The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter


Friday, June 26, 2009

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen

Making cinematic history with (arguably) the fewest IQ points per dollar spent on production, Micheal Bay's Transformers 2 comes loaded with critical and audience accusations of racism, mysogyny, and raping our childhood memories. Is it true? Well, yes and no. The truth is that in this tale of humans caught between warring tribes of robots, there is nothing remotely resembling a human heart. This is 2 1/2 hours of stereotypes and clanging metal. So when you hear that there are two hip-hop robots, one with gold teeth, and they look like monkeys, act clownish, speak in ghetto accents and have names like "Mudflap", you can rightly cringe. The entire audience, nice decent middle-class white folks, seemed a little amazed at the tastelessness of it all. I suspect some of them glanced at me to see if it was all right to laugh.

And yet...once you accept that everything in this world is a cartoon, and a nine-year-old white boy's wet dream, the rest is easy. In fact, it's really sort of fun if you let yourself go. Hell, I can find my inner nine-year-old white boy, and he had a great time. Truth is that there was a sprinkling of effective black soldiers to compensate for the Nigbots, and I haven't really ever asked for more than that.

Other than that, the effects are ILM perfect, the action scenes resolve visually better than the first film (or I've learned how to interpret them) and the stupidity is so consistent that it achieves a kind of evil genius. I really did have fun, but it really was a "leave your brain at home" type of experience.

Basically, Sam, the kid from the first movie (Shia LeBouf) and his preternatually sexy girlfriend Megan Fox (who at all times and in every frame is photographed with the kind of light and make up that makes you think that if you turned the page, you'd find a fold-out) are chased hither and yon by big metal thingies because this alien cube infected his mind with the whereabouts of a doodad that will kill the sun.

Some of the stupidest dialogue, lamest "comedy", and eyeball-peeling editing follows, with plenty of reasons for feminists, the racially sensitive or those who appreciate little things like characterization or originality to take issue with. But what the hell: if you go see a movie called 'Transformers 2: The Revenge of the Fallen" you kinda give up your right to criticize on any aesthetic or political grounds.

It's really a kind of staggering production, Megan Fox really is incredibly hot, Shia LeBouf is better than the film deserves, and I guess it's the best movie based on a Japanese toy in theaters this month. A "B-", unless you're a nine-year-old boy overdosed on sugar and speed, in which case it's an "A." If Jar Jar Binks bothered you, wait till you see Mudflaps and Skids. Your eyeballs will implode.

18 comments:

Nancy Lebovitz said...

In case you want to see Transformers 2 walloped some more:

http://io9.com/5301898/michael-bay-finally-made-an-art-movie?skyline=true&s=i

Michelle said...

I think expectations are key in movies. With Transformers I had none. I was a child fan of the cartoon...so I expected robots explosions and eye candy along with bad dialog, no characterization, and bad stereotypes.

So I had fun, but yeah the twins were a nasty stereotype and humor, baseline for a scary-movie type flick. I did appreciate the return of actors (even if they have no characterization), that military wasn't dumb, and that even the movie didn't take itself seriously.

The twins have made my eyes bleed but at least I expected that...Jar Jar was a bad cap on story destroying endevor.

Anonymous said...

I don't care how mindless the movie is, these type of characters are a direct attack. I watched the cartoon as a kid and they never resulted to such racist behavior. So if a freaking cartoon has enough since not to go there why would the live action version go there. Most of the time I have to try to enjoy a movie that's blatantly racially insensitive so I can get my money's worth but I really feel like a sellout when I do. I feel that because of the pressure Hollywood feels they have to put minority characters in movies but they really don't want to, so they put minorities in the movie and make fun of stereotypes. This speaks to white male frustration and the coincidence that they write 90% of the screenplays today.

Dan Moran said...

Took my sons to it today. Yeah, it's a good movie for young white boys. Mine are 13, 10, and 7, and they liked it, really liked it, and loved it, respectievely. Bay hit his demographic dead on.

I worked until four in the morning yesterday and I fell asleep twice even with all the loud noises. They did any number of porn-style establishing shots of the various women, and while they briefly got my attention with Megan Fox propped up on that motorcycle, nothing after that really penetrated my drowsiness.

Sean said...

on line waiting to buy tickets for the last movie, a friend texted me twice: "OMG, bastards have ruined my childhood" and "transformers animated movie = academy award compared 2 this"

I really don't want to see any movie that Shia kid is in (worst part of Indy4 for me - and there were a bunch of bad parts)

Instead I will spend some time this weekend learning about Alternate Reality Games and transmedia fiction :)

Disillusioned said...

Steve,

You seem awfully forgiving to a movie that was needlessly portrarying modern day minstrel characters as opposed to how much more you seemed bothered by Resident Evil 5. At least that game had location to justify its African villians. No chance in hell the worst of hip-hop characiture developed light years away with sentient robots. And I don't know what movie you were watching, but those action sequences resolved worse than the first one. The CGI moved so rapidly and cut angles so sporadically that excepting the flashes of color that I knew to be exclusive to one of the two robots, I could not begin to distinguish who was beating who and winning. Bay can't direct coherent action sequences to save his life, and I'm tired of his abandonment of story structure, character depth, and cohesion for explosions that delight the inner child. I can watch disaster clip shows on Fox for that fix.

Steven Barnes said...

I made a very simple standard that dampens much of my anger: if you have negative racial images, be sure you have positive images as well. Transformers got across that line, barely. "Resident Evil" was an insult both because every villain or adversary I saw was black, but because the single "African" was so pale.

Steven Barnes said...

I meant "heroic African was so pale." This is an obvious preference for all the "good" being confined to one side of the color spectrum, while throwing a deflective sop. "What? We had an African. Complaining about the skin color? You're racist!"
Yeah, right.
##
And while Megan Fox was sexualized, she was also shown as intelligent, technologically adroit, courageous, capable of sustaining a relationship, and in superb physical condition. If asked if I'd mind a black man given the exact same characteristics, I'd say "hell no."

L. R. Giles said...

Mr. Barnes,

Good afternoon, I want to chime in on the "Resident Evil 5" conversation because I'd like to hear your interpretation on a part of the game that has gone unmentioned so far. There's a character by the name of Captain Joshua Stone who isn't playable but does show up in several cutscenes (including the climactic endgame battle) to save the main characters. He is African, dark-skinned, and shows great intelligence and combat skills (again, he saves the main playable characters on three different occassions I believe, and does so without sacificing himself). I could be imagining it, but I believe there's an implication of mutual romantic interest between him and the light-skinned African heroine (though this is not expressly stated so that could be wishful thinking on my part). My question: in your mind, does the inclusion of such a character do anything to balance the scales? Just curious.

BTW ~ I really enjoy your blog and I find your insight very enlightening. Thank you, sir.

L. R. Giles

Anonymous said...

Steve,

I'm struggling to see where your line was drawn for this movie. Is it because even though needless and shameful stereotyping was done for "heroes" as opposed to the villians and monsters being black in RE5 what barely got it across your limited standard? Thanks to RL for reminding me of Captain Stone as well for a heroic character of color in the game. And has been pointed out by another poster previously there were a myriad of monsters, and at least 3 boss sequences in the game where the boss was white (3 different bosses mind you) I just can't help but feel that while this is apples and oranges, we're still dealing with fruit. I'm far more offended by minstrelizing robots with no plausible connection to hip hop by any imaginative stretch and the use of mudflap ( a derogatory term involving the assumption of a dirty and uncivilized penis) than a series of black monsters set in Africa of all places. At least there's a reason for the connection there. And not every freaking monster was black either, primarily the cannon fodder was, which in itself can be viewed as a socio-economic commentary.

Anonymous said...

You do have different characters in this movie that resonate with what some may call stereotypes, and at first this seems like a grave offense. But no one really resonates with the darker characters in Transformers 2, yet these characters exist in the movie by virtue of their counterparts in our actual world. No one out there is offended because torture, genocide, or murder of one innocent for the sake of the whole is portrayed? Maybe those things are too normal to stand out.

It is easy to relate to the stereotypes in the movie, and to enjoy or be offended by them, but it is not so easy to see how you might relate to the darker characters. I personally feel that all of the characters in the movie, no matter their obvious appearance, somehow relate to all of us. No one has anything to say about the heartlessness and visciousness of some of these characters, and how those qualities are inspired by our humanity. In the end, I'm grateful to see the movie and enjoy the tails, special effects, and arrangement of symbolism.

Absolutely loved the cartoon as a child, and even though some part of me wishes they aligned the movies with the original tv show and transformers cartoon movie, I realize things change when making a real-life version of the adventure.

The use of religious mythology, mixed with analysis of the human psyche, crossed with the ludicrously provocative use of Megan Fox (an inside joke on the public), and pinch of social programming about aliens, makes for a pretty interesting flick.

Is transformers a social advertisement on the existence of alien activity in our civilization? Or is it a gauge on our acceptance of the idea of aliens on planet earth so we can be manipulated? Maybe a little bit of both?

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