Thursday, June 25, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (spoilers)

I just got back from the new Transformers movie and I don't have a lot of good things to say about it.

First, the movie is way too long. I wouldn't mind, except that it is all filler. There are so many weapon porn shots of U.S. military hardware getting ready to go to battle that it feels like an Air Force commercial. The problem is, in almost every case these weapons are only there to get blown up. So there is a lot of time spent on planes, tanks, and troops that won't be able to really hurt the bad guys. This was wasted time, it adds a lot of time to the movie too.

My second problem is directly related to the first. For the most part the humans are useless. Even when they do manage to call in an airstrike or barrage on the enemies that is effective, another enemy just picks up where they left off and they aren't able to stop that one. At most the humans are a delaying force. Even more distressing is that the more human the human force the less effective it is. Ground troops exist only to call in men inside machines (granted this is the way many modern conflicts are fought, but realism clearly has no place in this movie). The more machine-like the force the better it is. This was not as true in the first movie where humans, even armed only with a tow truck could contribute in a meaningful way. The main character exists only to activate elite fighting machines so they can save the day. In fact, it evidently is his destiny to activate elites (according to a bunch of dead ghost elites). He is kind of a human Bat-signal or something. Other than that he runs away.

My third problem follows the second, I hate elites, destiny, and prophecies (warning: long pet rant ahead). Every day billions of people get up, go to work, and make civilization exist. Ordinary people have solved every single problem solved in human history. Human courage and ingenuity is remarkable. Humans working in groups are even more remarkable. Humans working in large groups are almost unstoppable. Regular humans, working hard, and working together walked on the moon. They did this when your cell phone probably had more computational power than they had access to. There were no super humans in the invasion of Normandy. No demi-gods carved out our interstate highway system. Aliens did not build the pyramids, god kings did not erect the Great Wall of China. Why can't humans do these things in sci fi and fantasy?

This obsession with elites swooping down and saving us poor defenseless humans bothers me. Why do our escapist fantasies revolve around the idea that we don't have to do any of the work? It wasn't always this way. Conan was a normal human and he laid the smackdown on many a minor god, wizard, and thing that should not be. Even in Lord of the Rings, which has many problems with elites, the true heroes are average people (well hobbits). Frodo and Co. had no special powers, they take the skills and teamwork they have learned and kick the evil wizard out of town when they get home. Captain Kirk was a regular man, one with some obvious character flaws.

Now every science fiction or fantasy movie focuses on some kind of superhuman. Mutants, superheroes, and Jedi are not like Olympic athletes. They did not gain their power by having slightly more talent in an area and exploiting it with years of hard work. They are born/made SPECIAL. You cannot attain their power through work and ingenuity.

Throw in destiny/prophecy and pretty much nobody has to do anything. “Don't worry about it, a few of us get used for cannon fodder till Superman wakes up and everything will be OK. Some old guys told me it would happen”

Then we have the stupid stereotypes, and this movie is chock full of them. The robots represent a host of racial, ethnic, and even mental handicap stereotypes. Let's just say that there is no excuse for the two mini cars in 2009. The fact that they only mentally challenged Autobots were the environmentally friendly cars says enough on its own. Not only do most of the robots fill a stereotype that doesn't even make sense for a robot, they have no characterization beyond the stereotype. When Optimus Prime dies I am sure I was supposed to feel sad, but why should I? Because I had a toy of him when I was eight? This movie game me no reason to, I don't even know anything about him.

And it is not just their personalities that are cookie cutter. I understand why they went from the classic look to the more “realistic” look for the robots. The problem is, they all look the same when there are explosions and shaky-cam. And there is always explosions and shaky-cam. The fights hardly make sense because of the way they are filmed. Rapid cuts, smoke and a shaking camera make the action very hard to figure out. Sometimes I didn't even know if something good or bad had happened.

Speaking of not making any sense, here is the plan. We need to do is take out this robots in as small an area and with as little collateral damage as possible. What we are going to do is first send in our weakest units and let them get shot up for a while. Then we will send in some stronger units who will not be able to contain the situation and will engage in a city destroying chase. Finally we will airdrop the guy who can squash them like bugs. This is the first scene of the movie. It doesn't get any better. Marines run across a whole desert in 15 seconds.

Then we get to Megan Fox. Now, there is no denying that Megan is an attractive young woman. While she is hardly a great actress, she is a better actress than she gets credit for. In the first movie she is by far the strongest human character. In this one she is the only one who can take on a robot one-on-one and win. Not just win, but capture it for later use. You know, a human doing something smart. The problem is, she is useless in the second half of the movie. She just gets led by the hand by a man character as she runs for safety. When push comes to shove and someone has to dump the magic dust in Robo-Elite to wake him up, her boyfriend gets blown up. I was hoping she would grab the sock of dust and get it to Optimus herself. That would have been consistent with her tow truck driving character from the first movie, or working to get her deadbeat dad back on his feet. But no, she wakes up her useless man-child with her love so he can save the day. Actually he doesn't save the day, he just turns on the steel messiah to do the work for him.

Of course she isn't totally useless, this is where we get to her tits. Every shot in the last part of the movie is either gun porn, an explosion, or Ms. Fox's boobs bouncing, sweaty, in slow motion in a halter top. They have gutted her fairly strong character from the first movie. If I was her, I would be pissed. And why is it that in order for a woman to be physically tough she also has to be some kind of hoodlum? This is clearly not true in real life.

Another stereotype that bothers me is a political one. In the last movie when GWB was president the Sec. Def. was a kickass guy. Now that Obama is president (and they call him out by name) the Sec. Def is a weenie who is against the military, and the president runs and hides. Seriously, these Republican = gun toting, flag waving badass, Democrat = peace loving, sell out, wimp stereotypes are so old at this point. They in no way reflect the diversity, dedication, and intelligence present in both of our political parties.

Science fiction and fantasy should be about expanding the realm of what humans can do. They have become about limiting what humans can do and basing the problem on those limitations. We are no longer challenged to explore the unknown, or to buckle down and work to overcome adversity in clever ways. We are taught to hope that someone BETTER than us will come along and save the day. I love sci fi, and I love fantasy. While TV has gotten better with these genres, movies have gotten worse. Hollywood, please go read some actual sci fi like Left Hand of Darkness or Allen Steele's Coyote and make a movie that challenges us.

This movie was insulting to me as an American and a person. It applies stereotypes to me (a human), our armed forces (unable to come up with a good plan to fight robots), my countrymen (numerous ethnic and stupid American abroad stereotypes), and humans as a whole (we need to be saved). It also spent a lot of time insulting me, time that it could have shaved by leaving out all the gun porn and well.... actual porn. Wow, looks like I didn't have anything good to say about it.

1 comment:

Joseph L. Selby said...

Thank you for your review. I still had one foot on the other side of the fence. Now I won't waste any time with this movie at all. Michael Bay reminds us who he is and why we shouldn't watch his movies.

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