At our most recent Yakmala, we screened the much maligned Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. I fought the selection of this alleged “film,” but was overruled by the rest of the group. In watching for the first time in many years, it seems may of the thoughts I had upon its release still hold true.
Michael Bay is a racist. Pure and simple. It is, with sadness, that he uses the vehicle of the Transformers films to propagate stereotypes and images long abandoned by even the most hateful of hate groups. Yes, I’m referring to the Shuck ‘n’ Jive bots.
No, Bay is not making people confront provocative imagery because Revenge of the Fallen‘s stated audience is children. The film is that legendary abyss we are warned not to stare into. Instead of looking back back at you to fill you with the primordial horror Lovecraft and Clive Barker traded in , it shows you all of the worst human impulses suddenly portrayed with heroic virtue and slow motion shots.
Plot: Robots smash things while fleshy people are shown to be weak-willed, obnoxious, and despicable. Apparently, Decipticon Leader Megatron is merely the pawn of a Transformer known only as “The Fallen.” His wish is to annihilate planet Earth and convert the sun into a source of power. Considering this film’s view of people, I see his point. By the end of the movie’s extremely slow two and a half hour runtime, I kind of wanted the world to end. In the midst of the robot madness is our “hero,” Sam Witwicky. He’s moving on to college and wants nothing to with his robot pals. Considering the emerging robot aristocracy includes two Stepin Fetchit types who cannot read, I suppose Sam has a reason to be embarrassed.
Actually, Sam tells Bumblebee that he must stay behind because the college he’s going to does not allow freshman to have cars. Remember your first year when you couldn’t have a car? Yeah, me neither. I also don’t recall being in a giant, ornate, auditorium for my first class or having Dwight Schrute as my COMP 120 teacher (as it was called at the time.) While movies always make college life more fanciful than it really is, Sam’s scholastic adventure is as much a science fiction fantasy as Optimus Prime.
As for Prime, he and the US government are working together to do … um … something? Josh Duhamel reprises his role as “Not G.I. Joe.” Though, in this film, he works as a liaison between the U.S. Military and the Autobots. The nature of the relationship is rather vague and almost immediately rescinded when the Decepticons trick Optimus Prime into a deathtrap. Now leaderless, a skeptical US Executive (which we are told via the TV is, in fact, Barack Obama) puts the other headline good guy alien robots under some camo-netting, leaving Sam to work with Bumblebee, the Shuck ‘n’ Jive bots, John Turturro and Robot Warren Ellis to defeat the Fallen’s plans.
Analysis: Visually, this is the dullest of Bay’s output. At one time, you could at least say the director of Bad Boys and The Rock made pretty pictures. He was once capable of immaculate cinematography as seen in The Island. Now, all of that has been completely lost in the wave of explosions, interchangeable effects, and a stable of stock compositions and sets. He also amps up the epileptic camera technique to the Nth degree, making what little there is to see unwatchable in some attempt to make things more visceral. There is no more innovation in the work. Instead, it is the output of someone making due because effort makes no more money than resting on one’s laurels.
But by far, the film’s biggest sin is the portrayal of, well … damn near everyone. Sam doesn’t want to be there, John Tuturro continues a descent into madness with particular glee and terrifying underpants. The Shuck ‘n’ Jive bots are, meanwhile, just a shocking testament to how small-minded, obtuse, and hate-filled the director actually is in what passes for his soul.That’s a full stop. There is no way to deny what is happening here with the inclusion of these deplorable “characters.”
The film can almost be read as a three hour epic on the horror of being human. Besides his clear hatred of black people, Bay also fears women, his mother, old age, and his own testicles. Between the “hot chick” who Transforms into a cross between a Decepticon and the Species alien, the “hot mom on a pot-brownie” shtick, and the main character’s unwillingness to say “I love you,” one can only assume Bay only entered puberty at age 44.
Indeed, Sam attempts to put away his Transformers toys and go to college. Of course, the film ends with the man-child Sam accepting his fate playing with toys. It’s a thread that actually gets picked up in the third film when Sam starts to feel that his toys have left him behind.
If Spielberg is Peter Pan, doggedly refusing to grow up — well, at least until he suddenly decided to grow up, but that’s for another day — who is Michael Bay? He has no appreciation for the sense of awe and wonder Spielberg holds onto, saccharine though it might be. Instead, Bay is amalgam of every selfish, crass, hateful notion that we consider “childish.” His white hot fear of the Other, any other, might even reflect the mindset of a person deeply troubled. All of this would be forgivable if not for the amount of actual children out in the audience receiving the warped (and blurry) images contained in the film.
Meanwhile, I couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if the Transformers were actually in this movie. Moreso than first outing, the Transformers are guests in their own film. The Autobots are quickly corralled under that cami-netting so Sam can get on with his “quest.” This would seem to be a cost-cutting measure, but the Decipticons are all over this bitch; granted they suffer from a lack of appalling lack of characterization.
Despite having more dialogue this go-around, the villainous machines are presented no differently then an out of control weather phenomenon in a Roland Emmerich picture. Divorced of any distinct personalities and resembling metallic spaghetti, it is sometimes hard to tell Megatron apart from his nameless subordinates during the final battle. Other than Optimus Prime, none of the Transformers are portrayed as anything but special effects. I’m sure that’s only due to the fan-base demanding original voice actor Peter Cullen return to the role.
That isn’t to say the films should slavishly follow any particular Transformer story of antiquity. The key difference between Bay’s films and every other product in the range is the focus on the robots. Slight as they might be, they are characters in the old cartoon and the show was clearly about them. We, as children, accepted that reality and we still might if given the chance. We don’t need miscellaneous G.I. Joes or even a reluctant hero to become engaged with the war between the machines. You’d also think someone who more readily identifies with machines, like Bay, would be able to do that.
Which brings us back to the Shuck n Jivebots. At the time of release, Bay stated, “I don’t know if it’s stereotypes — they are robots, by the way.” Which, to me, indicates he fundamentally does not understand the very concept of the Transformers or his own prejudices. On a similar note, the film gives us a bureaucrat who messes with Duhamel and the Autobots. He pulls rank and says, “My authority comes from the president.” If you’ll recall, it is established that the president is Obama. The way a member of his staff is portrayed, in combination with the Shuck ‘n’ Jivebots, can’t help but leave one with a very strong impression of Michael Bay’s true feelings on race relations.
This is merely just the largest assault on one’s sensibilities. There is also the Transformer that humps Megan Fox’s leg, Robot Warren Ellis farting out his parachute, casual homophobia, a robot with a package, and Jon Turturro’s upsetting underpants. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is not a movie. It’s a collection of fever dreams from a boy’s mind at the onset of puberty; unsure why he likes girls now more than robots and utterly terrified of the things Transforming between his legs. It could be interesting material if not for this admission from Bay: “I purely did it for kids.”
Clearly, he hates children as well.