By Robert Humanick
I'm sick of this notion that movie critics don't like to have fun. Like any broad accusation, it's pure cop-out, especially when founded on the basis of but a handful of films, as is usually the case. Though a minority opinion in my circles, I liked the first Transformers. It was big, loud, and dumb in that manner that recalls the childhood ambition of instilling life in one's toys. More importantly, it stayed just behind the line of headache-inducing excess that stands as the starting point of this new film. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is to its predecessor like a medieval torture chamber is to a playground, but that won't keep many from swallowing it hook, line and sinker, quickly and indiscriminately. I can only hope that my feelings here are the general consensus—not just for critics, but for human beings. Few elements of Fallen are completely odious unto themselves, but rolled together it becomes a wave of inescapable proportions—a literal tsunami of shit.
I mourn the volume of human life being wasted on this thing. If the film makes $100 million this weekend and tickets cost $10 a pop, that's ten million viewers and a total of twenty-five million hours, not including previews, travel and the time spent earning the wasted money. If the average person lives to be 75, that's 38 lives. This seems to me a crime, but even more deeply do I fear the thought of impressionable young minds being subjected to Fallen's imagination-obliterating, standard-lowering disease—who knows how far the implications of this disaster will reach? With its grade Z humor, dearth of wit and ass-backwards ideological simplicity, this movie has been made with nothing but children in mind—more so the 36-year-old kind than the six-year-old kind, but children nevertheless—in that most contemptuous, "they don't deserve better" of ways. Showing this thing to young eyes is to deliberately spawn a cinematic crack baby.
Only an asshole could have made this film, or, at the least, a jerk of the most obnoxious and insecure order. Michael Bay has proven this before, and Fallen is his most repugnant creation since Bad Boys II. I pity the people who find these things entertaining. Their synapses must be fried. Like that Will Smith/Martin Lawrence sequel, Fallen is all climax (which is to say, not at all—just what is Bay hoping to compensate for here?), free of anything comparable to pacing, fluctuation in tone, or flow. Make no mistake: this film (and anyone in creative control of it; why, Steven, why?) has nothing but contempt for their audience. It wants to make them feel small and dependent, to eat garbage and ask for more. Calling it the death of cinema would be an insult to cinema; film thrives, and will outlive even the biggest of dumps taken on it. Nevertheless, it is an affront of the greatest order, and it will take years of scrubbing to get the stain out.
Is this what we need to "escape"? Frankly, if Fallen proves anything, it's that we don't live in the real world enough as it is. On the idiot scale, it ranks off the charts. Walter Chaw points out the throwaway sound byte in which the film's military forces, thus the audience, are reminded that the Egyptian citizens in the film are "friendlies." I was already aware that a large chunk of Americans still think all Middle Easterners are terrorists, but a little bit of me dies inside every time our collective stupidity is reinforced. Even worse is the film's wallowing in mass destruction—why not just stay at home, microwave some popcorn and YouTube clips from 9/11? This isn't entertainment so much as exploitation of our political moment (don't even get me started on Roland Emmerich's 2012, the preview for which precedes Bay's film in most theaters), with Bay acting as some kind of perverse ringleader, savoring every massive body count like the kid next door did his dismantled and blown-up toys in Toy Story.
Fallen has no connection to real life—only the pipe dream kind Hollywood has successfully programmed the masses to think is actually attainable. Like McDonald's, cigarettes and post-'80s MTV, the film trades exclusively in the unhealthy and mass-produced, and like Pavlovian dogs we're supposed to sit there and lap up Bay's hideous potpourri sideshow: gangsta Transformers with buck gold teeth, fire-farting household appliances, suburban moms too stupid to know when they've bought pot brownies and preps deemed pussies because they break down in the face of death. I don't doubt that these things could have been delivered in a manner somewhat resembling actual humor with the proper sleight of hand, but these clashing elements amount to nothing more than button pushing punchlines in the context of Bay's rapid-fire technical assault. Fallen fails as a throwback to childhood fun because its maker never grew up in the first place, and like an overgrown man-child, it's a case of arrested development that will likely be cured only in death.
The word bombastic applies even before one considers the attempts at action spectacle: pure visual noise, Bay once again proves unable to compose or orchestrate a damn thing that could be called even remotely coherent or linear. Admittedly, by the halfway point of the final desert battle, I gave up trying or caring and simply prayed for the end. I mean, Jesus Christ, zoom out a little! These are ten-story robots slugging it out (something I actually want to *see*), and more than half the time we're confined to the upper torso region, barely able to follow the fist-fighting progress of it all until the typically out-of-nowhere killing stroke. Sure, if you focus hard enough, you get the idea, but whereas the unfairly maligned Speed Racer was simply edited with too sharp a razor for most to follow (or to even care to try), Fallen splatters on the screen like diarrhea about a porcelain bowl. Action scene starts, things move constantly for a period of time, action scene ends. Exposition. Toilet humor. Do not rinse. Repeat.
Few things help to cement a film's atrocity more so than feelings of déjà vu, and Transformers 2 hits that nail on the head. Though less awful than Bad Boys II (one of the four or five worst things I've ever seen), the film remains cut from the same rancid cloth—one that soaks into your bones and makes you feel every godforsaken second of its padded running time. When I first saw Bay's 2003 sequel, I abstained from checking my watch as long as seemed physically possible; when I finally glanced down, I saw, to my eternal horror, that only an hour had managed to pass. The same scenario occurred this past Wednesday morning: as I darted out of the theater to relieve my bladder, my cell phone confirmed that, indeed, not even half of the torment had yet unfolded. Jesus must have felt the same way in Hell on Friday.
House contributor Robert Humanick's writings appear in Slant Magazine and on his blog The Projection Booth.