Transformers: Revenge of the FallenRed lightAnti-art auteur Michael Bay unleashes another biblical-plague-proportioned round of bathtub toys gone bad in the devastatingly onerous Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which like its predecessor is an assault on the senses of hitherto unprecedented magnitude: it’s a big – really big – movie in every sense of the word, ‘cept for anything related to the brain. Big thoughts? Not so much. Big explosions? Big machines? Giant robotic fisticuffs? Hells yeah.

Bay is the decibel-devouring make-brain-no-thinko director what brung us Armageddon, The Island and Bad Boys. In Transformers 2 he stretches a thin concept to the furthest realms of the lobotomised mind, translating Hasbro’s toy line into tumours of blurrily choreographed slabs of chaotic action seemingly designed with the sole intention of making fanboys jizz in their pants. Bay’s treatment is so excruciatingly laboured, heavy-handed and downright un-fun that Transformers 2 commits the one unforgivable sin in blockbuster moviemaking: it bores. Not just in the occasional slow spot but throughout, including the franchise’s signature moments: mammoth protracted battle scenes layered, stuffed and smoked with so many rapid cuts and blurry shots and orgiastic CGI effects that nobody bar nobody has an accurate handle on what’s really going on, the audience’s minds brought like a magnet back to the mind-numbing resting grounds of stomps, smashes, explosions, random technological looking hoo-ha and general thoughtlessness.

The ultimate merchandising tie-in wouldn’t be Transformer toys but a new line of Michael Bay-resilient cushions to a) comfort the buttocks during long bouts of physical and mental inactivity, as is the standard in Bay movies, and b) omit a mind-appeasing sedative gas periodically released to prevent the audience from committing random acts of violence. Old school studio mogul Jack Warner – one of the original Warner brothers – used his bladder to invent a unique form of film analysis, once famously calling Bonnie and Clyde a “three piss picture.” I shudder to think how many pisses the old grump would have chalked up during a screening of Transformers 2, which spans 143 brain-bleeding minutes and feels a lot longer.

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For those not in the know, and for those who for some inexplicable reason actually care to know, there are three kinds of Transformers: the Autobots (these are the good guys, who defend humanity despite being hoisted as the centre-front stars of terrible movies), the Decepticons (the baddies, who represent the ill-fated battle of good taste fighting and failing against the powers of idiocy and commercialism) and the Michael Bay (the faux human creature who robotically churns out dirge from the director’s chair and morphs back into human form – we assume, anyway – between takes).

For centuries the Autobots and the Decepticons have been fighting an endless futile war, with the fate of the universe allegedly at stake, though the fate of cinema somehow also seems to lie in the balance. Due to a conveniently plotted happenstance young freshman-to-be Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) has the clue to TOTAL POWER encoded in his brain after he handles an extraterrestrial rock. Or something. Unaware that he is mankind’s last chance for survival, the actor also seemingly oblivious of the good fortunate he’s encountered, having emerged from Indiana Jones 4 and the previous Transformers movie with reputation still intact, Sam/LaBeouf scoots off to university where he moves in with a conspiracy theorist dot comer and lands in the sights of Alice (Aussie Isabel Lucas) much to the chagrin of his girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox).

The first shot of Megan Fox, provocatively bent over a motorcycle and exposing more leg than a bucket of KFC drumsticks, speaks volumes of how Bay regards his leading lady and what level of expertise she brings – or is allowed to bring – to the production. Fox is the sex object, a sort of 3D centrefold imaged in front of frequently cataclysmic backgrounds – all of ‘em money shots; read into that however you will – and the majority of scenes with Fox in it resemble soft, soft porn. The scenes with robots pulverising each other resemble porn – some kind of weird intergalactic porn anyway – gone horribly awry. I won’t go any further into the script’s eerie undertones of racism and misogyny; I won’t talk about the scene in which the African American man is encouraged to earn enough bread to buy back this front teeth; this sort of finger-pointing has been extensively covered online and feels kind of pointless, almost feeding the fires – like sitting down for a chat about political correctness with Borat. Whichever way the cookie crumbles, he aint gonna listen.

And neither, of course, will Michael Bay. I’ve been harsh to MB, and it’s not the first time, but for a director who famously describes his cinematic techniques as “f*cking the frame” – and went on time and time again to prove exactly what he means – he’s gotten off lightly in the scheme of things. Down side is, it’s not just the frame that gets f-ed, as any reasonably enlightened audience member will discover. Bay has accrued so many scathing reviews over the years – this one is but a drop in an ocean; nay, a desert of them – that none (even in bulk supply) now matter, if they ever did.

The bald truth about Michael Bay is the man has talent – or at least once did – because it takes an awful lot of it to direct a movie as good as his second feature, The Rock (1996), which ranks up there with the best big budget American action flicks of the 90s. It’s one of those anomalies of history: logic and common sense says Bay shouldn’t have directed it, but there ya go. The Rock is an example of blockbuster moviemaking at its best: a rollickingly entertaining dose of adrenaline shot straight into the arm of wide-eyed audiences, with some scant off cuts of food for thought thrown in to boot. But Transformers 2 – in the other corner of the ring, weighing about 800 gazillion pounds – epitomises blockbuster moviemaking at its very worst: relentlessly dull, shamelessly dumb, embarrassingly hammy, and badly misjudged, with even the token comic relief one liners falling flat as pancakes. If nothing else this movie is big, BIG, B-I-G, and a spectacular reminder that more does not equal better.

I feel sorry for the frame, but that awful man Michael Bay has already done up his fly and is moving on to his next round of fetishistic furore. Paramount and Dreamworks recently announced that Transformers 3 is currently slated for a July 2011 release. God help us. ‘Us’ being the operative word, ‘cuz it’s much too late for Michael.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Australian theatrical release date: June 25, 2009

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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