Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Directed by Michael Bay
Runtime: 150 min.
WHY WASTE SPLEEN on Michael Bay? He’s a real visionary—perhaps mindless in some ways (he’s never bothered filming a good script), but Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is more proof he has a great eye for scale and a gift for visceral amazement. Bay’s ability to shoot spectacle makes the Ridley-Tony-Jake Scott family look like cavemen.
Who else could compose a sequence where characters (albeit robots) go from the bottom of the sea to another planet in one seamless, 30-second, dreamlike flow? That transition typifies the storytelling in this sequel to 2007’s Transformers.
Teenager Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), on his way to college, is drawn back into the first film’s battle between mechanical aliens. Sam innocently acquires the secret code of the aliens’ cosmic history—something to do with his American kid innocence and appreciation of middle-class life’s abundance.
Based on the original 1980s Transformer toys by Hasbro and subsequent TV cartoons and comic books, the Transformer movies expound on this cultural plenitude. Their fascination with technology—the way common objects rearrange, expand or shrink as if having a benevolent or malicious life of their own—drives the stories.
Bay is an ideal director to realize this peculiar genre, which remakes the surfeit of adolescent commercial media as a means of multimedia gratification.These cars, trucks, motorcycles and planes—both human-friendly Autobots and dastardly Decepticons—metamorphose fast, but their transfiguration is like the mechanical toy descriptions in E.T.A. Hoffman: fantastic and uncanny.
Bay’s post-nuclear version of Hoffman’s The Nutcracker stirs emotion from our pop culture, industrial experience then connects to ancient spiritual myths (like Kingdom of the Crystal Skull). It’s too much the production of industrialization to be considered magic, yet Bay’s sheer fascination with seeing is impressively communicated.
In the history of motion pictures, Bay has created the best canted angles—ever. The world looms behind a human protagonist with the enormity of life itself. (My favorite: a windblown Megan Fox facing the audience as a jet fighter slowly, majestically glides behind/above her). Bay already has a signature: the up-tilted 360-degree spin (gleefully parodied in Hot Fuzz). Here, he flashes it whenever Sam kisses his girlfriend.
Bay photographs Fox and luscious/vicious rival Isabel Lucas like pin-ups—a pop culture joke encompassing what every young girl, post-Madonna, is told is OK. (They’re girls “with options” as Sam says.) There’s still advertising porn in Bay’s soul, but it’s so expressive of
the media norm that it’s funny—proof we’re watching nothing more than
fantasy.This commercialized life force “Cannot be destroyed, only
transformed,” as a Decepticon warns.
Transforming is the
capitalist dream of rebranding. It’s not transcendence—thus, the need
for the basic sci-fi story of good vs. evil, where Revenge of the Fallen alludes to the story of Lucifer.
Transformers doesn’t simultaneously critique pop culture like Joe Dante’s Small Soldiers, Paul W.S. Anderson’s Death Race or Joseph Kahn’s near-miraculous Torque (none of Bay’s mechanical anthropomorphism matches the wit of how Torque’s human
characters live through their vehicles), but there is satire in Sam’s
roommate Leo’s (Ramon Rodriquez) Everynerd chatter: “The Internet’s
pure truth! Video doesn’t lie!”That breathless naiveté indicts Transformers’ target
audience, yet there’s something in scenes of an overturned carrier
ship, of alien assaults on the Great Pyramids or Sam’s Clockwork Orange torture
that is close to wonderful. Bay’s skills have found their appropriate
subject now that he’s abandoned fake history (Pearl Harbor) for fantasy.