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A Paternity Leave Review of "Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen" (2009)

The Short Bit For People Who Don't Like to Read Reviews

Fuck this movie.

My Rating: 0 / 5

The Bit Where I Feel Bad About Writing a Negative Review and I Have to Justify It

Way back when I was still trying to figure out my tone for this blog (in other words, eight months ago), I said that I wanted to avoid writing anything too negative.  Partly it was because I have this terrible fear that one day I'll be this almost-successful writer at a conference or other networking event, and then some screenwriter or director that I trashed will go up to me and be like, "I heard what you said, ass.  You're never working again!"  And then I'll get blacklisted forever and ever.

(For what it's worth, I actually like most of the people who made this movie.  Even Mr. Bay has had his moments.)

More importantly, I feel like the Internet is negative enough as it is and we could really use some happier words to get us through the day, even if they are coming from some fat guy whose opinion nobody asked for.  So to anybody out there who got to this site by Googling "angry movie review" or something like that: please understand that this review is atypical.  I don't specialize in bad movies.  I don't want to be a jerk.

It's just that I've been taking occasional digs at Transformers 2 for like a year now and I haven't bothered to explain exactly why.  It almost feels like I'm being coy for no goddamn reason.  So as I bring my pre-planned block of reviews to a close, I might as well take a more in-depth look at the worst movie ever made.

The Bit Where I Summarize the Plot

Not worth it.

This movie famously did not have a script when they started filming - and boy, does it ever show.

There's some bullshit about how Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) accidentally activates the Allspark, a magical plot device with nebulous qualities and powers, which then leads to him getting zapped in the head with Robot Knowledge, which then causes other robots to want to kill him and/or have sex with him, which in various contrived ways involves bringing together pretty much Every Character in the Universe so everybody can sit around and be useless while a big Nothing Plot happens.  Or doesn't happen.

Things blow up - but not well.  People scream and die - but not well.  Tension rises - but not well.

Trying to follow this movie logically is an exercise in insanity.  I have never seen another movie that is as internally inconsistent, bloated, or distracted.  Plots begin and end at random.  Characters change motivations mid-scene.  Dialogue changes tone mid-sentence.

It's not a movie.  It's not a story.  It's barely even a visual experience.

The Bit Where I Avoid Complaining for Too Long About the Standard Stuff

If I really wanted to get angry and waste everybody's time while I was at it, I would go through the film moment by moment and really try to dissect every awful thing about the acting, directing, editing, music, and so forth.  Sure, I could do that.  I could give it the Red Letter Media treatment.  There's plenty to bitch about.

But the thing is, I don't think I'd say anything you haven't already heard.  The robot design is too complicated and confusing?  Yeah, we've heard that before.  The direction is too spastic and aggressive to make out anything that's going on?  Pretty sure we heard that, too.  Sam Witwicky is an annoying turd?  Yeah... that's practically his middle name.  ("Sam 'Annoying Turd' Witwicky" is on a T-Shirt somewhere, right?)

All of that stuff is bad, but it's not bad enough to make a movie earn my unending ire as the Worst Movie Ever.  No, that stuff just makes it a shitty movie.  But whatever.  There's lots of shitty movies.  I watch 'em all the time.

You know what I do with shitty movies?  I forget about them.  I saw Catwoman once.  Don't remember enough about it to stay angry.  Ditto with Taking Lives.  And Anger Management.  And hundreds of others.

I could forgive Transformers 2 if it was simply bad, but it goes an extra step.  It has this mysterious extra quality that elevates it to a new level of awful.  Here it is:

It's cruel.

I know that probably sounds a little bit underwhelming, or maybe too simple-minded, or possibly even just childish.  But there it is, plain and simple.

The Bit Where I Extend a Metaphor Too Much

Imagine that you, as a viewer, are trying to squeeze out everything you can from a movie until you can compress it into its purest elements.  Pretend like the movie is a piece of fruit and you're shoving it through an elaborate juicing machine.

You get rid of the textual stuff like the plot and characters - the skin of the fruit.  You get rid of the thematic ideas and message - the seeds and pulp.  You keep compressing it down further and further until you have a mushy pile of stuff that you can sift through on one end - and a puddle of liquid beneath.

That puddle is the movie's essence, it's overall taste and feeling.  It's the melancholy you get when you watch something like Schindler's List.  It's the unadulterated feeling of hope you get from The Shawshank Redemption.  It's the exuberance you feel at the end of Slumdog Millionaire.

Transformers 2, when you crush away all of the other stuff, is a thick, disgusting, mucous blob of bitter, evil hatred.  It's a disgusting thick thing that dissolves tin and you don't want to go near it.

It's the lonely, terrifying feeling that humanity has nothing worthy to offer to the universe.

The Bit Where I Talk About Cruelty

Every element in this movie is built around bitter, merciless cruelty.  It's a world where sympathy and empathy are things to mock and deride, where social justice is a fantasy, where tolerance is somehow a bad thing, where peace is for losers and cowards, where military might led by blind, merciless rage is the only thing worth believing.

The most obvious example is Optimus Prime himself.  He is a violent psychopath who leads a group of assholes in war against a bland, nondescript enemy.  We are never given a good reason to trust Optimus or a good reason to distrust the Decepticons; the Autobots are simply "good" and the Decepticons are simply "bad."  Optimus never dispatches his enemies quickly or painlessly; instead, he brutalizes them horrifically, going so far as to rip a robot's face off while making a quip.  He is disinterested in humanity and brought his stupid war to our planet, but refuses to leave - and yet he has the gall to call human beings "cowards" while relying on our military for backup.  Optimus and the Autobots are basically the welfare mother equivalent of freedom fighters, except they can't even be bothered to pretend that they give a shit about democracy.

Consider also the strawman Politician character who (completely reasonably) demands accountability from the Autobots, who recklessly destroy everything they touch.  Instead of considering this man's viewpoint and making any attempt to rationalize the Autobots' actions, the movie is content to have Optimus sneer at him and have the military goons literally shove him out of a helicopter - presumably to his death - and then never answer for it again.  This scene is meant to be comical (it's not) and is a perfect example of how the movie is actually aware of the shitty actions of its protagonists... but absolutely does not even once try to defend them.  When they shove the senator out of the helicopter, they're looking at us in the eyes and saying, "Yeah, we're horrible people.  What of it?"

But even when you don't read fascism into the movie - and how can you not?  They're not even trying to hide it.  This is literally a two and a half hour political ad telling us that we should get rid of Congress and replace it with a Napoleonesque general with anger problems and a 24-hour gun boner - the movie is just obsessed with being unjustifiably mean. There's not a moment buried within its 150 bullshit minutes that isn't drowning in nasty malevolence.

How about some minor character, like, say, Sam's roommate who follows him around for no goddamn reason?  Let's have him cry and freak out every few minutes so we can laugh at him.  "You're experiencing mortal terror and crying about it!  Ha!  What a loser!"

Or how about some random furriner over in Arab-land?  Let's make him a dwarf and then play up his stature for a cheap laugh, as if he's more a monster than a man.  No need to have actual people on this planet, because the only people that matter are Optimus and the people who support Optimus with big guns and a desire to fucking destroy everything around them.

Or how about Megan Fox?  What should we do with her?  I know - let's just have a little robot hump her ankle repeatedly and she has to pretend to enjoy it and call it "cute."  Guys... it's a cognizant thing.  It's not a dog that doesn't know better.  Wheelie is a sentient organism made out of metal.  It knows what sex is and presumably it knows what sexual assault is and yet somehow we're supposed to find it funny and charming that it's literally trying to rape Megan Fox's ankles.

Ultimately I think the horrors of this movie can be summed up with one brief and inconsequential shot that has lingered with me ever since I first saw it.

There's a scene where Sam is in some Egyptian ruins trying to hide from the Decepticons.  A robot fly buzzes around, passing on surveillance information to the Decepticons.  It flies in front of Sam and he realizes they will track him down if the fly broadcasts its signal.  So how does Sam react?  He grabs it and pulls its wings off, slowly, while the robot makes a little crying sound and dies miserably.

It's not more efficient to kill it that way as opposed to, say, slapping it between his palms.  It's not like the fly has to be disassembled.  And it doesn't even work - the fly sends out a broadcast, anyway, and Sam still has to run away.  It's just a moment where Sam can inflict an extra special moment of pain on a helpless thing simply because it is "bad."  And we, as the audience, are meant to be jerking off in an orgiastic frenzy at the lingering shot of his malice because we love the fucking pain.

The Part Where I Want You to Think About the Children

Ordinarily I don't like to discuss how movies influence children because it's kind of a thin argument, but I have a personal experience with this that truly terrifies me.  It's as good a way to end this rant as I can think of.

When I saw this in the theater, there was a little boy sitting a couple rows ahead of me.  He couldn't have been more than six or seven.  He was amazed by the special effects and fight sequences, and I kept hearing him go "Oh, gosh!" or "Wow!" or "Oh, man!" every time something happened.  It would've been cute and maybe it would've let me cheer up a bit with the knowledge that even though I hated the movie, other people could get some joy out of it.

But then something happened.

There was a scene in the movie where Sam's mother shouts, "Holy mother!" while running away from an explosion.  The kid thought that was pretty funny, I guess, because he repeated it immediately.  And then, from that moment on, anytime something blew up, he shouted, "Holy mother!"

Now, a little boy learning to say "Holy mother" as an expletive is a non-issue.  That's not the part that worries me.

The problem is that there's a lot more that can be taught in a movie than just words.  What else did that kid pick up?  Is he horribly racist?  Does he think rape is funny?  Or does he just have a deep-seated grudge against flies?

It's easy to dismiss that kind of thing as a silly fear, but the truth is that all movies teach values, good or bad.  When we take a core set of values that are so callous, reprehensible, and destructive as those found in Transformers 2 and dress them up in the shiny gleaming suit of robots fighting a big dumb war and sell it to our children, shouldn't we be concerned?

We should all feel ashamed that this movie exists.