says to son "Let go, Indiana," meaning "I've acknowledged you've grown into a fine son and I don't intend to lose you over a cup I've spent my entire life searching for even if it did belong to Jesus." It's cute. In Transformers 2, it's performed in the middle of a war zone so everyone is screaming and once Bay's hammered home the subtext fourteen times, the audience can be heard screaming (or me at least) "I got it! Get on with it!" It was a pleasure to see the sap die (just to get the 'letting go' scene over with). That's not a spoiler. No one's going to kill off Mountain of Cows with a third in preproduction. Oh God. A third.

Here is a scale of excellence: A Rolls Royce to a Citröen 2CV. There are many steps in between but basically we are talking about a general, broad scale of recognisable great quality all the way down to pretty basic. This isn't to say that a 2CV couldn't get you to an airport on time but up against a Rolls, we are talking tin-can, non-shock absorbed transport compared to silent, languid luxury. What's the equivalent in movie terms? I guess Citizen Kane would have to be high flying and at the lower end? Well, double bill me with Dungeons and Dragons and Reno 911: Miami and we're talking Ipcress File style self-inflicted pain to endure it. Yes, I'd need to bleed to witness those two again. To traumatise is a verb that doesn't approach the effect of Jeremy Irons loudly, hammily and theatrically emoting for his country or a mass coordinated wank in a motel that is the highlight of those cops who just can't stay clear of fat and fart jokes. Let's just say my shock absorbers were too efficient. It's only in the process of scraping the celluloid barrel that you catch a glimpse of something just beyond, lower even than the depths at which you find yourself. It's like a bubble in the air that doesn't give away its position. Is it huge and far away or tiny and close by?

Transformers 2 is huge and in your face in the same way as an aggrieved owner's fist. Its idea of subtlety is having only four explosions in the same shot and the light touch? Bay's comic talents can be summed up in one immensely ludicrous shot – a Transformer farting a parachute. I sat there with my chin on my lap negotiating how it would ever get back to my jaw line. This movie had crossed a threshold and I'm not sure anyone could surpass it in terms of sheer dreadfulness. There was an imp in my brain that was whispering "Bay really hates an exec on this movie..." because he was wasting $200 million in ways hitherto undreamt of by any film-maker. Yes, you can see where the money went but not in a good way. Oooh! Let's have another robot transform! What's this one, the forty eighth? In the same feckin' scene?

We are talking about a mainstream Hollywood movie in excess of $200 million dollars to make and it has all the bi-polar character of a paranoid schizophrenic rolling in honey next to a fire ants' nest. There is absolutely no justification for over 80% of what it laughingly calls a plot. Not a minute goes by without something transforming itself for no reason. Oh, and since when could big robots teleport to Egypt with humans in tow and how did chief bad guy fly to his home planet in a single cut? Michael Bay can do what Scotty could never do... change the laws of physics. I just felt so sorry for the animators who probably had to pull night shifts to get this stuff delivered and rendered. Can you imagine not being a fan and working on this voluminous sewage of ideas that, in any other context, would have been straight-jacketted and hauled off to Betty Ford for detoxing. I turned to my fellow cinema goer and mouthed "What?" as some additional inanity – an inanity that probably cost about a million to design, animate and render – littered the screen like Bacofoil puppies yapping and twirling, demanding attention.

If movies have a nadir, then this is it. Bay has dug himself into the anus of cinema and found a home. The brown, foul stenched passages of cinematic overkill can now be a Bayside address, an address that only truly great film-making could hope to redress. To cancel out this metallic stain on cinema's spattered bib, Michael Bay (bless him) is going to have to make a Blade Runner or a Shawshank Redemption. As I mentioned, I understand Transformers 3 is on the cards. Please. Give the man a pardon and not more rope to hang himself and the art of cinema with him. If Transformers makes it to a second sequel I fear for the human race.

And you think I'm joking...

And the feckin' bastard movie was two and a half hours long!!!

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

USA 2009
150 mins
director
Michael Bay
producers
Ian Bryce
Tom DeSanto
Lorenzo di Bonaventura
Don Murphy
screenplay
Ehren Kruger
Roberto Orci
Alex Kurtzman
cinematography
Ben Seresin
editors
Roger Barton
Thomas A. Muldoon
Joel Negron
Paul Rubell
music
Steve Jablonsky
production design
Nigel Phelps
starring
Shia LaBeouf
Megan Fox
Josh Duhamel
Tyrese Gibson
John Turturro
Ramon Rodriguez
Kevin Dunn
Julie White
release date (UK)
19 June 2009
review posted
5 July 2009

related reviews
Transformers film review
Transformers – Revenge of the Fallen DVD review