There are times when the true, awe-inspiring stupidity and insipidness of mass media works never really strikes you until the thought hits: THIS. WAS. WRITTEN. By people who presumably have normally functioning human brains. Sometimes by more than one of those said people. For every work of art in which you are keen on finding out who the artist is in order to praise him, there are many others so bad you put them out of your head, forgetting completely that people were behind them making them work. Elevator muzak, for example, was printed out on paper, then recorded by real musicians with real instruments in recording studios. The lame jokes dominating family sitcoms such as Full House were also written.
That feeling hit me once again when I watched Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. It’s true we don’t expect a whole lot of depth from a Michael Bay movie, but Revenge of the Fallen takes hormonal teenage guy visual candy to an unprecedented level. Although Bay doesn’t use his seizure-inducing flash cut style to his usual extent in this movie, it does contain all of the mean-spirited drunken frat boy in your face attitude that also defines his films. One of the opening jokes features main character Sam Witwicky’s pet dogs humping each other, another features his mother eating pot brownies, and it culminates with one of Sam’s friends being put down with a freaking taser because he won’t shut up! Meanwhile, the romantic subplot revolves around Sam’s apparent inability to say the three magic romance words to Mikayla. People, somebody wrote all this!
Part of the problem is pretty generic; this is a movie which is trying to center a plot about giant transforming robots trying to destroy each other around humans. The main characters are Sam Witwicky and his girlfriend Mikayla, both returning from the first Transformers movie. Sam is off to college, but he begins speaking jibberish in class. He is seeing symbols which he apparently picked up when the all spark from the last movie went kablooey, and this makes him the only source of the history of Cybertron. Everyone is after him. Ultimately there’s something about a group of Transformers called the Fallen, and another something about some kind of doomsday device.
It isn’t that I didn’t want to pay attention or didn’t try. It’s just that trying to pay attention is a chore. Michael Bay directed Revenge of the Fallen with the completely wrong idea of the proper way of holding the audience’s attention at any and all cost. He doesn’t do it through good storytelling, but with female curves and explodey things. Normally, things like that make for a very fun action movie, but the problem is that your brain can only take so much visual candy before it tunes out. Revenge of the Fallen is two and a half hours long, which is an awful long time to watch mindless action candy no matter how much you love it. By the end, my brain was so numb that it felt like it was drizzling out of my ears.
Revenge of the Fallen plays out like one giant action sequence without any of the wit needed to make it bearable. The plot thread about Sam’s symbols wears out before the halfway point, and the rest of the movie blends together from there. Stuff happens, matter explodes, and many of the robots talk in the most annoying voices possible. Everyone just forgets everything the movie is supposed to be about, which is usually acceptable for brain candy. But this feels different because of the length – it feels like everyone had a base need or desire to replace the story with as much gratuitous action as possible.
The movie isn’t served very well by its mythology. Yes, the movie tries to push a mystical, mythological background onto us to make it interesting. To my utter lack of surprise, this fails. The big problem is that Michael Bay doesn’t know when to lay off his accelerator. In order to tell a good story epic, the story has to remain strong. The Lord of the Rings and Avatar had stories and themes. I would blame the writers for being blind rats, but the three-person writing crew includes Ehren Kruger (The Ring) and two of the writers of the awesome 2009 Star Trek reboot. Let’s chalk this up to executive interference. Anyway, Bay hits the gas and drives this movie right over the canyon. The difference between him and James Cameron is that Cameron knows to let up at times to let the story go in whatever natural direction it’s turning in.
The advice of Timothy Leary applies when you shove Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen into your disc tray. Tune in, turn on, drop out. Worse than being a shiny thing that doesn’t realize it’s a shiny thing, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen DOES know it’s a shiny thing and it takes every available opportunity to remind you of that until you hate it. Kind of like a diva.