Though I waited to see it on DVD, I have to admit that I enjoyed Michael Bay’s Transformers (2007) for what it was—big, loud, dumb fun, with an unexpected oddball performance by John Turturro thrown in the mix just to prove that not all the pleasures of the film were mechanical. But I also have to admit I have some severe reservations about seeing Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the sequel directed by Mr. Bay which opens today in IMAX and on every other multiplex screen in the continental United States. I don’t mind not being the intended demographic for a movie like this—I am far too old for the original toys or cartoons to have meant anything to me, and I find the prospect of sitting through another 2½ hour-long Michael Bay extravaganza, in which the operative concept seems to have boiled down to bigger-louder-MORE!, less and less attractive with each passing hype-filled day. Yes, I know resistance is futile in the movie marketplace, but maybe just this once I’ll give it a try.
However, the read of the morning, perhaps of the rest of the week, is the spectacular collection of opening day reviews for TROTF gathered with the zeal of a good-humored completist and available under one roof-- Transformers: The Binge is Appallin’, courtesy of David Hudson at IFC Daily. Hudson gathers the best of the early reactions to Bay’s destruct-a-thon, and as you might hope, the writers collected here are having a good time dealing with the experience of the movie and what the Bay phenomenon means, but the name of the game is not just two-dimensional slagging of the director and his vision. For instance, there’s Manohla Dargis, who has never shied away from her soft spot for the Bruckheimer/Bay blow-‘em-up aesthetic:
“And make no mistake: [Michael] Bay is an auteur. His signature adorns every image in his movies, as conspicuously as that of Lars von Trier, and every single one is inscribed with a specific worldview and moral sensibility. Mr. Bay's subject - overwhelming violent conquest - is as blatant and consistent as his cluttered mise-en-scène. His images, particularly during the frequent action sequences, can be difficult to visually track, but they are also consistently disjointed. (And proudly self-referential: the only director he overtly cites is himself, with a shot of the poster for his movie Bad Boys II.) The French filmmaker Jacques Rivette once described an auteur as someone who speaks in the first person. Mr. Bay prefers to shout.”
Or what about Stephanie Zacharek’s personal observation:
“’He's here -- I smell him.’ That's a line from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, but funnily enough, it's also what I think every time I sit down to watch a Michael Bay movie.”
She goes on to make a point that, as the father of a little girl who recently professed interest in the movie because part of it takes place in Egypt, a country whose history and culture fascinates her, I very much appreciated as a kind of advance warning:
“I don't believe it's the job of movies to safeguard the purity of our youth. At the same time, I'm not sure I see the point of robots using words like ‘bitch’ and ‘pussy’ in a movie inspired by a line of toys. Revenge of the Fallen just comes off as a bratty kid showing how many swear words he knows.”
For those who are inclined to take the whole Transformers phenomenon somewhat seriously, as cinema and as a logical product of the rampant blockbusterism that seems to amplify itself over the course of each successive summer, Drew McWeeny’s take, a very ambivalent one in which he wrestles with his reservations alongside his enthusiasm for the movie as a technical marvel, is a fascinating read:
“In some ways, I think Transformers; Revenge of the Fallen is the movie that fanboys have been slowly but surely placing down payments on for the last 20 years of pop cinema. When I hear people complain that it's overstuffed and indulgent and excessive, I am sort of amazed that they feel the need to point that out. OF COURSE IT IS. That's what Hollywood believes you want. Thanks to the way we've rewarded the lowest common denominator wrapped in the shiniest package, summer after summer after summer, and the way we seem to constantly demand that sequels turn everything up louder, make everything longer, and fill the frame with moremoreMORE, Michael Bay stands astride Hollywood like the perfectly evolved Modern Action Director… What I find remarkable… is how little the plot seems to matter, and that's how this movie feels to me like the final evolutionary step in the blockbuster.”
David Hudson gathers lots more reviews together here, like Roger Ebert’s, which I haven’t had time to check out yet. (Ebert starts off with this paragraph: “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments. One of these involves a dog-like robot humping the leg of the heroine. Such are the meager joys. If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together. Then close your eyes and use your imagination.”) But I suspect I will, at some point, and perhaps in lieu of actually seeing the movie which, having seen the previous movie and all of the other Michael Bay movies in existence, I feel like I already have. Thanks, David, for gathering together such a wide-ranging, well-written collection of observations. You may have saved at least one prospective patron the $14 price of admission.
UPDATE 9:21 p.m.: I just had to make room here for David Edelstein's hilarious and astute piece, entitled "Trans Fats," in which the critic comes to terms with his soft spot for Michael Bay, his even softer spot for Megan Fox, and his desire to just tell a good, corny joke. It's been a very good day for those who like to read energetic writing about popular film, and Edelstein's post, from his blog The Projectionist, is the cherry on top. Here's a taste:
"I don’t have much nice to say about Transformers 2, but I’m happy to see my Park Slope neighbor John Turturro get another big paycheck — and he’s very funny given the Drake-and-Josh level of the jokes. There’s a terrific bit with a blonde coed who transforms into a killer-‘bot — but her send-off goes by so fast that the audience doesn’t even have a chance to say, 'Yeah! Kill dat bitch!' There’s also a gorgeous effect in which thirteen transformers hurtle down from space into the desert sand — thump thump thump thump — and the colossi slowly rise from the smoke. But then they start blasting and it’s back to video-game weightlessness. I remember in the eighties watching The Howling, in which a man slowly morphed into a werewolf: His flesh quivered and his snout crunched out of his flesh and the bones in his feet cracked and elongated. Why can’t these transformers transform so that we marvel at their metamorphoses? Can’t 200 million dollars buy that much?"
In other Hollywood news on this seemingly normal Wednesday, apparently the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has decided that five is just not enough, and that if the Hollywood Foreign Press Association can nominate 10 movies for Best Picture, well, then so can we. Complaints from Oscar party organizers about having to order extra pizzas to cover the extended run time of the 2010 telecast, which industry prognosticators expect to clock in at just under five hours, have already started to roll in, in addition to a vicious protest filed this morning by Barbara Walters to ABC headquarters. “I wefuse to begin my bwoadcast after midnight!” howled the onetime journalist to anyone who would listen.
And apparently David Fincher is in talks to continue his cinematic experiment, begun with The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, to attempt to create a movie in which absolutely nothing happens. Variety reports that the director in talks to direct The Social Network, written by Aaron Sorkin, all about the formation of Facebook. The paper reports breathlessly that “The film will focus on the evolution of Facebook from its 2004 creation on the Harvard campus by sophomore Mark Zuckerberg to a juggernaut with more than 200 million members.” Juggernaut! Sounds exciting! Maybe a suggestion of how the website BLEW UP beyond anyone’s expectations! Is there really a movie here? We’ll see, I suppose. Or maybe not. After months of preparation, apparently Steven Soderbergh’s film of Michael Lewis’ Moneyball, in which a bunch of pocket-protected baseball nerds sort statistics and juggle salaries in order to create the continuing legacy of mediocrity that is the Oakland Athletics, has been put into turnaround.