25 June 2009
First Impressions: Transormers 2
I woke up the morning of yesterday bristling with nubile excitement. This may have been my most hotly anticipated film of the summer. Revenge of the Fallen had come out. For weeks I had caught myself driving by construction sites, fantasizing about Devastator, frequenting truck stops, even sucking a few dicks just to get into the driver's seat of Optimus Prime. My imagination was aflame.
Proudly, the marquee beneath the theater I went to read "Transormers 2" [sic]. An accurate sign of the mishandled things to come. I'll start out by saying that in the past few weeks I've had what you may call a Michael Bay revival. I watched the first Transformers a few weeks back, and a ton of extras, getting some kind of feel for what Bay is like on set. Followed this up with clearly his opus, The Rock, as well as Bad Boys II. I'll say what is deadly ground for any wannabe liberal film buff--
I sort of really like Michael Bay.
Now, be assured that it was pretty difficult for me to come to grips with this. There is not a more honest filmmaker in Hollywood. Bay knows what he's getting into and knows what must come out of it. He has no pretensions about what he's making, he crafts the perfect summer ride, knowing to streamline a plot in favor of radically cool dialogue and incredible shots of explosions. Michael Bay is the penultimate filmmaker for 14-year old boys. He attacks his target like a rabid shark with lasers on its head.
He's not sloppy, either. He demands excellence from every stunt and every effect. He lead a major drive in the first Transformers to maintain a sense of realism and modernism, foregoing size reductions in transformations and updating or reducing some basic characters. The result is simply a more believable movie experience, which rises far above someone like Zack Snyder who copies his material verbatim in a vain attempt to please fans rather than rising above it to create something even better.
Of course now I'm being pretentious enough to compare G1 Transformers to Watchmen. Let's move on.
He is also a fan of limiting CGI to only what is necessary. This may seem like a stretch with the obviously CGI-heavy Transformers movies, but the effects are nearly flawless and limited to the transformed anthropomorphic machines. You don't see, for instance, anything akin to the absurd looking Arnold Schwarzenegger's CGI face on another body or plastic looking humans or sharks flailing about. When Bay's CGI is overdone, it's overdone well.
So that's my Bay Defense. Take it or leave it. Now, it goes without saying that his general plots and sense of humour is abyssmal. With Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, though, I can forgive a somewhat convoluted plot. Hell, compared to the first one, round two was pretty smooth in terms of plot convolutions. It's the little things, though, that dragged it down for me. MAJOR SPOILERS FOLLOW!!!
The number one thing I noticed immediately is the completely awful continuity errors. I mean really, really blatant ones, most of which revolved around Devastator. Maybe I'm too big of a fan and I can pick out which robot is who, but at multiple times, the robots who made up Devastator (Mixmaster, Long Haul, and Rampage) are seen both fighting the Autobots in their individual robot modes, and also fighting as Devastator. Maybe there are two of all of these guys for some reason? There is a shitload of Decepticon meteorites that strike.
Further than that, there were things in the first movie that tied it together well that were really lacking the second time around. Transformers 1 deftly introduced all of the Autobots and all of the Decepticons by name, and you always had a good standing with them. You knew definately that for instance, Optimus killed Bonecrusher, Megatron killed Jazz, Capt. Lennox killed Blackout, etc. In the second film we get no such introduction. Can you guess how I got the names for the Constructicons that made up Devastator? Wikipedia. Can you guess how I knew they were called Constructicons? Wikipedia.
It's really jarring in the second one to see Sideswipe, Jolt, and the three Arcees for some reason, just appearing for no reason. Especially Jolt who is only seen in the last battle. I don't know if this was sloppy editing or what, but these characters needed some kind of intro to know their name, who they were, what they were doing. I think the purple Arcee has like one line and is then immediately killed.
Which leads me to another point, as I said, you could definately track the kills in the first movie. It was really muddled this time, you knew Optimus kills Demolisher and Grinder (Helicopter, got his name from Wikipedia), but much more outside of that it gets hairy. Long Haul is apparently killed by U.S. Air Force air strike, but also may have been killed as part of Devastator? Megatron is hit by the same caliber weapons and is seemingly killed, but then flies away to help The Fallen. Jetfire is a badass killing Mixmaster, then gets owned by Scorponok. There's very little consistency in who can damage whom and what constitutes a killing blow. In the forest fight Optimus lands many blows that killed Bonecrusher in the first movie to someone like Starscream, but he is fine. Likewise, whereas Starscream's missiles could cripple Bumblebee's legs earlier, here they do practically nothing. If this name-dropping just became too much for you, I hope you get my point and we can move on.
There's some basic character issues that I have as well. Although this portrayal of Starscream as a little bitch is generally more accurate to the source material, he was a genuine badass in Transformers 1. Every Autobot is scared of him, almost more so than Megatron, and he has a few bombing runs that obliterate Ironhide, Ratchet, and Bumblebee. He doesn't even get a kill this time and is mostly just a whiny bitch to Megatron. Which wouldn't be that bad if his abilities were still consistent.
Mentioning Ironhide here, I could go off for a good while here actually. Along with Jazz and Ratchet, Ironhide is completely useless in the first movie. I mean, he's supposed to be the weapons expert and he doesn't even get a kill, is completely inept, and gets owned by everyone who fights him. Transformers 2 started off giving him a bit more credit, giving him the first on-screen transformation, and some decent scenes against Demolisher. Then it's downhill. Same with Sideswipe, who is immediately portrayed at least as competant a fighter as Bumblebee and Optimus by taking out Sideways in Shanghai, but is not given another cool scene or kill for the rest of the film. I guess all I'm trying to say here is that Bumblebee gets a spectacular 1-on-2 fight scene against Rampage and Ravage, kills them both, Jetfire gets a fucking awesome 1-on-1 vs. Mixmaster, then Scorponok, kills them both, albeit is mortally injured, and of course, Optimus gets 1-on-3 against Megatron, Starscream, and Grinder, kills Grinder, then 1-on-2 vs. Megatron and The Fallen, kills The Fallen. Ratchet I can accept, he's supposed to be the medic, but Ironhide, the weapons expert should have gotten his cool battle scene. Ironhide fighting against someone like Long Haul would have been perfect, as Long Haul was merely killed by the United States missiles, which apparently are pretty damn good at killing Decepticons. Who needs the fucking Autobots.
Let me not forget to mention the Deus Ex Machina Weapon Simmons used against Devastator. I should have expected that he wouldn't even fight anyone except Skids and Mudflap. Devastator really deserved a kill, if he had gotten one of those little stereotypes I think it would have added a whole ton more interest, especially considering what the other Twin would have done, maybe reacted with a little more character depth instead of being a one-sided, essentially racist joke.
Let's talk about something that was really great in this flick, and that was Optimus. Almost every line he says is extremely important and instantly quotable as being badass and awesome. Peter Cullen has a spectacular voice for the character, it inspires instant leadership. It is very clear from early on that Optimus is showing no mercy, rarely do we get to root for a good leader that is much cooler than anything the evil side can throw at it. The forest battle is completely amazing, basically taking on and dominating the three strongest decepticons from the first movie all at once, and doing well for a while, taking one down, severely injuring another. The move to kill him was very surprising, although it was obvious it wouldn't stick, especially when a possible way to revive him was presented. Of course, this is basically worth it to see the Optimus/Jetfire combo which is the single coolest Transformer to ever be put on screen.
His death brings up weird shit, though. Bay needed a scene of them reacting to it, establishing new leadership, which would have been a great way to introduce Sideswipe, Jolt, and the Arcees, maybe even one of them vying for leadership. It doesn't seem to me like this would deviate from the popcorn, thrilling atmosphere to add a little more depth to some of these charaters, instead of all of them essentially purely existing only as a means to make more explosions.
Another thing I really liked was the insight into the Decepticon base, their homeworld, I guess, getting some interaction between Megatron, Starscream, and The Fallen, and their genuine need for the Energon source to sustain their kind. It was nice to see them sharing some strategy, instead of randomly showing up and blindly following Megatron like they did in the first movie. Going along with this, though, Megatron makes an excellent point to Optimus, asking him why the life of one earth boy was greater than the existence of the entire Cybertronian race. Jetfire may have answered this later, though, when he remarks that if the Decepticons had their way, they would destroy everything. Indeed, it seems they are plenty willing to turn on each other.
This leads me to one of my favourite things about this film, actually, which the mirroring of both leaders receiving new parts. First, the Doctor orders Scrapper to be destroyed (Don't worry! He comes back later as part of Devastator!) to make new parts for Megatron. This is obviously against Scrapper's will, and his teammates immediately kill him and attach his parts to Megatron. Thus Megatron is born from his soldier's shameful, unwilling death.
Optimus gets the same boost in a drastically different fashion. Jetfire, mortally wounded, offers his spark and parts to Optimus as a dying gift for him to beat The Fallen. In this case, Optimus does not demand the parts, but receives them because of Jetfire's respect for the Primes, and his wish to see justice served, even after his own demise. It's a cool scene that demonstrates how the honor and humility of the Autobots contrasts with the ruthless cannibalism and fear of the Decepticons.
Okay, so final thoughts here. Big what the fuck moment seeing Bonecrusher in the background of the desert fight but no Barricade in the whole movie. How do they have the bot who blatantly died the first time around as well as FOUR parts of Devastator that have on-screen deaths TWICE and not Barricade, who was one of the few to survive Transformers 1? Why not substitute Barricade for Rampage in a Bumblebee rematch? It just seems to me that such a continuity error could be solved so easily.
I want to talk about Soundwave for a little bit, which I was kind of pumped but generally disappointed with. He's definately serving his purpose as Communications Officer, and doing exactly what a Decepticon does really well, definately keeping the plot moving on their end. I would have liked to see him transform, or maybe attack the Autobots from space, or come down himself. There is also no resolution to his fate, he is apparently just still mointoring top-secret government communications, which combined with the functional survival of Megatron and Starscream (I think that sums up the surviving Decepticons), could lead to an advantageous start for them in the threequel. If that happens. C'mon, it will.