Monday, July 6, 2009

Color Me Not Impressed

Warning! Mainstream movie review, but serious gut-cloggingly nerdy moments included!

Took the kids to see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen a few days ago and it left me disappointed.

I've never been a real Transformers fan. When I was a kid, the robot animation I was into were the so-called super robots (aka Shogun Warriors in the USA) like Mazinger Z, Getter Robo, and Brave Raideen. I kind of kept a little knowledge of the Transformers in the periphery of my fan slobber because in their heyday you really couldn't be in a comic shop without some exposure. I'd also seen a few of the shows, knew who the major characters were, and had some general recollection of the overall storyline and background.

Fast forward to modern times. My son is a bigger Transformers fan than I was. Not HUGE, mind you. Mobile Suit Gundam is his show of choice, though he'll soak up anything to do with robots and fighting. So it was quite the event to take him and his sister to the first Transformer movie a couple of summers back. And we were not disappointed. The kids were going to like it no matter what, and once I got over my kids watching the teenage sexual jokes, I found myself remembering a lot about the old shows and enjoying the references... in addition to the spectacular visualisations of the Transformers themselves.

In the sequel, those same visualisations are about all the movie has going for it. I know there is a huge segment of the population who says 'its a summer popcorn flick, stop trying to watch it critcially'... but there's a limit to how far I can be pushed to accept a movie based on special effects. Certainly it is the old story when it comes to blockbuster sequels that always try to out-do the earlier episodes in terms of bigger and louder, but rarely improve on them in all the ways that really count.

My biggest problem really is that for all you have to suspend a certain amount of belief to buy into the Cybertron mythos, the first Transformer movie held to a certain logic-- internal movie logic though it was. It didn't SEEM to play fast and loose with any rules because some of the rules hadn't been written yet. And the film just built on what was established. The new film completely ignores 'the rules' established in the first film and really, REALLY suffers for it. While I'll give the producers props for not inventing any of the stuff in the film (they actually mined past Transformer material for the characters and events) they've twisted it so much that it no longer resembles much recognisable from the admittedly complicated Transformer universe. They also undermined a lot of the significant aspects of the first film.

You can find whole huge lists of problems and plot holes from a number of online critics, but the ones that really glared at me while watching the film:

There's a 'greater' evil than Megatron. That really diminishes Megatron's threat and power from the first film. I wouldn't mind an OLDER evil that THOUGHT it was using Megatron, but I'd rather Megatron had just been using The Fallen. This is one thing the Star Wars movies got right. When you found out Darth Vader had a boss, it still didn't diminish his badassedness. Most audience members felt when it got right down to it, Darth Vader was the apprentice because he let it be that way, that's just how the Sith work, not because the Emperor was a real threat to him. And Revenge of the Sith doesn't do anything to dissuade you from that. Anakin either outclasses the Emperor when he turns or is well on his way to doing so, fancy dark side lightning or no. In the Transformer universe (as it exists in comics and films) there ARE older and greater evils than Megatron, BUT they aren't revealed until many stories in, and only after Megatron has been well-worn as a villain. And even THEN Megatron usually manages to come out not being just a toadie.

The prototype railgun that destroys Demolisher on top of the pyramid. WTF? The humans spend a lot of the film being largely ineffectual against in Transformer battles and the evil government human takes Optimus to task for not sharing Transformer war technology. There was a point in the film where said evil government human breaks the contract between the Autobots and PEST, the human special forces in charge of hunting rogue Decepticons... and I was confounded because the Autobots are the only ones that can easily battle other Transformers. NOW I get it. Evil government human must've known about the railgun AND had a plan in place to equip these bad boys in all sizes to PEST. Seriously though? Why wasn't THAT thing used more than once?

The Pretender. The Decepticon masquerading at the college hottie. There actually IS such a thing as organically-skinned Pretenders in the Transformer universe... and this one supposedly flashed on an Alice in Wonderland animatronic to get its non-robot form... but with all that dropped from the onscreen plot, the character becomes just an excuse to have Sam involved in more comical sexual hijinx.

In fact, A LOT of the comedy was way more broad than I could appreciate. Probably culminating in the geriatric old Transformer found at the Smithsonian (which incidentally opens out onto a huge airfield in the back-- DC skyline nowhere in sight). And I already had the uncomfortable squirmies over the humor in the first one. Now I'm no prude... far from it. But there is a certain age appropriateness that you expect with a movie about Transformers. Look at who the toys and previous incarnations have been aimed at. Movie number one had a fair amount of cussin' but it also was pushing it a bit with the masturbation humor. The second one really overdoes it. Apart from all the overt seduction the Pretender throws at Sam, the capper might be his STONED Mom lipping off to strangers about overhearing her son losing his cherry.

I think this movie just tried too hard, and lost its focus. Plot was an inconsistent mess, with holes you could drive Optimus through. Tried to be a dirty joke movie, bleah (a Transformer has testicles? Right.) Stupid robot chracters undermining the actual cool robots. And there were cool robots with awesome battles. Optimus (being a better fighter than the first film) and taking out the huge Devastator at the beginning as well as battling multiple attackers (including Megatron!) at once was just cathartic fanboy joy. It just isn't enough to hide the really bad parts.

At least my kids thought it was cool. Hopefully though they won't think too much about the scen with Pretender trying to shove her mechanical phallus-tongue down Sam's throat.

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