It’s like that scene in David Fincher’s “Se7en” when Morgan Freeman says, “If this man turns out to be Satan – I mean the devil himself – that might meet our expectations.” Michael Bay is an incompetent douche, yes; but is he a talentless, incompetent douche? No. And here we go. On the second episode of my former podcast, “Experts and Intermediates” (listen to it here) we watched 4 of Bay’s films, then went and saw the first “Transformers.” It was worse than torture. We shared our findings on the show, where we used terms like “Bay-mo” which is a slow-mo shot that also circles the characters while they stand up and look off into the distance. We theorized that Bay can’t actually read, and is brought in only to blow things up during the action scenes. Even so, given the number of explosions in his movies, that still makes him the hardest working man in Hollywood.
I saw the first “Transformers” and it wasn’t very good. Shia Lebouf and John Turturro are awesome and funny, but the action was terrible and the final battle was lame. Still, I enjoyed the movie, which I saw once and have no plans ever to see again. So it is with “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,” except that Bay strays even more to the extremes this time. The bad dialogue and plotting are much worse than the first movie, while there is literally tons more action. This may be the biggest movie ever. Overall, I hated the movie and I really liked it, too.
But now I read all these reviews and it’s as though critics have just woken up from a Bay-nap. They seem disproportionately outraged at this movie. It has a 21% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, compared to a 57% rating for the first one, and there is no way in hell the first movie is almost
3x as good as its sequel. I’m fine with people disliking the movie because of its bad dialogue, and in particular its really uninteresting robots. In a movie called and about “Transformers” it would be nice if the movie didn’t view its central characters as a joke. That is, it would be nice if it tried to establish them as something other than walking punch-lines who occasionally fight. You would think they might have some perspective about the war they’re in. You’d think they might talk to the evil robots at some point, even as they’re fighting. You’d think these robots would conjure something interesting to say! Also, if you’ve always wondered what it would look like for a film camera to have sex with Megan Fox, now’s your chance to find out. This chick may have the world’s greatest publicist, but even they couldn’t stop the assault.
So, I’m fine with that criticism, but I’m less impressed by critics complaining about the price tag of the movie – which is $200 million, not cheap. Know what other movies weren’t cheap? “Titanic” – $200 million in 1997 – that’d be like spending $300 million now, which “Spiderman 3” almost did – $258 million – and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” did do. I don’t recall this much complaining when it came out. Guess what else cost $200 million? “Quantum of Solace,” that most recent and most disappointing Bond movie (which 65% of critics liked, for reasons which predate both logic and thought). It’s sortof a Fielder’s Choice of which of these movies is better (aside from “Titanic,” which IS better) but the point is, “Transformers” movies get a whole hell of a lot for their money. I’ve never seen so many effects shots, or so much…muchness!
Then there’s the criticism that Bay is singlehandedly taking the cinema straight to hell, which is such a near-sighted statement to make when his former partner, Jerry Bruckheimer (read: Hitler) has a CGI / 3-D action bonanza about Guinea Pigs coming out in less than a month. And let’s not forget epic frat boy-cum-director Brett Ratner, whose movies are downright unwatchable. Are action movies getting out of control? Well, yes and no. In 2007, we got the 4th “Die Hard” movie which was fantastic. Last year, we had “The Dark Knight” and “Iron Man.” Will Smith makes one every now and again, and they’re okay. Later this year, the man who brought us both “Aliens” and the “Terminator” twins unleashes his new ginormous film. I don’t think much has changed about the action movie that isn’t also reflected in every corner of the industry. There is a lot of sameness. Horror movies are either PG-13 for the tweens or a hard “R” rating for the sickos. Independent films are now put through the studio ringer to make sure they have the appropriate doses of quirk and snark.
Comedy is about the best place to be; specifically a comedy starring Seth Rogen. That man is a license to do whatever the hell he wants, and what he usually wants is to make a funny movie. Essentially it boils down to this: if you’re a really good director, you can probably get the movie you want made, made. If you’re a mediocre director, you’re going to be obeying the studio. I don’t see “Transformers” as the beginning of the end. In fact, contrary to what lots of critics have said, I think it’s one of Bay’s better movies – better than “The Rock” and “Pearl Harbor” and don’t even get me started on “Bad Boys II.”
Movies are getting bigger. We have lost some elements of basic storytelling. In other ways, the stories are much better and more diverse. 20 yrs ago, we’d never see a 2-year stint where “No Country For Old Men” and “Slumdog Millionaire” would be our Best Picture winners. Too dark and too non-American.
What I do ponder often, is what type of movie I would want to make. Part of the reason I do find “Transformers” so damn impressive is I can’t imagine the logistical labyrinth it must have been to shoot that movie. The coordination, and I know there were loads of people involved, but it’s still kindof amazing to me. As are the effects. They look great. Now if we could just see them… and if they could just be in a better movie. Then we’d really have something.