Release Date: June 24
Director: Michael Bay
Writers: Ehren Kruger, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman
Cinematographer: Ben Seresin
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel
Studio/Run Time: 150 minutes
The unintentional genius of Michael Bay
Director Michael Bay has accomplished something incredible with Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen. No filmmaker since Stanley Kubrick has so perfectly captured the zeitgeist of an anxious, enervated and testosterone-poisoned society. Bay’s crowning achievement with this cinematic landfill is that he managed to do it unintentionally. Beat that, Kubrick.
From its opening credit sequence, the film is an unabashed by-the-numbers Bigass Summer Movie. It’s a relentless assault on the senses, and succeeds masterfully at raising the bar for excess set by the franchise’s first iteration. The antagonist robot from the first movie has a master, the titular Fallen, who schemes to explode the sun and harness its energy for reasons that are never clearly fleshed out during the film’s interminable 150-minute runtime. So, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) must once again rally his robobuddies in a globe-trotting hunt for the magic MacGuffin that will doom the solar system, bring the dead back to life, and teach us about the power that was inside us all along. The film’s nonsensical plot (admittedly, “plot” is an inexact term for a jittery two-and-a-half-hour sequence of explosions) demands complete and utter suspension of disbelief for its headfirst dive into the hypercaffeinated world where special effects are the main characters, all dialogue is paradoxically both grandiose and stilted, and each shot maxes out around the seven-second mark.
The American dream lives on in Shia LaBeouf’s everyman, an impotent and ineffectual college kid living a fantasy life cribbed from a video game or the pages of Maxim. He’s the hapless schmuck who, through no merit of his own, has greatness thrust upon him; in the process, he becomes a magnet for hyperviolent giant robots and nubile females. Megan Fox is the flipside of this testosterone-baiting fantasy. Her character serves no discernible purpose other than being an accessory on the leading man’s arm, and to pose in objectifying positions. Her personhood is mostly reduced to fetishistic prolonged shots of body parts that sometimes pan up to reveal someone talking.
If Bay has one consistent artistic inclination other than the lowest common denominator, it’s his obsession with fascistic imagery. And Fallen is no exception. The film is brimming with quasi-pornographic shots of every variety of military hardware imaginable, soldiers walking in slow motion, and flapping flags. No celebration of good ol’ fashioned groupthink would be complete without a big-screen glorification of the military’s newest toy, the Predator Drone. It’s an infuriatingly blatant attempt to normalize perceptions of a weapon system that has been rightfully tainted by bad press.
Fallen’s brand of war-porn would have been disturbing even before the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now, it’s downright sinister in its facile depiction of a superpower operating unilaterally across the globe, commanded by hardspoken men who are only too willing to level the archaeological ruins of Middle-Eastern antiquity if blowing things up is the easiest way to get the job done.
The first Transformers was halfway endearing thanks to the familiar-but-comfortable buddy comedy between Sam and the Autobots, with the luckless protagonist saving the world from giant robotic creatures while trying to maintain day-to-day normalcy. Fallen jettisons the human element almost immediately, reducing the non-computer-generated segment of the cast to little more than spectators and severing the audience’s emotional ties to the onscreen fireworks display. Ironically, this directorial contempt for viewers is a brilliant, if unintended, social metaphor.
Like the bystanders in Fallen’s apocalyptic struggle, we too feel like onlookers to an epic conflict that we no longer understand. The collapse of the global economy, conflict and starvation around the world, the mounting threat of climate change: These are monstrous struggles analogous to the slugfests between the Autobots and Decepticons. We invest our faith in sociopolitical saviors and mechanized systems that promise to protect us from the wolves at the door. And then we hope that our side wins, convinced of our own powerlessness before these clockwork gods.
Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen is a soulless, cynical toy advertisement, and the ultimate incarnation of the Braindead Summer Blockbuster. It’s far and away one of the worst movies of the last five years, and it’s already grossed tons of money at the box office. It’s also a tool for much-needed reflection on our nation’s mental landscape, which is why Michael Bay may have unwittingly made the most important movie of the year. We always knew he had it in him.