By Marty Mulrooney
I am all for dumb, leave-your-brain-at the door cinema. No doubt about it, explosions and robots make me happy on some primal, base level. But this time, director Michael Bay has gone too far. Reverting back to what I can only imagine as a state of extreme teenage puberty, Bay has successfully managed here to create what ultimately amounts to two and a half hours of vigorously ejaculating male fantasy on screen, with total disregard for any of the usual, apparently needless stuff, that would stand in the way of his vision, like, oh I don’t know… a story perhaps?
The first film ultimately worked because it mixed some ace special effects with the charm of Shia LaBeouf as Sam, in some surprisingly effective comic moments. Sure, the premise was always going to seem hokey on the big screen. These are robots that can transform in to cars, trucks, helicopters, before reverting back to giant robots and beating the crap out of each other. They were perfectly made for Saturday morning cartoons and toy manufacturers who love the green colour and dirty smell of easy money.Yet the first film succeeded anyway because there seemed some genuine effort to make things more credible, but retain the fun factor.
The most successful elements of that first screen outing return here, but the magic has gone. Shia is back, as is his protector transformer Bumblebee, and the ultimate bad-ass Optimus Prime. Megan Fox also returns as the eye-candy, cementing the idea that Michael Bay is throwing all logic out of the window. (Think that is bad? Wait till Sam goes to college, it’s like a goddamn brothel.) She pouts like a porn star waiting for somebody to shout action, fawning over Shia’s character with no attempt at subtlety. Clothes just seem to fall off her, or alternatively grip her so tightly that when she moves you can hear audible groaning. . The first film at least played on the fact that she was supposed to be a dream girl. Here, she is reduced to begging Sammy baby to utter those sweet words ‘I love you’ because shes, like, TOTALLY serious about their relationship. Of course said relationship seems to amount to little more than them arguing, then making up with a kiss as the camera pans around, sparks flying and a setting sunset in the background. Oh, and then they run in slow motion and I take the opportunity to note Fox likes wearing her bras just that little bit loose so her fun bags bounce around. It is a welcome distraction from the rest of the film, or what little of it actually qualifies as such.
The plot is paper-thin, little more than an excuse for the Decepticons and Autobots to still be present on earth. A major coincidence from the end of the last film is all that ties the character of Sam back into the events unfolding now. He now has some information stored in his head, shown flatly and with failed attempts at humour with the stereotypical, ‘I shall paint illegible symbols everywhere with anything necessary’ gag. We are also expected to believe, after the end of the last film and the beginning of this one, that humans are non the wiser that giant robots occassionaly use their cities as a jungle-gym. Please.
The effects rock, but there is little point to them when the action is so fast and the robots so increasingly complex that you cannot make out what is happening on screen, or even who is who. Sometimes, I didn’t even want to. The new Autobots, Skids and Mudflap (a.k.a The Twins) make Jar-Jar-Binks look like George Clooney, coming across like stupid failed white rappers who constantly remind everybody how goddamn uncool they are. They grate on the nerves substantially.
The soldier characters return as well, with little development (I can’t recall even one of their names.) What they actually do is beyond me. They are present in all the major battle scenes, shooting and shouting, but to what avail I could never tell. They seem to just be background and window-dressing for the massive robot battle set-pieces.
One setpiece works beautifully, with Optimus Prime battling against the Decepticons in a forest, trees snapping, ground shaking. This is the single effective scene in the two hour and a half hour runtime that actually made things worse. It reminded me how this film could have been so much better. Some of the new robots are excellent, with Ravage stealing the limelight in particular. Jetfire works less-so. He is an elderly, falling apart Decepticon who has switched sides to the Autobots. He farts parachutes, holds a walking stick and has an old tangled beard of some material or other, constantly reminding us that he is *drumroll*… old. Why not just make him rusty? He sucks.
The human cast doesn’t fair much better. Sam’s parents seem frankly insane. Actually, Sam’s Dad may be normal; he wants Sam to go to college so he can get his freak on with Sam’s mother. His mother who stupidly buys special herb brownies when they drop Sam off at college (don’t start saying it is stereotypical of college, okay? This is a very accurate depiction of higher education in the states, I am sure. The women here are obviously on scholarships from the Playboy Mansion.) His parents even get dropped in to the middle of the final battle in Egypt, for no reason other than to cry and run around a little. The extra teenage character of Leo Spitz is terrible, comic relief in a film already full of failed attempts at it. Luckily, he does pay off later when he is paired up with a returning character from the last film, who seems to find him as annoying as I do.
Earlier in the film, one of Sam’s lecturers comes across as a real slime-ball. Biting an apple, he lets it drop, rolling to a woman on the front row of class. He then quips ‘finish that for me.’ No problem, right? He’s a creep, so what? Well the woman actually bloody picks up the apple, fluttering her eyes, as her friends giggle. Oh, please. Later, when Sam disrupts the lecture, he is scolded and it is shown that they are being watched by several other members of staff. Right, I get it, Sam messed up. What about the lecturer?! So he isn’t even acting like that in secret, he is just openly an idiot and we are supposed to buy that he is loved and respected? Give me a break, please.
The only positive I can think of cast-wise is the return of John Turturro as Agent Simmons. He manages to somehow add real warmth to his character, and I only wish he had been in the film from the very start, and was reading from a better script. His was the only humour that actually worked, making me laugh several times.
In short, the film has great effects, and little else. The story was never going to be hugely important due to the subject matter. Still, it would have been nice to actually have one. Bay seems content to blow stuff up, throw as much money on screen as possible, and regurgitate things he has done a million times before in exactly the same way that he has done it a million times before. The film even shows us movie posters on the walls of the college, such as one for Bad Boys II, reminding us of his past cinematic gems. Subtle. The desert battle from the first film returns here as the grand final, stretched over what seems like hours as robots fight, soldiers shoot at nothing that I can actually see, and Shia LaReturntheofthebumblingidiot runs around, hopefully trying to get some more momentum on Megan Fox’s chest.
Michael Bay, I want my money and my two and a half hours back. You can’t even make a good, dumb film, nevermind a good one. You should hang your head in shame for splurting so much money on screen and having this puerile filth to show for it. I get it, this will sell in the bucket-load to the teenage boys you seem to so accurately emulate in your head. What is more important to you anyway, the money or what you will be remembered for? Please. Don’t even answer that.