It’s easy for critics and movie geeks to bash Michael Bay for making stupid movies. Quite frankly, there’s a lot of truth in Michael Bay’s assertions that he makes movies for “regular people.” And a large number of “regular” people, as well as film geeks and snobs, love stupid movies. There’s nothing inherently wrong with a stupid movie, and when it comes to dumbed down action, Michael Bay is probably one of, if not THE best at creating a mindless action thriller and letting us revel in the testerone-filled orgy of explosions and chest thumping machismo that most of his fare offers. Hate the guy’s movies all you want, but it takes a respectable amount of chutzpah to pull off the immaculately idiotic Bad Boys II Cuba sequence with a straight face.
All that being said, I choose to bash Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen not because it’s a stupid movie (and don’t get me wrong, it’s plenty stupid), but because it’s concrete proof that Michael Bay thinks the audience is stupid. Clocking in at 150 minutes, every second is filled with the utter disdain Bay has for the audience’s level of intelligence. As if the plot was so complex that we couldn’t pick it up along the way, the script has the Autobots constantly talking to each other about what the Decepticons are trying to do, as well as Decepticons recounting what they are doing at that very second.
On top of that, Bay throws the U.S. military’s presence into the mix solely to have a reason for Sam and his cohorts to contact the NEST team, which leads to NEST contacting the Pentagon in an effort to update every move that the characters make. All this does is create an interminable echo chamber of redundant exposition that fills nearly every second of screen time where robots aren’t bashing each other’s heads in. Attention audience, you are simply too stupid to understand what is going on.
The obvious irony is that the story itself really doesn’t make much sense; a flaw that comes not from lack of exposition, but from inherent flaws with the script itself. At one point, there’s a shard of the Allspark, and then there’s the Matrix of Leadership, which is like the Allspark only it powers a machine that apparently destroys the Sun, which in turn would destroy the very planet that has the Energon that the Decepticons were killing humanity for. What? None of this makes sense, which is probably why Bay and team felt the need to constantly remind the audience of the immediate next step of the plot at regular intervals, to keep you so placated that you wouldn’t start to wonder how all of this fit together. (Answer: it doesn’t.)
I assume screenwriters Ehren Kruger, Robert Orci and Alex Kurtzman could’ve tightened all this up with another script revision, but it’s pretty apparent that Bay assumed the action would be enough to satisfy most “regular” people. As a result, the movie is bloated with more action than it knows what to do with. And while most of the time you can trust Bay to at least deliver a good action scene, the sequences in Transformers 2 are average at best. It’s gotten to the point where even his explosions look the same, with bodies flying and geysers of dirt spraying up in multiple directions in a similar pattern through most of the film.
Bay’s style of quick editing and fast camera whips, a callback to his days in music video/commercial directing, does manage to cobble together some form of stylistic pacing, but loses its effect by the first hour, as every action scene just starts to bleed into the other. Robots fight with guns. Robots fight with swords. Robots fly, robots dive, robots, robots, robots. There is something to be said about all things in moderation, which is something that Bay of course, doesn’t believe in.
In the end, the action is insulting not because it’s merely uninspired, but because it’s inherently lazy. You could spend the entire movie watching for a technically impressive shot, only to come back with a few scenes where Shia LaBeouf is running around in focus as some frenzied action takes place in the background. That seems impressive until you realize the background action is all CGI, which probably involved nothing more than Bay trying to cram as much action into any available space on the screen at every opportunity. And fill the screen he does, as robot parts scatter, missiles fly, and people hang out of helicopters or jump from exploding buildings.
When you start to actually engage the film on a level that goes beyond the purely superficial, you realize it’s completely meaningless. The rapidity of the editing leaves objects flying into oblivion and chase sequences that spin in virtual circles, as you strain your eyes to follow where, exactly, the action is going. These shots require no concentration or attention span, as the rules are reset every time Bay pulls back from a tight shot on Shia’s sweaty face or Megan Fox’s boobs bouncing in slow motion (not that I’m complaining). Say what you will about Terminator: Salvation, but at least it had that magnificent chopper one-shot in the beginning (point for McG).
All the action culminates in a final sequence that takes place literally in a sand pit and on top of a pyramid. Why a sand pit? Because it requires zero logistical planning, as characters run in straight lines either to, or from Devastator. Why on top of a pyramid? So that Optimus Prime and The Fallen can engage in a lackluster fight that involves Prime flying in circles around The Fallen, while he yells like King Kong. Say all you want about Bad Boys or Armageddon, but at least Bay used to show some joie de vive in figuring out how to ’splode things. Now he’s content in placing gigantic robots in a sandbox and letting them hit each other until one stops working. It’s pure laziness, and it reeks of a “let them eat cake” missive to the crowd watching. If the robots ain’t enough for you, too freaking bad. That’s all you get, bitches. Signed, Michael Bay.
You can glance at any other review and read about how awful Transformers 2 is, and how much Michael Bay sucks as a filmmaker. I’m not one to bash dumb movies, or belabor the criticism of Bay for his inherent abilities (or lack thereof) as a filmmaker. The true insult of Transformers 2 isn’t in the bloated length, the terrible plot, the repetitive exposition or the laziness of the action. It’s that all of those put together show that Michael Bay didn’t make this movie for “regular” people who like stupid movies; he made this movie for people he thinks are “stupid.”
And say what you will about the general moviegoing public, but they deserve better than that, even when it comes to dumb, summer blockbusters.
* I’m not sure if this script was affected by the strike at all. If so, it definitely feels like less-than-final draft.
Eugene Ahn is the host of the People You Don’t Know podcast. He’s seen every summer movie there is to see in the last few years.