Sunday, July 12, 2009

Transformers Sequel

I've heard a lot of facetious subtitles for this movie, any of which would have been more explanatory and willing to get me into the theater than the incomparably generic "Revenge of the Fallen". "Revenge of Megan Fox's Cleavage" is one that I like a lot but can't take any credit for. Ones I came up with include "Humans--Who Needs Them", "Attention Defec--Next Scene!", and my personal favorite, "Glenn Morshower is Unsurprisingly Awesome".

In case you haven't heard my usual Megan Fox Rant, here goes: Megan Fox is not attractive. Mostly, that's because she's fake-looking. Her breasts are probably fake, and her eyebrows and eyelashes almost certainly are. She wears way too much makeup, especially around the eyes, and she has lips that resemble a fish's. And that's not even to mention the tattoos. Weirdly, a lot more girls have told me that I should find her attractive than have guys. I'm not sure what to make of that.

And in case you don't know who Glenn Morshower is, he plays the incomparable Aaron Pierce in 24. Morshower doesn't seem like he plays any other sort of character, but he doesn't need to--he has the competent, confident "guy in charge" archetype nailed down.

One more acting bright spot in this movie was the cameo appearance by Rainn Wilson as the astronomy professor. It makes me sad, though, that it took me until his second of two scenes to realize who it was.

If the acting by Glenn Morshower and Rainn Wilson are the bright spots in the movie, are there not-so-bright spots? Yes, and sadly, it's "most of the rest of the movie".

First, the vocabulary of Transformers doesn't seem to suit itself well to a serious, live-action movie. You can throw around names like "Optimus Prime" and "Megatron" with some semblance of a straight face, but once you throw "Energon" and "Decepticons" and "Cybertron" into the mix, you're begging for something a lot campier than what this movie is going for.

Also, does it seem strange to anyone else that the Decepticons call themselves "Decepticons"? It's like in those old (yes, campy) sci-fi movies, when the evil genius refers to himself as evil. Real-life evil never thinks of itself as evil.

While we're on good old Megatron anyway, I see no need to have brought him back for this movie. If I were ever to write a list of "storytelling best practices", one of the ones at or near the top would be this: if a major villain dies in one installment of a series, there had better be a damned good narrative reason for bringing him/her/it back in the next installment.

That's one of the (several) reasons that Return of the Jedi is the weakest of the Star Wars trilogy. The Death Star was not a compelling villain anymore. We already say it explode spectacularly at the end of Star Wars--and what a great ending it was! The good guys win against all odds, and the Empire is foiled. Return of the Jedi had a lot going on anyway; surely George Lucas and company could have invented something else besides "Death Star Part 2: Revenge of Death Star". Instead, we saw that both George Lucas and Emperor Palpatine were out of new ideas.

In this case, it's Michael Bay and the Decepticons (snicker) who are out of new ideas. The Emperor Palpatine analogy isn't an accident either--the "big villain" of this movie is essentially an Emperor Palpatine knock-off. but is worse in two important ways: 1) he can't shoot lightning from his fingertips, and 2) his name is "the Fallen". Seriously? Seventeen thousand years of plotting revenge against Earth, and the best name for yourself you can invent is "the Fallen".

I can't stand the way this movie paced itself. It finally settled into something resembling coherency toward the end, but at the beginning, we were "treated" to a new scene every few minutes. One minute we're at college with Sam, and the next we're at a motorcycle shop with Megan Fox, and the next we see Satellite Decepticon talking in symbol-speech from deep orbit.

At one point, Sam defiantly tells Optimus Prime that this isn't his war, and he should just be left out of it. He's more right than he can know. Aside from the magical rail gun (I'll talk about it later) toward the end of the movie, it appears that our puny human weapons are utterly useless against the might of the Transformer. So Sam is right in a way he can't possibly comprehend. If the movie is going to do far enough out of its way to make humans suck against the Transformers, then why can't the movie just show two good hours of Transformer-on-Transformer action, double the number of explosions, and half the frequency of Megan Fox's trout face mouth.

In fact, the Transformer, with its inherent requirement for this "energon" (snicker), are hardly the alien master race they want us to think they are. That honor would have to go to...

The Plant. This thing can get its own energy from sunlight, which seems way more practical than needing to blow up a sun to procreate.

Now, let's talk geopolitics for a second. At one point in the movie, we're treated to an embarrassingly weak Egypt-Jordan border crossing, which our protagonists are able to get across by giving the Arabic equivalent of "g'day, mate", and proclaiming they're from New York. "That's right, um, we don't have any identification papers, and we're American, and oh yeah, your own intelligence agency is tracking us, but can you please let us through anyway?"

Another "did anyone else notice": what ever happened to the Egyptians who were after Sam? Probably they were abandoned into a plot hole when someone realized that in a fight of Middle Eastern intelligence in one corner and Shia LeBeouf in the other, not a lot of bets are going to get placed in favor of our man.

Geopolitics rears its ugly head once again when the Americans make a drop over Jordanian airspace--then call the Jordanians for help when something goes wrong. In case anyone hadn't noticed, we're not best friends with most of these countries. The thought that they would want to help us after we had the gall to fly unannounced and plop down old Optimus is completely implausible.

And so is the thought of breaking into the Air and Space Museum with three dudes, a girl, and a couple of tasers. And so is some crazy guy with a radio calling a ship captain about his "experimental rail gun technology" and actually getting the captain to use it. And so is the "super-secret hiding place" of the Primes being behind an inch and a half sheet of rock in Petra... and nobody having found it, ever. And so is the idea that you can walk between Petra and the Valley of the Kings in a day or two.

Looking back on the movie, that seems to be a common theme: "hasn't anyone else noticed this incredible implausibility?" Of course we have, and you'd be hard pressed to convince me that the director and writers didn't as well. They must have thought that after watching robots blow each other up for nearly two and half hours, we wouldn't really care.

Incorrect. Turns out that even if you're making a special effects movie, you still need some coherence behind it; you still need a reason to make the movie worth my time and nine dollars. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen lacks that coherence and reason entirely.

Currently listening: "The Predatory Wasp of the Palisades Is Out to Get Us!", Sufjan Stevens, from Illinois

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