July 1st, 2009 by Mike Fulton

I was too old to really care when the Transformers first hit the scene back in the mid 80’s as a toy and Saturday morning TV series. But when I saw the first Transformers movie, I really enjoyed it and I was looking forward to the new movie, Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen. Apparently a lot of other people were looking forward to seeing it too, because not quite a week after it opened, it’s already done about $200m in box office sales.

Brief overview of the Transformers concept: the Transformers are electro-mechanical lifeforms from a planet called CyberTron. Millenia ago, a civil war broke out with the “good guys” Autobots fighting the “bad guy” Decepticons. Recently, when the war finally destroyed their planet, refugee Autobots made their way to Earth, followed soon thereafter by the Decepticons. Chaos and robot-on-robot action ensues.

If only it were good.

I don’t know which situation annoys me more: when a good movie tanks at the box office, or when a crappy movie does really well. In the case of Transformers: ROTF, I think it’s going to work out that most of the hardcore fans will see the movie during that first week of release, but after that, word of mouth is going to catch up with it and the box office will drop like a stone.

There are several categories of bad here. First, bad writing. The script has some absolutely horrible bits and the plot has a ton of holes in it. The movie wants to jump right into the hardcore robot-on-robot action and the story suffers as a result.

Early on, we see that our buddy Josh Duhamel from the first movie is now part of a secret multinational military force (NEST) charged with the task of responding to Decepticon outbreaks all over the world, with the aid of the Autobots. After a huge battle in Shanghai very publicly destroys a good portion of the city, the unit is visited by a government weenie who tells the unit that the president (specifically President Obama, mentioned by name!) and his advisers are concerned that the only reason that the Decepticons are showing up on Earth is because the Autobots are there. If the Autobots were gone, the problem would disappear.

It’s a perfectly valid concern, but I have a hard time believing that any president, and Obama in particular, would express it in this fashion. It’s exactly the same sort of “government is evil” cliché that I talked about in my review of The Day The Earth Stood Still. Later, this same government weenie claims he is taking charge of the unit at the President’s order. The first problem is that not even the president can put a civilian in charge of a military unit. It’s just not legal. The president himself is the only civilian that can be in any military chain of command. The president can replace the commander of the unit if desired, but it’s still going to be a military officer. Second problem, this is a multinational force and is therefore likely not under the same degree of direct presidential control as a regular US force.

It seemed like there was a 4-star general in overall command of the NEST unit, followed by Duhamel’s Major Lennox. Aside from the fact that 4-stars don’t typically command individual units, it seems like a big jump from Major to 4-star. Where are the colonels, or at least a brigadier?

The story also has some weird total reality disconnects. For example, Sam and Mikaela go to the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum in Washington DC because they think there may be an ancient Transformer there who can help them. After looking around, they find him disguised as an SR-71 Blackbird spy plane. Shortly thereafter, they’re discovered by Decepticons. While trying to escape they go out a hanger door and find themselves… in a airplane graveyard in the desert. WTF?

I’ve heard some complaints that two of the Autobots were supposedly acting and sounding like stereotypical black people. I can agree it’s bad to reinforce negative stereotypes, but they are mainly just an other example of a script with many, many problems. And honestly, when I watched the movie, I don’t know if I would have noticed anything if I hadn’t already heard the complaints.

I’ve also heard a few things about how director Michael Bay objectifies women. I’ve heard that complaint applied to such a wide range of things I don’t know if it has any real meaning that a reasonable person can take seriously. Some people can take ANY depiction of ANY woman doing ANYTHING and make this complaint about objectification. Furthermore, it seems odd that the complaint is almost exclusively directed at depictions of women doing something that emphasizes their attractiveness, as if that was the only way in which a woman could be objectified. At any rate, I don’t really think the complaint has any great basis here. The whole thing comes down to the fact that Megan Fox is an extremely attractive woman, and ohmigosh the movie might actually let us notice that for 10 seconds before robots start attacking each other.

Oddly, bad acting is not really among the things we have to worry about here. Oh, nobody’s going to be winning any Oscars, but for the most part the actors do a reasonable job with what they’re given to work with. The script’s problems are mainly structural and plot oriented, and not so much centered on the dialogue itself.

Surprisingly, the second big category of bad is the visuals. The problem isn’t so much the quality as it is the design. Half the time during the big fight scenes, especially in the latter part of the movie, you simply can’t tell who is who. There is simply no discernible difference between the Autobots and the Decepticons they’re fighting. Now, one might make the argument that this sort of confusion is quite common in actual combat, but my response is that this is a movie, and I darn well want to know who’s who!

I have to wonder what sort of scenes have been left on the cutting room floor. Might there be a bit more dialogue, and a scene or two that fills in some of the gaps in logic? Or as seems more likely, might there just be more robot-on-robot action? I guess we’ll have to wait until the DVD & Blu-Ray release to find out.

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