Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Dreading the Transformers Sequel

I’m a fan of the Tranformers. If you were a boy in the 80s you pretty much had to be. Well, you could also be cool and popular instead, but such pursuits are not entirely up my alley. So when I found out Michael Bay was making a big-budget, balls to the wall Tranformers flick I was pretty excited. I mean it is Michael Bay, so you don’t expect it to have the little things, like a plot, but when release day arrived I told myself all I wanted was 120 minutes of giant robots kicking the shit out of each other. (I’m not sure if I’m stealing that phrase from the review to which I’m about to link or if the writer stole it from me, but in either case we were oh-so-close to being completely in-synch with our expectations of the first film.)

Unlike that writer, I immediately decided upon seeing it that I was wrong. Just seeing giant robots kicking the shit out of each other was not nearly enough to justify two hours of my life lost to that epic turd. It was close. Oh so close. The effects, were indeed, amazing, but the plot, which needed to be merely unobtrusive, was a miserable experience that recalled some of the most inane storytelling since Attack of the Clones. I mean seriously, the scene with the robots tip-toeing outside Shia’s house is the stuff that migraines are made of.

So when I heard there was a sequel forthcoming (an inevitable event given the box office numbers of the first), I said a silent prayer to myself that this time they would spend just a token effort on having a story that could stand up to something a third-grader might write. When the previews started coming out I was not encouraged.

Then, today, I read this review, from Massawyrm, at Ain’t it Cool News. I know people like to poo-poo AICN reviews, but I don’t; at least, not when one of their main guys is writing it. (This list includes guys like Massawyrm, Quint, and, yes, even Harry Knowles.) Usually when one of these guys writes something, even if I don’t end up agreeing with it, I can appreciate their perspectives. These guys are legit film freaks, and I love that about ‘em. Say what you will about their insights, but their enthusiasm for the medium cannot be questioned and because that comes through in their writing, I really enjoy reading what they have to say about any film I’m interested in.

So what did Massarym –who praised the first miserable flick- have to say? Yeah, it’s pretty bad…

Here Bay magnifies EVERYTHING bad about the first. You thought robot pissing was weak? Check out robot farting, robot crying and giant, clanging robo-testicles. Oh yeah. Michael Bay wanted his big cast iron balls in the film and there they are, dangling off of Devastator in one of the film’s defining dramatic moments. I guess he couldn’t get away with a giant, limp swinging cyber-phallus, so he went with the next best thing.

With regards to the story…

And before you try to point out “isn’t that every Michael Bay movie,” let me say: no, it isn’t. He’s never been this completely incomprehensible. It’s like the script was written in one sitting on a Morphine bender, with the writer nodding in and out of consciousness, thinking that he’d already written what happened in his dreams and simply picking back up where the dream left off.

And then the one thing that drove me truly batty about the way the first film was shot is apparently alive and well in the sequel…

But the action…the action has to be pretty awesome, right? Um. No, actually. This time around it is even harder to discern than before. Bay puts all the focus on the humans whenever possible, with the giant robots doing all their fighting in the background. Most of the time the fighting is so fast and furious that it is a series of digital blurs – the audience left unable to discern which is the Autobot and which is the Decepticon.

This one just kills me because I always thought the camera during some of the first film’s fight scenes was inanely placed. You’ve got Prime and Megatron facing off in a battle royale and where is the camera? With some dumb blonde who’s not even a character in the movie freaking out by their feet? Do I care about this woman? Is she who I want to see when two heavy-weights are going toe-to-toe? Does seeing her there add any element of humanity to the flick (which I have to assume is the goal)? No. No. No! All it does is take me away from what I want to see. I can’t believe Bay apparently went that route again in the sequel. It was the single worst thing about the action scenes in the first movie. This is a story about giant frigg’n robots. What the peons in the streets are doing doesn’t matter to us. If you want us to see the human toll then show us the aftermath of it all when the fight is over.

What really pisses me off about all this is you could do something legitimately cool with a live-action Tranformers franchise and this is so not it. It’s just a waste of potential. What’s worse? I’ll probably end up going to see it anyway, if for no other reason than so I can come back here and eviscerate it myself. At least that will be fun.


The Juda said...

I won't be seeing it. It's like paying someone to kick you in the junk. I'll pass.

Mike in the D said...


You need to do a Rotten Tomatoes review after you see it. Then you get to eviscerate and maybe get a few quid for your efforts.

I'm with Juda, Bay has kicked my junk for the last time .... unless someone else is buying.

Brandon said...

Why go see it if you know you're going to hate it? I mean what's the point of spending money to see something that you know you're not going to like? Just to rip it apart? How is that fun?

No surprise here, but I will be seeing it. Loved the first one.

Loren said...

OK, two things you need to keep in mind here when seeing movies like Transformers 2.

1. You have to understand this is a summer movie. Most of the time you need to check your brain at the door with them. I say most of the time because stuff like Batman Begins and Dark Knight have come out in summer and are not "turn your brain off" movies.

The big problem is that as a movie reviewer (I once was) you can't just leave your brain at the door and walk in and actually ENJOY these movies. No, you have to keep your mind on technical aspects, how the story works/doesn't work, etc. There should be a different scoring system for summer movies.

2. The same writers that wrote this (with another writer) and the original Transformers (without the other writer) also wrote a movie you liked...Star Trek. Yes, the same two people wrote the re-imagining of Star Trek. So, where does that put the onus on? Probably the director and also possibly the cast. Michael Bay has always been balls to the wall and probably has more creative (using the term loosely) power over his movies than JJ Abrams does. There's no one who is going to tell Bay "no" whereas someone may say that to Abrams.

The cast is probably also to blame. They really hit a home run with their choices in casting for Star Trek whereas here in Transformers the cast isn't as good. I personally like Shia LaBeouf even though I know many hate him. Outside of that it is obvious Megan Fox is there for eye candy, a Bay staple.

Bottom line, check your brain at the door and don't think about the technical and story aspects. You're there to enjoy yourself, it's a summer movie that isn't going to change your world in the slightest.

I totally enjoyed the first movie because I didn't engage myself in how scenes were being shot or how stupid the plotline was. I simply was a Transformers fanboy going to enjoy a Transformers movie that certainly turned the recent 80s show to major picture genre on its ears in my mind. My wife even liked the first movie and she didn't watch Transformers as a child...she's possibly more pumped about seeing Transformers 2 than even I am.

Brandon said...

I agree with Loren 100%. No, make that 120% because Michael Bay laughs at those that would only give 100%.

todd brakke said...

Loren, under normal circumstances I would agree with your 100%. Even 120%. Everything you wrote there, that was the mindset with which I watched the first movie. I was going to see giant robots beating the hell out of each other. I really was. But I think there's a difference between a throw-away plot that's just there for convenience and can be safely ignored and one that actively detracts from the experience. For me the first flick crossed that line, and it really looks like the sequel is taking the stuff that made me crazy and doing more of it.

todd brakke said...

Loren, just noted this line in Harry Knowles' review of the flick, which notes some of the writing lineage at a couple of different points...

"This film was conceived during the WRITER'S STRIKE - with Michael Bay up at ILM doing animatics on the big action sequences. Then when the strike was over, he brought in Orci & Kurtzman to string the scenes together... And then the roto-rooter of screenwriters, Ehren Kruger did the mop up work on the film. At least that's how I've heard it went down."

The full text is here and brings more pain - http://www.aintitcool.com/node/41512. :)

Brandon said...

That's not exactly how it went. Here's the skinny from Orci & Kurtzman themselves:

"We took the job with Ehren Kruger two weeks before the strike so in that two weeks," Orci said. "We had to generate a 20-page outline that we handed in, and then during the strike, Michael and the amazing (producer) Ian Bryce tried to prep everything they could off of that outline. Then from the day the strike ended to the first day of shooting was three months, so we had to write the script in those three months, handing in pages at the end of every day so they could be prepped. It was crazy. We finished writing the movie two weeks ago, literally."


Not ideal, but not what Harry (who has obvious bias against that Kruger guy) is making it out to be.

Bottom line though is that if you know that you're not going to like it, why spend three hours and ten bucks to go see it?

todd brakke said...

Stop asking questions to which I don't have a good answer. ;)

Loren said...

That's all well and good, although Bay should technically have a writing credit then if that is indeed how it happened.

Also, usually when a "cleaning" writer is brought in they have a separate writing acknowledgement, possibly Screenplay or story versus Writer. In this case however all 3 are listed as writers in the credit according to IMDB.

I guess people like Brandon and I are more able to leave our brains at the door when going into a movie like this.

I mean, seriously, if you're going at a Transformers movie - the definition of cheese written animation back in the 80s - thinking you're going to find a profound movie that will answer the meaning of life versus a bunch of cool action scenes (no matter where the focus of the camera is) with a plot that moves it along (whether good or bad), you're delusional.

Add into that the fact that Michael Bay, the pure definition of over-the-top action in directing, is running the show and that Spielberg let him do so should put the film firmly in the summer movie action event...a movie you are not looking at for the story, but for the eye candy - both human (Megan Fox) and robot - and the special effects.

I'm not denying or dismissing your opinions Todd, I just think you might be thinking a little too much into this, much like movie reviewers do. This is just not a movie to be critically thinking about...you should just be going to sit and hopefully enjoy the spectacle in front of you.

todd brakke said...

Loren, man, I just don't know any other way to say it. I DID NOT GO to see Transformers hoping for a profound experience. I wanted to see giant robots kicking the shit out of each other with nothing more expected of the plot than for it to be serviceable.

I know what it means to watch a Bay film. I wasn't looking for Citizen Kane or even Iron Man. If I had gotten the Transformers equivalent of Independence Day or even Armageddon, I would've walked out of the theater feeling my $10 was justified. But that's not what I got. I got something that was just bad on every possible level except the effects themselves. It was just bad. It was Wild Wild West with a bigger budget.

Anyway, I'm not telling you guys you can't like the flick. If you liked the first one, if you end up liking the second one, more power to you. I didn't and it's not because I can't appreciate the merits of a good popcorn flick.

The Juda said...

Wow. Rolling Stone gave it a 0. I still <3 the first movie, but I'll be damned if I actually pay money to see the second.