In Defense Of - Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
And it all suddenly makes sense.
You see, while watching the special features for Transformers: Age of Extinction, someone (I think it was the guy who played the hippie surfer guy that, thankfully, gets killed…oops, spoilers) mentions that Michael Bay loves to put comedy in his movies, loves to let comedians run wild, so on and so on.
And now I understand why the comedy in these movies seemed either terribly
forced or would have worked if it had been a bit more restrained. As any student of cinema can tell you though, ‘restraint’ is not a word in Michael Bay’s vocabulary. This brings up another point that is necessary to understand before we begin the review of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen; this movie is, through and through a Michael Bay film. Sure there were producers and executive producers…but one of the producers was Bay himself and one of the execs was Michael-Bay-enabler Steven Spielberg (we’ll discuss Spielberg’s other recent decisions…thinking Indy 4 was a good idea, not talking George Lucas out of the prequels and so on…at a later date). Sure, there are writers credited to the project, but here’s the thing…and it’s kind of a biggie. After the success of the first Transformers movie, a sequel was greenlit because…duh. So, pre-production starts and writers Orci and Kurtzman are brought in to start a story treatment. But, as they even say in the special features of the disc, they didn’t know where to go story-wise. Quick quiz, when has that line ever been uttered in association with good movie-making? That answer being blatantly obvious (hopefully), we’ll move on…because thankfully, they did come upon a story idea surrounding the death of Optimus and Sam’s quest to revive the fallen Autobot leader. They then go about preparing an outline which will serve as a guide to the first draft.
Then comes the Hollywood Writers’ Strike.
Bringing that up isn’t to point a finger…or a Finger. Writers, sadly, don’t get the credit they deserve in Hollywood…and conversely don’t get some of the blame they should either. Take the first sentence of this paragraph. For you uber-nerds out there, you recognize the pun referencing poor overlooked Bill Finger…you know, the guy who created fucking Batman. Yes, yes, Bob Kane did his part too and of course is due credit as well, but the Batman that people have come to know and love and is now every-fucking-where is more due to Bill Finger than his artist counterpart. Bob Kane died pretty damn wealthy. Finger? Well, most people have never heard of him…so what do you think? Back on topic though, paying attention to who wrote the movie can be a really big damn tip as to whether or not the movie’s going to be good or if it’s going to be epically bad. This is why I’ll never watch ‘A Beautiful Mind’. Sure it won an Oscar…but it was written by the same guy that thought his script for Batman And Robin was a good idea. Yeah, no thanks.
Really back on topic though, so the writers go on strike and Bay’s got a movie to make. What’s a director to do? Why, keep making the movie, of course! So Bay starts guiding everything, extrapolating on the skeletal framework of a story that he has in hand. Now, the thing about the writing process is that story evolves. What’s in that initial outline may not even make it to the first draft, let along the final draft. Yet by the time the Writers’ Strike is over and Orci and Kurtzman return…joined by Ehren Kruger…the ball is already rolling on the film and they are forced to do the unenviable, sculpt a script around the crazy shit Bay came up with while they were gone.
So…a long way of saying it…but this is a Michael Bay film in the purest sense. He paid for it as a producer, he visualized it as a director and he essentially wrote it based on an outline while the real writers were away. (I should note here that this is not to completely absolve the writers here, after all, Kurtzman and Orci had all the time in the world on the first film…and while I liked it, I can openly admit that it isn’t really the best written movie out there.) And after seeing what a purely Michael Bay film is…I must say that this MUST NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN. For all the lack of restraint, hell, you could almost call it Jodorowsky’s Transformers (I kid, I kid…not NEARLY trippy enough). In all seriousness though, the “kitchen bots” that arise when Sam drops the Allspark shard? The Witwicky dogs? The entire character of Leo? The continued existence of Simmons? Devastator’s wrecking balls? How the Smithsonian hangar doors open to the Graveyard at Davis-Mothan Air Force Base in Tucson? I could go on. I might be wrong, but they feel like pure Bay…and, just…no.
While I say something like this must never happen again, I don’t mean it as some sort of eternal condemnation of the film. It’s just that Michael Bay actually works better when he is restrained by something. We’ll discuss this more when we get to Transformers 4. The end result here ends up being the same thing that befell Green Lantern; a lot of big ideas and a lot of good ideas that could have easily filled up two or three movies on their own all get smashed down into a 2 ½ hour movie that ends up doing none of them justice. That’s what I’m here to defend. In this movie, we see the resurrection of Megatron and the death and return of Optimus Prime as well as introduced to the concepts of the Original Thirteen (including the Fallen), the Matrix of Leadership, Pretenders, Combiners, Transformers interacting with ancient human civilizations and the sun-blowey-uppy-thingy hidden by the Pyramids. That’s a lot. Really, the concepts of Pretenders and Combiners could’ve waited till a later movie. For example, if you want to go with a smaller Transformers movie, perhaps go more of a political intrigue route (hey, worked for Captain America!) where the Decepticons work their way into governments of the world via Pretenders…so how do the Autobots fight this menace without looking like they’re killing humans and thus, turn humanity against them? See. That’d be pretty cool. Or, in the other direction, which would be more to Bay’s liking anyway, set up Combiners as the Transformers version of the arms race, wrapping up with the culmination of epic disaster porn that would be Devastator versus Superion, or, to put the heroes through the wringer as one’s supposed to do, then just the plain, uncombining Autobots versus Devastator.
I feel like I need to emphasize, again, that I’m not trying to say “Oh, my ideas are soooo much better than what ended up on screen,” or “Michael Bay you raped my childhood,” sort of nonsense. No. What I’m saying is that just as cinematic classics are never made when the writers admit to having trouble finding the story, cinematic classics are also not spawned by the phrase “Hey, we don’t know if we’re going to be able to make another one, so let’s cram as much as we can into this one!” There are things here that really, really work: Optimus’ Last Stand and subsequent death, Megan Fox straddling a motorcycle wearing really short shorts, the incorporation of ancient Cybertronian symbols within the ruins of ancient civilizations, Spike’s world-wide quest to bring Optimus back to life. You get the feeling while watching the movie that the main story beats were fine. What was in that basic story outline, had it gone through the numerous drafts that most movie scripts get to go through, was fairly sound for a dumb summer blockbuster movie about giant robots beating the crap out of each other. Hell, they even downplayed the Military-Rah-Rah stuff. Sure, there was still a huge military presence in the movie, but it wasn’t all “USA! USA!”, NEST was a more international assembly, since the premise of the first movie, two warring factions of alien robots invading the earth, would be more of a global problem…not just an American one.
Ultimately, this movie is defended more by its “what if”s than by any other singular thing. What if this movie had the writing time it should’ve gotten before going into pre-production instead of getting tangled up in the Writers’ Strike? What if Michael Bay had learned the meaning of the word ‘restraint’? What we get is a sequel that while trying to move forward ends up being bogged down by copious amounts of excess baggage. It’s like watching someone lugging a ton of suitcases down a long hallway only to have it pointed to them once they reach their destination that most of the bags actually had rollers on them. You gotta admit, they gave it their all and it was likely good exercise for them…but you also have to admit that they’re pretty stupid too. And that sums up Transformers 2, they definitely gave it their all under the circumstances and it’s good exercise…but yeah, it’s pretty stupid too. And since this supposed to be nothing more than a summer popcorn movie, well, there’s nothing wrong with that.