After Michael Bay's first Transformers movie, which seemed to get its best reviews from people who were glad that there weren't too many of those big, silly robot things clogging up the heart-warming family humor, funny dog schtick and golden shower jokes. Whatever percentage of said reviewers were also thrilled by the the brazenly xenophobic and jingoistic elements remains unknown, since few of them were obliging enough to voice how daring they thought the film makers were to finally skewer Indian call center operators, crocodile eating Creoles and gluttonous, cowardly, DDR playing black people. This is not the case for Transformers 2- pardon "Revenge of the Fallen"since everyone knows that a number in the title is box office and artistic death- A point hard to disprove seeing as how this, the un-numbered, crap, eleventh Star Trek and the whole of the Harry Potter series have also pulled down unholy amounts of coin. No the racist, xenophobic, jingoistic scat humor is front and center in most reviews this time around, with mostly the downtown papers choosing to focus on the anti-intellectual, Bush-missing, pro-invading Middle-Eastern countries angle. Perhaps in light of the first film, and Michael Bay's entire body of work, the pattern of Strong White Males Who Break All The Rules To Get The Job Done is beginning to impress itself upon the film-reviewing public at large. I can only pray that it's still somehow invisible to the masses who seek out these movies and exit thinking nothing of the fact that the only non-whites that they saw for the last three hours were jibbering their colorful patois through thick lips whilst wildly gesticulating or simply being permitted the dignity afforded to any cannon fodder. (Thank you Jordanian army!) Tyrese Gibson gives a singular performance consisting almost entirely of threatening to shoot the Wormy White Guy In A Suit.
It's nice to see Wormy White Guy In A Suit still working and right on top of his game. He only has a few scenes here, as I'm sure his busy schedule required him to run right out and demand to know what the kid in the Twisted Sister video is going to do with his life and why these Apple Jacks don't taste like apples.
Of course Wormy is here to tell us that The President is sick and tired of the Autobots war against the Decepticons costing hundreds of lives and millions of dollars in damage per engagement. The conclusion drawn by "The Administration" is that it's the Autobot's fault for being here and if they would just leave the problem would just go away. This is the part of the puppet show where the audience hisses at the Judge for putting Punch in jail. It seems that Mister Oba- ahem, The Administration is under the impression that since the Allspark has been destroyed, the Decepticons must have stayed behind on Earth to "hunt" Autobots instead of returning to their home planet of Cybertron to resume their day jobs as, I don't know, carpet cleaners. Had they watched the first movie with greater the attention to detail than did most of the screaming four-year-olds who were in the audience with me, he might have picked up on the part of Optimus' plan that involved dooming Cybertron to slow death via the use of said Allspark as a blunt instrument against Megatron in leau of say, shooting him. I'd also like to hear Wormy's justification for characterizing the Decepticons as "hunting" the Autobots when it appears to be the Autobots themselves who are conducting zero mercy, seek and destroy missions on the cowardly and disorganized Cons who are seen doing nothing except hiding until shot at. Given that Optimus' main plot points so far have been destroying his home planet and putting bullets through the heads of crippled prisoners, an odd picture begins to emerge, but forget about that. It's essential to that you do no more thinking than our characters from the Gummyment- characters who know perfectly well that there is still an Allspark fragment left on Earth, because they have taken it into their own possession. But just forget about that too for now.
Then we get some more "plot" involving a second Allspark fragment that was "in Sam's shirt" throughout the entire two years between this movie and the first. We've all left things in the pockets of our dirty clothes, (Sam refuses to wash it, because it's his "game shirt") but I think even a genius like Our Hero here would notice rock that brings kitchen appliances to life lodged in the weave of his mangled H&M hoodie.
This Allspark fragment will serve as the McGuffin for the first part of our story right up until the point when it isn't, and simultaneously alongside of another story wherein another Allspark fragment is used to revive the lifeless, starfish-encrusted body of Megatron by a character called The Doctor who looks like a cross between WALL-E and one of those garbage spiders from VIRUS who could have been cool had he not spoken in the same cartoonish German accent that Kenny Mars used in The Producers and with such bored disdain that he didn't even remember to say "Is it safe?" No explanation is offered as to how stabbing Megatron in his, again, woefully unarmored chest with the Allspark both kills and reanimates him, or why this method of resurrection is never considered for the soon dead Optimus Prime. (Maybe if Ratchet was in this film he could have explained things. Instead he gets one line over Optimus' dead body about how they should just go to another planet and leave the humans to their fate. Thanks Doc.) Nope, for Prime's resurrection, a Hero's Quest must be undertaken by Sam, his nerdy but refreshingly non-minstrel show quality room mate, his bimbo girlfriend, a half-naked John Turturro and the two real stars of our show, Skids and Mudflap. This is what we're all here to see folks. You've read bout them. You've seen them online. Maybe you've heard the word "racist" bandied about. That's the Twins. The way some people play them up, you might think that they take up more than a combined twenty minutes of the film's TEN COMMANDMENTS-like running time, but they don't. They nip and out as most of the supporting cast does. Hannibal Lector barely has as much screen time in The Silence of the Lambs (the real one) but he stole the show. Like the Shark in Jaws that looked so bad that they had to shoot it from the fin up, or the Alien in Alien that looked like a basketball player with a saggy penis on his head, the Twins have much less actual screen time than their visceral impact might suggest. Skids gets most of the lines, and rightfully so. All the better to proudly display his gigantic buck teeth. One of which, you must have read by now is gold. The attentive viewer may also note the Autobot symbol engraved there upon. Mudflap mostly stands to the rear of Skids providing him his primary "comedic" foil. This is for the best since he not only has much bigger ears (?) and a stupider expression, but he also has the distinction of actually having a brown face. You've heard all this before right? Ebonics? Yep they speak it. Reading? Nope, they can't do it. Hard swearing and racially charged insults? They've got you covered there too.
Many defenders of the film have questioned why these admittedly foolish characters need be considered black stereotypes. Jamie Kennedy, Ali G and whatnot. True we have all met "wannbe gangstas" of all stripes and shades. Good enough. I can play by those rules. Let's turn our attention to the human characters of color. No not Tyrese threatening to shoot the white man. I covered him already. There's Deep (every Oompah Loompah) Roy playing the easiest boarder guard in the Middle East. I bet you didn't know that "New York" was the magic word for making local military love you and not search your suspiciously beautiful and expensive American car (or girlfriend) in the middle of the desert, did you? There's a bunch of Arab-looking guys on camels, but I think they're accurate, so I'll leave them out of this. The primitive humans at the beginning of the picture- hunting tigers in ancient Egypt, as you do- were a bit odd and choreographed, but I wasn't there, so I'll give them a pass too. This brings us back to New York. Philly actually, where it was shot, but New York in the film, where John Turturro's character, Agent Simmons now runs a butcher shop for some reason. In spite of the Italian sounding name above "and Simmons" on the rear wall of the deli Turturro and his parents effect heavy Jewish accents and talk about white fish and bagels. This would just be dumb and sad were it not for my favorite character in the film- Yakov. Upon first viewing the movie, I had taken Yakov for a black man, as he appears slightly back-lit, but fellow Sector 70 member Tramp pointed out to me that the actor is, in fact, of south Asian decent and stars in among other things, CollegeHumor.com's STREET FIGHTER: THE LATER YEARS web series as a retired, cab driving Dhlasim However, whatever his background, Yakov is a dark-skinned ethnic type who has big buck teeth, f'd up speech and gets yelled at by his bosses for being lazy. We have bossy Jews shouting at their lazy foreign employee about how he isn't going to get his CHRISTMAS bonus and be able to afford his shiny new teeth. (To replace the giant, crooked fake teeth that he's wearing. (Do you remember the wax teeth scene from A Christmas Story? Like that.) We've left the jibbering robots miles back with this. Where is this ok? This scene is so shameful that it would have raised eyebrows in a silent film. Adding to the mess is the fact that this movie can't even keep their stereotypes straight! In the meat locker of this clearly Jewish deli are pigs. Lot of 'em. Clearly the Simmons' are reformed in addition to being broad caricatures of 1920s boat people.
The problem here isn't that any one group of people is singled out, it's that if characters aren't white, American males, they're foreigners who are stupid, talk funny and eat snails. And Paris is crawling with mimes. Can someone tell me why we're supposed to hate the French again? Because they're rude and intolerant of people who don't speak their language? Doesn't sound like any hockey-haired directors I know of, does it?
The plot such as it is, chugs along with heaping helpings of magic and Deus ex Machina until we're in modern day Egypt. Sam finds the Tomb Of The Primes with such ease that one might wonder if he just turned his place mat over and peeked at the answer. A tomb that evil, immortal robots have been conducting a really easygoing search for over the last seventeen thousand years. All the while The Fallen, the original Transformer bad guy, has been kicking around, not doing much of anything even though he apparently has the power to do whatever he damn well pleases. Nah, he hangs out on his space ship that looks like every evil space ship in a Made For Sci Fi original movie- a jungle of black power cables and gothic doorways. Had it not been computer-generated I'd have wondered if they had to take turns sharing it with the new STAR TREK film. "I've got a really ground-breaking idea for our evil spaceship set- turn out all the lights and hang a bunch of dangerously exposed wiring around! It's never been done!"
Since Sam has used the power of the Allspark to read his whole astronomy text book really fast he knows about that extremely obscure feature of the night sky known as Orion's Belt. It seems that it points directly at the Tomb of The Primes. I suppose some people might call me overly picky if I pointed out that even if Orion's belt pointed at anything on the surface of the Earth, you can't use seventeen thousand year-old directions based on the position of the stars as seen from Earth, because over that much time the Earth has actually changed its relative position to those stars rendering those directions useless. (By comparison, the stars used in the Zodiac calender are already almost two positions off from where the charts have them, and the Babylonians cooked up that pot of crap less than three thousand years ago.) But there I go expecting the barest sort of scientific literacy from writers who work for Michael Bay. So I'll just move on.
The saddest thing about this whole thing is that for all the ground-breaking, render farm-exploding special effects, there's just not one good idea on display. I hardly expect a lot of heavy ideas from a Big Summer Film, but it would be nice if the thought process could at lest rise above the level of a 1930's Tarzan movie. It's all the same tired crap that we laugh at when it's on Sunday afternoon TV but "Ooo" and "Aah" at when it's being done by an overly-pointy if perfectly rendered robot. One of the reasons I hated the first film so much was that the mecha design was so dark, busy and ugly, but now I welcome it. It's those pointy, bizarre and painfully inelegant designs that distinguish this Transformers from anything that I actually enjoy.
It would be willful ignorance on my part to ignore the less than inclusive elements in the original and subsequent TV series. It's well known that Casey Kasem actually quit the original show when a middle eastern "rogue state" as we call them now, was introduced called "Carbombya", but in its crudeness, at least that reflected the political tensions of the day and was aimed directly at Muammar Qaddafi who actually was a state sponsor of terrorism against the US. I'm not saying that it's ever right to have an Arab character swear on his mother's camel, but likewise, I'm not pretending that anyone is coming to this table with perfectly clean hands either.
Should we ever expect a Michael Bay film to be anything other than an insulting tangle of Big Big Special Effects, moronic male leads, their useless bimbo girlfriends and a bunch of stupid BS that doesn't go anywhere? No. We as audience members need to read the box and know what to expect. HOWEVER
What no none should EVER have to expect is the sort of ugly, pandering, xenophobic, crap that this movie is overflowing with. AND it's too long. By the end, even the Decepticons are mostly just walking around looking angry and bored because all of their best material had been used up an hour and a half ago. That's about the time that Devastator shows up and the best he can muster is some compulsive sand eating and a humiliating defeat at the hands of Mudgflap. Mudflap! The rotten little econo-sedan practically rips Devastator's head off. Thankfully for Devie, the camera cuts away from him long enough for him to be perfectly intact again, so he can beat up on the Great Pyramid- well away from the action scene where identical clones off all of his constituent robots are having a hell of a time fighting the Army Guys that the single Constructicon in the first scene literally rolled over. Well, considering how well the gestalt mode did in the last scene, I can't blame that set for taking their chances separately.
For all of its moronic, time-wasting nonsense, there actually are two good action scenes in the film. The problem is that they're both within the first hour and end up contributing to the sagging weight of the film's leaden final act . Even then, the best one requires the viewers to overlook the fact that the characters break through a wall in an East Cost factory, roll over a few times and then stand up in the middle of a North Pacific forest! Once that's done with, it's all Sam running and crying until he's shot because he's too stupid to not stand up into the crossfire and goes to robot heaven and meets the ghosts of the First Primes who literally, reach down and fix everything. Then Jolt, an Autobot who we have not seen until this very minute, casts some sort of spell or something that magically make another dead robot into flying Power Armor for Optimus Prime who fixes the whole big mess by shooting stuff! Well obviously!
After Prime's done defending the People of the Earth, he shows his great admiration for their culture by dumping his power armor right onto the back of the Great Sphinx. (Even though, the way the shot's framed, Prime seems to be standing about ten feet to the Sphinx's right, in mid air.). You've got to wonder about a movie that takes such joy in destroying a library, a forest, Paris and then Egypt's entire tourist industry. Maybe the third film will have fights on the Western Wall, the Dome of the Rock and the Church of the Nativity.
In the plus column, there are a lot more robots in this one. After the first nearly robot-free Transformers movie, I believe I said something to the effect of "If I'm going to watch a bad movie, it should at least have robots in it." I got my wish. The giant robots did show up, and they showed up in great quantity. Then offered me a delicious slice of watermelon, called a guy a pussy, tea-bagged me with a metallic nut sack and the dropped dead. One of them even wore a short dress and tried to tentacle rape Sam. That was actually sort of a high point for me. The giant robot kitty was fun too. Wait a minute. Did Soundwave tentacle rape that telecom satellite?
Final thought- Megatron's a real tough guy when his boss isn't around, huh?
originally published July 21, 2009 in the "Tom Servo Reviews" section of Sector70.com