You, dear SiW readers, know this. My ambivalent affection for Michael Bay’s Transformers: Return of the Fallen has become, like, a thing. People I’ve never met know how much I like the film, despite the fact, by most accounts, I’m not ‘supposed’ to. But I do, oh how I do. I left the cinema giddy. Giddy, I tell ya’. And now I’ll talk to anyone who’ll listen about the absurd madness that is the film, even when I should really shut up.
After much wondering, I realized why I ‘liked’ it: its approach to narrative coherence was so brazen and unabashed, so obviously subservient to spectacle, that it seemed like a populist crystallization of modern problems in art. In the face of the incapacity to ever ‘accurately’ represent anything, T:RTOF responded by saying “well fuck it, then – we’ll just blow shit up and have some really incredible CG in the process”. The film made almost no sense - and none of that seemed to matter. It so clearly signaled its refusal to cohere as a story, that whether or not any one part of the film made sense when compared to another felt immaterial. It just was.
But I also had another creeping thought: if narrative coherence no longer holds, nor is meant to, then the gesture toward verisimilitude or referentiality also changes. The clearly racist, sexist elements of Transformers numero 2 didn’t particularly bother me because they were so divorced from the world to which they referred that they seemed irrelevant. Yeah the ‘black’ robots were illiterate and stupid, but none of the rest of the film made sense, so why should this? I dunno if that makes sense or holds up, but it’s what I thought.
Now that I’ve seen the third film, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, I can tell you two things: as a film, it is definitely better, marginally more coherent and logical; and that as a result, this was an infinitely more dangerous, insidious, offensive film. If I left T:ROTF feeling giddy, T:DOTM left me unsettled. I mean, it’s still fun and the effects really are spectacular, but yeah. It’s, um, weird.
Don’t mistake me, though. It’s still a film that places spectacle above plot, has non-existent characterization, sub-par acting etc. But now that it almost makes sense – now that its plot kinda’, sorta’ holds together – suddenly it felt a lot more sinister.
- The autobots – ‘the good robots’ – are now part of the war on terror. No, seriously. The film opens with the autobots, their intergalactic battle seemingly over, doing the only obvious thing and helping Americans kill mean brown people. It’s just sthuper.
- These same autobots – bastions of morality, fairness and general human lovin’ goodness – are brutal. When they return after a false disappearance, they take glee in ripping their enemies limb by limb. “We will kill them all,” intones Optimus Prime. Uh, what? Memories of innocent Saturday mornings ruined!
- That disappearance I talked about? It’s because these same autobots are banished by the UN, er, ‘government’ or whatever. They come back, in secret, and their reasoning is that they should be there whether people like it or not. Hey, remember how I said that in this film they’re part of the war on terror? Nope, no disturbing resonance with current events there!
- Michael Bay has decided that an acceptable amount of time has passed that is now cool to show American skyscrapers being torn down for fun. And hey, good for him. I mean, Michael Bay has taken it on himself to heal America’s greatest psychological scar through his fucking art, man. And if he can’t, then tell me, who can? WHO CAN?
- Before the, uh, ‘plot’ kicks in, Megatron, leader of the eeeeevil Decepticons can be found in Africa (where else, right?). Know what he’s, um, ‘wearing’? A ‘Middle Eastern’ looking headscarf. At this point, it seems wise to remind you that in this film, Megatron is a 50ft robot. Made out of, like, metal and shit. He’s wearing his little hoodie thing though! I know, I know, it sounds like I’m making this up. Alas, I am not.
- John Malkovich in this film. Why? For no purpose whatsoever. Really. I can’t for the life of me explain to you why he was in the film other than to have his name appear on posters. It’s pretty fuckin’ weird.
- Alan Tudyk is in this film. Yeah, Wash from Firefly. Except here, he’s a German dude who is very helpful, prissy, is excellent at martial arts and gun use, and has enough knowledge to hack into basically anything, including the bridge system in Chicago. I don’t know even know why I’m typing this. I guess I hoped it would make more sense by the time I got to the end of this bullet point.
- Anyway, at this point, I realize this is turning into a bad copy of the Topless Robot FAQ, which is almost as funny as the last one and is better and explains the, uh, plot.
Transformers 3 was such a disappointment. In almost making sense, it became a total mess of a movie. Unlike the glorious, absurd, anti-referential pastiche of its predecessor, its pretensions of being, like, ‘a film that you would go and watch’ ruin it totally. And the one word that flashed throughout my mind as the film went started with ‘F’. No, not ‘fuck me, I can’t believe I’m watching it’. And no, not ‘fail’, either.
It was “fascist”. It really was. It was the very worst excesses of American patriotism, imperialism, violence and libertarianism writ large, and completely and utterly uncritically and presented with brazen, unthinking… loudness (the sound really was spectacular).
So, on Nav’s patented review scale, this film also gets a solid rating of ‘F’, for ‘Fuck everything about this movie’.
Still, those CG effects are really good. Like, really really good.
No I mean reeeeee-huh-eeeally good.