This would be so much easier if I could just tell you that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a bad movie. And if you’re just looking for a simple “yay/nay” reaction, I assure you that it’s about as “nay” as it can get. But leaving it at that would be doing you, dear reader, a great disservice.
You see, Revenge of the Fallen is not just a bad movie. It is one of the most mind-bogglingly, absurdly, incomprehensibly bad films that I’ve ever sat through. It’s not the kind of bad movie that you laugh off and forget once it’s over – its awfulness sticks with you, lingering for days as you wrestle with how any combination of human beings could put so much blood, sweat and tears into such a colossal disaster. Did they know? Were they powerless to stop it? What the hell happened?
If I didn’t know any better, I’d be tempted to believe that Revenge of the Fallen was a deconstructionist satire of a Michael Bay film, taking all of the things film snobs deride the director for and amplifying them to a comic extreme. For example:
- Bay doesn’t just give the audience cookie-cutter characters, but actually forces us to spend FAR more time with them than the robots. (Don’t believe the trailers – this is more a Shia/Megan movie than an Optimus/Megatron movie.)
- The movie attempts to adapt Bay’s trademark slo-mo, always-moving camera work to heartfelt love scenes, with hilarious results.
- Not only does the film use recently-released rock music to soundtrack its big scenes, but it actually re-uses the same Green Day song (“21 Guns”) FIVE TIMES, just to drill the point home.
- Instead of just off-colour humour, we get a film full of awful jokes that range from the juvenile to the out-and-out racist (not just the “jive talkin'” robots you’ve heard about, but a quick one-shot of a buck-toothed black man that has to be seen to be believed).
- Forget a “by the numbers” plot – Revenge forgets entire subplots, characters and story arcs at various points in its running time. The moment you stop to think – why, if a Transformer can appear human to wreck havoc in hiding, don’t they ALL do this? – you’re whisked away to another location for another incomprehensible adventure.
- Bay’s saving grace has been his action scenes, but in Revenge they make as little sense as the plot. There’s no visual organization to them other than “loud.” Bay introduces a ridiculous amount of new Transformers and then just has them smash up against each other incomprehensibly. I’m still not quite sure who lived and who died when all was said and done.
Now these are the standard complaints that most critics level against dumb action movies, including the first Transformers. But deeply flawed and unbelievably stupid as it was, the first Transformers was also endearingly fun (you can read my review from two years ago here). Moviegoers – even those of us with blogs – are usually willing to forgive glaring imperfections if the overall experience comes together. Revenge, in contrast, spends 2.5 hours smashing you in the face with its colossal imperfections, using sheer unadulterated force to try and convince you that what you’re seeing is ACTUALLY awesome, in spite of all evidence to the contrary. It’s more akin to a short-term abusive relationship than a filmgoing experience.
What’s particularly confounding is how the same creative team could follow Transformers with a sequel that basically takes everything you hated aboutit and builds a movie around it. I mean, seriously, did anyone sit through Transformers and think, “They’re spending too much time on character development with these robots. Let’s devote more screen time to the humans instead!” Or how about, “I loved the part when the robot urinated on the other robot. Hey, if robots can piss, shouldn’t they have testicles too?” Or how about, “This Optimus Prime guy who does all the talking isn’t really that important. How about in the sequel we just get rid of him for most of the running time?”
If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” Revenge of the Fallen is the movie for you.
There’s part of me that could conceivably forgive ALL of this if Revenge of the Fallen was still fun. Most damningly of all, it’s actually an incredibly boring movie. Bay has done such an extreme job of excising the foundations of filmmaking from his “film” that even its action scenes are rendered impotent on arrival. The best scene in the movie is the forest battle at its midpoint – its ONLY other two action beats (the opening and closing) are quick-edit exercises in confusion, where you really don’t know what’s going on because Bay has spent so little time focusing on his robots as characters. Bay spends a good 3/4 of the film following around LaBeouf and Fox as they piece together a plot hardly worth remembering and then expects us to be entertained by shiny machines crashing into one another.
Two years ago, while reviewing the third Pirates of the Caribbean movie, I talked about “The Death of Wow” – the idea that North American audiences had reached a point where CGI animation alone was no longer enough to entertain without plot and character driving it. I’m not certain how on-target I was with that because Revenge of the Fallen feels like it’s both the TRUE Death of Wow while also representing its twisted, morbid ressurection as an ironic joke. Every shot of Revenge feels both exepensive and cheap, laboured and underthought, intentional and manic. The film is loud and assaultive and yet, somehow, also slow and plodding at the same time. No matter how you try and make sense of it, Revenge of the Fallen is a confounding meta-masterpiece, as befuddling as it is breathtakingly bad.
Watch: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen trailer