Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen - 13 WTHR Indianapolis

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

David Swindle
Grade: D-

Michael Bay's "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is a summer epic of Biblical proportions.

So it only makes sense that the movie it most resembles: Mel Gibson's "The Passion of the Christ."

Both films, while technically flawless and expertly filmed are painful failures, sensory-overwhelming endurance challenges.

Is a plot description really necessary? Couldn't the "plot" just be summed up as "computer generated robots smash each other for two and a half hours"?

For those who care about such things: Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) is preparing to head off to college. His parents Ron and Judy (Kevin Dunn and Julie White) also return as well, as does girlfriend Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox.) Also part of the family is Bumblebee, the autobot Chevrolet Camaro who has been living with the Witwickys since the first film acting as a protector to the family.

With Sam off to college Bumblebee has to return to his Autobot allies who have been busy teaming with the US government to track down Decepticons across the globe. The bots are of course led by the noble Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen,) the only one among them in addition to Bumblebee to be even moderately defined or to inspire any emotional connection.

Of course Megatron (Hugo Weaving,) the leader of the evil Decepticons gets resurrected and begins to lead a campaign to destroy the world. This mission and the counterattack to prevent it takes the film's characters around the world, ultimately ending up in Egypt where we learn more about the shared history of humanity and the talking alien robot people. (As if any of us really care.)

The first similarity "Transformers 2" has to "The Passion" is that both films are devoid of character development. Both made the assumption that their audiences already had a relationship with the protagonists so they don't bother to make the audience care about the people up on the screen. "The Passion" might be effective if a Christian goes in and is immediately able to look at the screen and say "That's my God who loves me." For "Transformers 2" if an ‘80s male can watch and think, "That's Optimus Prime up there who I played with and loved when I was a kid," then perhaps some emotional connection can be formed. But it shouldn't be your job to do that. It's the filmmakers responsibility to make the character leap off the screen and into your heart.

"Well Transformers 2 is a sequel," one of my friends retorted to this point. "Didn't they establish the characters in the first one?" Well the "Harry Potter" series and "Spider-Man 2" still developed their characters and made you feel for them. Neither just assumed that you had a relationship with the character going in.

The second similarity is that both overwhelm their audiences with action, violence, and special effects. All three of these things can be effective either when coupled with strong character or in small dosages. But both Gibson and Bay make them the focus of their entire films. For both films it just eventually gets boring and repetitive.

The third, and perhaps most bitter comparison, is that both directors were so dense they failed to realize that they were employing offensive, racial stereotypes. "The Passion" offended Jews by being ignorant of the anti-Semitic tradition within Passion plays. Gibson didn't realize - or maybe he did -- that the Jewish High Priests of his film had culturally come to represent the Jewish people. By continually cutting to them during the torture scenes his film he was basically saying, "Attach blame here." "Transformers 2" hits a different group: African-Americans. I'm by no means any Political Correctness Police officer but do we really need to have "ghetto bots"? Bay creates two autobots named Mudflap and Skids whose look and personalities are drawn from the worst of modern racial stereotypes. They have gold teeth, talk in "Ebonics," and act ignorant, at one point confessing that they don't read. I'm surprised Bay didn't raid the casts of VH1's reality shows to get voice talent. Was Tiffany "New York" Pollard not available to voice a female autobot? The film's racism isn't limited to the ghetto bots, though. Bay also features a strange side character in a butcher shop: a black man with bad teeth who says he's saving up to buy new ones. How could Bay think people wouldn't notice or care about this stuff? Yes, fellow ‘80s children, one of the key franchises of our pop culture heritage has been transformed into a modern day minstrel show.

"Transformers 2" takes this failure a step further, not only embracing racism but misogyny as well. Again, I'm not Gloria Steinem, but I know when a film doesn't think all that highly of its women. The female characters of "Transformers 2" fall into two categories: either they're scantily-clad young sex-pots or dumb mothers that make fools of themselves. Come on Bay, you're making a family summer blockbuster here. Little kids are going to be watching it.

All this aside, though, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" ultimately isn't a film. It's not fundamentally different than the series that inspired it. It's just a pretentious toy commercial with the mentality of a teenager. Throughout when I wasn't bored or offended I was laughing at Bay's descents into self-parody - and not at the parts that were supposed to be funny. Unfortunately those of us who accepted Optimus Prime as our Lord and Savior as children are having a hard time keeping the faith when we're adults that need a little sophistication ala "Iron Man" and "The Dark Knight" with our blockbusters.

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