As previously noted, I am well aware of the fact that including the Transformers franchise in a discussion of superhero films is not uncontroversial.
#4. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t just disappointing because I liked the first film, it was disappointing because I have, on occasion, enjoyed the medium of film.
In my review of Transformers (2007), I alluded to the fact that almost everything good about Transformers was bad in Revenge of the Fallen. Well, okay, that’s not entirely true. It would be more accurate to say that every bad part of Transformers was magnified, and the good parts nearly disappear.
I’m going to talk about the good things this film does first, because that’ll take about thirty seconds. Steve Jablonsky is back, and actually collaborated with Linkin Park on the score which was pretty cool, although I didn’t really notice any tracks as stunningly awesome as “Arrival on Earth” from the first film. Starscream’s servile but antagonistic relationship with Megatron is wonderful and should’ve been given more screentime. The film has two outstanding scenes: Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen)’s death (in which he is able to temporarily singlehandedly fend off several Decepticons in a brutal fight) and Optimus’s resurrection (featuring the film’s only touching character moment, between him and Sam.)
You could actually make a good film out of this film’s few good scenes, the problem is it would only be about half an hour long. Major Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and Sam would be the only human characters in it, Optimus Prime would be the only Autobot with any real dialogue, Mikaela (Megan Fox) wouldn’t paint a motorcycle while bending upside down at an awkward angle so she can show her ass off to the camera, the combined forces of the U.S. military and Autobots wouldn’t blow up half of Shanghai to capture a Decepticon that seemed to be doing absolutely nothing of any consequence, and a whole lot of non-white characters wouldn’t have been introduced as ethnic stereotypes. Certainly, one of the first film’s stronger characters (Agent Simmons, played by John Turturro) wouldn’t have been turned into an ethnic stereotype.
Yeah, let’s just dive right into this. Toward the beginning of Transformers, we actually had a very positive portrayal of a Qatari man helping Lennox and his soldiers find safety and the use of a telephone. Apparently that didn’t test well with audiences or something, because every single non-white character in Revenge of the Fallen, including Sam’s roommate Leo (Ramon Rodriguez) is a shockingly transparent ethnic stereotype. We don’t even limit the fun to human characters, as there are two Autobots (given the most dialogue of any Autobot other than Optimus) that many fans refer to only as “the Racist Twins.” Because, you know: not being white is hilarious.
No, you know what? That’s not enough. Let’s throw in some sexism, too! Like the fact that every single woman at Michael Bay’s idea of what college looks like is throwing themselves at every male with a pulse. Or that a college “party” apparently resembles an upscale strip club. (Women don’t party! They dance around so men can enjoy looking at them while they party!) We’re even willing to throw logic right out the window, because Sam is attacked by what at first appears to be a sexually aggressive girl but turns out to be a Decepticon in disguise. Yep! Decepticons can take human form! Good thing this is the only time they use that ability. (Seriously.)
Yeah, this film is a giant mess of racism and sexism. But it isn’t just that it’s racist and sexist (there are some examples of both in much better films), it’s that the racism and sexism were so clearly part of a calculated decision to appeal to the kind of lowest-common-denominator humor that exploits these kinds of things. And even when the film isn’t being racist or sexist (which does happen… occasionally), much of the dialogue and many of the situations are so forced that enjoying this film would require actual effort on the part of the viewer.
Finally, the bizarre decision to give the human characters an expanded role in the sequel is one I will never quite understand. Having the first film be a sort of “human-eye” view of the Transformers made a lot of sense, because it introduced us to them in a way we could relate to, and gave us an idea of the incredible scale of these titans. The logical next step there was to ditch Sam, Mikaela, and friends (or at least dramatically scale down their role) and make the giant robots the movie is named after do the heavy lifting.
It really feels like Michael Bay took a look at his main characters from the first film and thought, “Okay, I have all these characters, so I guess I need to figure out something to have them do in the second film.” This is most glaringly obvious in Mikaela’s part in the film. There’s actually no reason for her to be in the film at all, so Bay concocts a subplot for her that actually breaks the logic of the film entirely. As a result of her solo adventures, when she meets back up with Sam she has a piece of the AllSpark in her purse. You know. The AllSpark. The thing that the Decepticons use a similar shard from to resurrect Megatron? Clearly it could’ve been used to resurrect Optimus, but the film seems to completely forget that Mikaela has it. It’s never mentioned again.
I imagine the film’s action scenes are supposed to make up for this, but for all the slow-motion footage of Megan Fox’s boobs, the action scenes all seemed to be in blurry fast-motion. You can never really tell what’s going on. I was willing to forgive this in the first film to some extent, but it really got old in a hurry here.
The cliché with film series is to say after the first film, “Okay, we got the introductions out of the way, now we can get into what we really want to do.” In Bay’s case, the audience would’ve been much better off never seeing Bay with that kind of freedom, because one of two things happened. Either he had no idea what he wanted to do, or what he wanted to do was just plain bad.