Thursday, June 25, 2009

What Bugs Me About Transformers

The interesting phenomenon on the web right now is the overwhelming response to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. There isn't really that much of a disconnect from the critics who hate it and those who comment on those critics' websites, but the people who have set out to defend the big-ticket sequel defend it passionately. My review is here.

By the time the movie is done with the weekend, I estimate it will make around $180 million or so, meaning roughly 25 million people will have watched it (assuming that number doesn't include a great many repeat viewers). It made $60 million after one day, which will be its largest day by far.

I don't really have much of a problem with people who like the movie...well, OK...maybe I do. I think what irks me more is that people who defend the movie say something like this: "Well, it's robots and destruction, and I love that and boy does this movie give me a lot of it!" They'll also rattle off the cliche, "Well, you can't expect every movie to be Citizen Kane," as if any intelligent person would walk into a movie like Transformers expecting a transcendent film experience. Note to people who say this: NO PERSON WALKS INTO A MOVIE LIKE TRANSFORMERS AND EXPECTS CITIZEN KANE. Not one person does. This observation is idiotic. We are all now dumber for having heard it.

On Roger Ebert's Sun Times Journal, he discusses the movie in an addendum to his 1-star review, and there are many comments afterwards. One that stuck out had these things to say:

I knew what to expect going in and I got it. I was exhausted when I left the theater but, really, who expected this to be 'the one' that put Michael Bay over as a legitimate filmmaker? Didn't Transformers 1 give you a hint? What sequel has been smaller and more intimate?

Before any of you go see the movie, just think about these words:


That's all you need to know. If that's not what you're up for, then by all means go see The Hangover. Or better yet something even more worthwhile like Sita Sings the Blues (thanks for bringing that one to our attention, Roger.)

This is a common defense. I bring attention to the "expected this to be the one that made Michael Bay a legitimate filmmaker" line, which no one has said, or has implied, but yet someone feels like the reason why we're hating this movie is because of "lofty expectations" such as these. That's garbage. Note also the particular attention to bringing up an obscure movie that Ebert likes as if only obscure movies will ever get Ebert's thumb to go up. Meanwhile, a movie like The Hangover, which certainly isn't Citizen Kane either, got a 3-star review from Ebert. For good reason: it was pretty damn funny and wasn't bloated beyond belief with fat.

The other is the checklist: robots, fighting, explosions. Here's where I start to get into my main objection to why people defend this movie. If the movie had just this, had just the three things that are mentioned on this checklist, the movie would get better marks from me. However, we also get:

Long, boring, and incoherent exposition, plus:
Multiple, disconnected plot threads that jack the movie to 2 1/2 hours, and also:
Racist robots, all in the name of humor, not to mention:
Mass confusion of plot and action.

The last one people generally agree to disagree on, because, hey, as long as there's all this action who cares if it's confusing? But to me it means that you could do the scene in any way you want and people will be happy. It's lazy, and it's lazy for an audience not to expect more. By the way: I estimate there's about 20 minutes total of actual robot fighting in this, so what are the other two hours? If I'm wrong on the estimate, it just means it felt that way.

What baffles me about people who defend Transformers is how they can forgive the extremely long stretches where there are no robots, fighting, or explosions. Because in the middle of all this is a filmmaker's need to make it something more than it is, which tips Michael Bay's hand that this movie is not as people are defending it.

You make this movie clock in at 1:45, with a big robot baddie, his minions, and a bunch of good guys, all with particular strengths and weaknesses, throw them in a jar and shake it. Then you can exploit Megan Fox to the hilt. Exploit her, dammit! Show lots of ass and panty shots, shirts that barely cling to her chest, have her sucking on a banana. Exploit her for all she's worth. Note that this plot is flimsier than the one that is actually in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. But at least I can understand it, it's not dishonest, and I'm done with what I came to see a lot sooner.

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