July 11, 2014

Shadowcon Mini-Views- Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Up until recently (sadly), Revenge of the Fallen was the worst of the three Transformers films, and the primary reason for that is because it didn't have a script. Literally; Michael Bay began shooting before an actual script was handed in, and so he had absolutely no fucking idea how to work a film that hand't been written yet.

In fairness to the film, however, there was a reason behind this (unlike with Dark of the Moon, which had kind of a script, or this years' Age of Extinction, which didn't have a script because EXPLOSIONS!), and the reason for that is because of the writers' strike and the need to hit that summer blockbuster deadline. But that only tells you the why of this movie's failures. It's an excuse, and quite a bad one at that. The first film had an overabundance of material that made it a messy film. Revenge has a thin strip of plot that is carrying bloated action scenes. Unlike Age of Extinction though, this film manages to keep itself together just enough to be a shitty popcorn flick, at least to me. That opinion will differ from person to person (and certainly if you're a Transformers fan or not), but I think Revenge has enough in here to make it not be a complete and totally bloated piece of garbage like Extinction. Oh sure, it's rotten, but it's not completely inedible.

Now, that most certainly is damning praise, and what makes this all the more damning is that, for me at least, this film was supplemented by one of the coolest toylines for the Transformers brand. The Revenge of the Fallen toyline was awesome, something of a major step forward in the engineering and execution of designs of that year. Leader Class Optimus Prime is a brilliant piece of engineering; the scout toys of that line were all really awesome little guys; the overall engineering and the quality of sculpt and screen accuracy took an almost laughably huge leap from the first movie's toyline to Revenge's toyline. The comics too were all pretty good, giving much needed background information on just who the hell the new bad guys were in the movie, why everything was the way it was in the movie, et cetera, and they told compelling stories (for movie tie-in comics at least). And all this great tie-in material and all these really great toys... all to supplement the barest attempt at making a film.

This thing has so many things wrong with it, the least of which is its complete mishandling of geography. I'm surprised that they didn't think Egypt was an island. The plot holes are here too, as is the bad acting, the drab humor that no one laughs at, and a rather unfortunate handling of CGI; seriously, the effects in this movie look terrible! Some of this stuff looks hand-drawn, I'm not even kidding. And that's not even getting into the stuff they did regarding the Transformers mythos and characters.

Last time, I talked about the first film's relation to fans and my views on the fandom in relation to the film and all of that. I both defended Transformers for launching the franchise into the realm of pop culture instead of just a thing for a very niche audience, and also recognized that it did do things far differently than what fans had been used to. And that's a fine thing to do; not every movie based on something has to follow the source material (and given that the "source material" for Transformers is literally now three decades' worth of reinvention and reinterpretation, that doesn't really apply here). It's kinda like what comic book films have been doing; they don't translate just one story onto film (and when they do hold closely to the story that they're basing a majority of their film on, it usually ends in disastrous results; just look at X-Men 3). The modern superhero tale tells the origin story, laying out the foundation while also doing something original with it, or at the very least introducing material not covered in the comic book origin story. The superhero sequel then goes on to explore new concepts, different plotlines than what the comics did, and so forth. That's why so many comic book films have homages to their comic book titles instead of a strict refurbishing of a story from a specific comic book story arc.

Well, the first Transformers did that; it gave us an origin story that had the Autobots arrive on Earth and befriend humans while at the same time introducing new original characters (both human and Transformer), and it played around with some of the concepts of the original '80s cartoon as well as draw from other sources of TF fiction like Beast Wars and such. Revenge tries oh so desperately to do that, but instead ends up mutilating almost every concept it takes from material past. The best example of this is what this film's version of the Matrix of Leadership is. This thing isn't an Autobot artifact meant to bestow wisdom onto the next Prime, it isn't a talisman meant to bring people back to life (not primarily, anyway), and it isn't connected to Primus or Unicron in any way (though given how the film continuity handles its borrowing of other concepts, that's probably for the better). This Matrix acts as a means of turning on a great machine that destroys stars and just happens to bring back Optimus when he dies. It doesn't contain the wisdom of the Primes (because Optimus is none the wiser when Sam stabs him with it), it isn't used to defeat anyone super powerful (again, Optimus did that on his own without the Matrix), and it isn't seen as something religiously important or significant to the other Transformers (because it's been sealed away for thousands of years so there's no way other Transformers besides the ancient ones could have known about it).

Another example of how Revenge just pulls old-school terminology and slaps it onto whatever is it's plastering of names onto characters. In the first movie, you had names of characters that were suited to the Transformers in the film: Optimus is the leader of the Autobots, Ironhide is his weapons' specialist and tough guy, Ratchet was the medical officer, Jazz was obsessed with Earth culture. The only ones that didn't really fit the bill were Bumblebee and Starscream, and all the rest were new characters with relatively little harm being done to whomever their names were taken from (except for Devastator, named that only in the movie because Michael Bay is an idiot). But with Revenge, you have the names of Skids, Mudflap, Sideswipe, Demolisher, Devastator (who at least manages to kind of be like his old school self in that he's a combiner), and the Fallen all tacked on to characters baring little to no resemblance in either physique or personality to the original characters with those names. The movie versions of Skids and Mudflap have been talked about far more than they deserve (both by critics and fans). Personally, I found them more stupid and annoying than offensive, but regardless, these two characters were just way too obnoxious and really didn't homage any iteration of their namesake from the past. Sideswipe too didn't hold anything over from his G1 self. Demolisher was a completely new guy with the same name as someone else. Devastator was a combiner made out of construction vehicles, except the individual components were clones of each other and they weren't scientists, something inherent to all versions of Devastator.

I bring up the naming and homage problem in this movie specifically because this one had more stuff from the Transformers mythos crammed into it. Some might be asking "but doesn't that make you kind of a hypocrite? After all, you talked last time about how you weren't from the '80s and you didn't care for the people who wanted everything to be the same as it was in the '80s. Why are you suddenly now ripping into this films' handling of Transformers stuff?" Well, let's look at Iron Man 3. That movie had a name-only homage in there with its treatment of the Mandarin. And some fans say that this is a disgrace to the comics, that the film completely ruined that character. Well, I respectfully disagree. Iron Man 3 actually wanted to tell a story with the Mandarin. Sure, he might not have been the villain from the comics, but his character was important for the story. If you want to apply that argument to Revenge, it doesn't really work, because none of the names or pieces of tech or mythology that the movie takes from the Transformers lore make the story any less shit; they actually make the movie more convoluted. So I don't see this film's treatment of beloved characters and mythos as an insult to what came before, but as a complete unfamiliarity with the material beyond just name recognition.

The death of Optimus Prime is another point of contention, one that I'm really not even going to go into because of just cliché that is (all Optimus Primes must die sooner or later), and also because it matters even less in this movie than it does in almost every other continuity (with the exception of Animated where Prime was dead for literally seventy-five seconds) because not only does he come back, but his death comes after we've seen Megatron come back to life, so the whole thing is rendered kinda pointless because we know now that Transformers can be resurrected. Still, the forrest fight prior to the death is pretty awesome and is one of the only good things in the film.

Actually, I found myself enjoying a large number of the smaller fights in this movie. For one, there are more here than there were in the first film, which is a nice surprise (even if the CGI is crap), and we get to see more of what's going on, as the camera has been backed up enough to actually enable us to see things clearly (a problem in the first film that many people complained about). The large climactic battle is ridiculously dumb and doesn't really resolve things at all; at least the first film had a coda. This has a giant anemic fight scene and then credits. The fight at the beginning was cool, the forrest fight was pretty awesome in my opinion, and Bumblebee taking on Ravage and Rampage at the end was suitably epic. But none of that changes the fact that this film is a bloated mess, a few good fight scenes floating in a see of drudgery and stupidity, all of which is brought down all the more by the fact that this neither added anything to the Transformers franchise that previous works hadn't already done but far better nor improved on anything that it used from that past mythos.

Yet as sour and as driveling as this thing was, I stand by my statement made in my Extinction Mini-View: I'd watch this a hundred times before ever watching that film again. And this movie does get credit for so lowering my expectations of the franchise that I actually found myself enjoying the third film far more than I actually should have. Avoid this at all costs. It is an anemic addition to the Transformers franchise at best and right up there with a brain tumor as an example of a good thing to happen to your body.

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