But God help me. I loved it.
First, the things I didn’t love. The robots. Or, rather, the SFX of the robots. OR, to put a finer point on it, the CGI models of the SFX of the robots. You needed a scorecard to tell them apart, and frankly I don’t think even that would have helped. There was a moment, in the final climactic battle, where the Marines are running away from an immense explosion, and there was a robot running amongst them, and I was thinking “geez, they better be careful or else that Decepticon is just gonna step on them”, only to realize that it was (I think?) Ironhide. For the most part it was sort of easy to tell the players apart in a “big picture” kind of way because all of the Decepticons looked like Megatron (seriously, every damn one), and the Autobots were more colorful. But then at the end, the D-cons had some big yellow and green guys, and Ironhide is basically colored just like a bad ‘un. Visually confusing doesn’t even begin to describe it.
And not to harp on this, but it goes beyond just the color and the model. The animation is just way too f’n busy. Every robot has a billion little hydraulic pumps whizzing and whirring, and there’s pieces sliding and pumping, and after a while you just lose track of the vaguely human form that’s supposedly at the center. I realize what Bay wanted, and that was to maintain an “honesty” of mass and volume. But really, for me at least, I would have let some of the volume argument slide if he could have just made them have a few more body panels to cover up the distracting shit during the big fight scenes.
It’s not just the CGI, though. In the first one they managed to give Bumblebee a real personality despite the lack of voice, they managed to give Optimus enough decent lines (or at least lines that were familiar from the cartoons), and they managed to give a couple of the Decepticons enough of a presence that they were genuinely intimidating. Here is the glaring weakness of the film. Michael Bay has finally answered the question posed by Phillip K. Dick (and Ridley Scott): while androids may dream of electric sheep, it don’t matter because robots clearly have no soul. There’s not a single robot that is interesting, compelling, or has any charisma. The only lines that the bad guys have are some clunky monologues that amount to a lot of wasted exposition. I remember thinking, while watching the scene where “The Fallen” is talking to Megatron in some hidden base (seriously, where were they?), that they could have saved themselves about $20mil in rendering and animation for that scene and just have a guy in a lab coat come on screen and read from a clipboard. It was easily as bad as any of the Charlie Chan Trade Federation scenes from Ep. 1.
But really, it’s all just fluff and nonsense when it comes down to it. This is a movie whose sole purpose is to have Michael Bay scream at your eyes for 3 hours, and at that it succeeds magnificently. I go to Bay movies to see stuff blow up in entertaining ways. I go to Bay movies to have crass bathroom stall humor blown up to billboard size. And most importantly, I go to Michael Bay movies because they watch like an Ameri-gasmic retelling of Triumph of the Will. This is that movie. The Marines are awesome. The military hardware? Double awesome. Having “the inspector” thrown out of the airplane by the guy that should be playing Duke in GI Joe? Triple awesome with a side of curly awesome fries. And yes, I’ll go ahead and supersize that.
As far as the cast is concerned, Shia LaBeouf (I once heard, apocryphally, that his name literally translates as “The Beef King”) is actually not terrible here, and while Megan Fox is a terrible, terrible actress, damn she purty. The real strength of the cast (yes, I said strength) is in the supporting characters. Josh Duhamel as Major Lennox is a goddamn miracle worker with a less-than-stellar script. He sells every line he has. Tyrese Gibson as Master Sgt. Epps isn’t in it much, but he gets the job done. Shia’s parents in the movie are both fine, but the dad in particular is actually very good–I’ll be honest with you, I teared up a little at the scene where Shia tells them to go on without him and the dad didn’t want to leave his boy. John Turturro is one of my favorite character actors working today, and here as the CIA agent Simmons (who apparently lost his job somewhere between the first movie and this movie) is entertaining, but also succeeds in being enough of a 3-dimensional character that you become emotionally invested in him. When he has one of the multitudes of minor victories that movies like this, if done well, reward their minor characters with, you actually want to cheer for him. I saw this in a mostly-packed theater, and yes, people did cheer.
Here’s the thing. The directors are screwed up for these movies. Bay should never have been put in charge of Transformers. Seriously, that’s really more of a Sam Raimi thing. Bay should have been given the reigns of GI Joe from the start. I can guaran-damn-tee you that if Bay had made the GI Joe movie it would have wound up being our favorite movie of all time. Because Bay can tap into that 12-year-old’s psyche that still lives somewhere in your brainstem and show you exactly what you want the world to look like. All the Marines are heroic and brave, all of them are best friends, and all of them rail against the oppression of the white-collar bureaucracy. The women are all pretty, perky, pneumatic, and totally hot for you. And even if you’re nothing more than a disgraced CIA analyst who now lives with his mother and makes ends meet by working in a Jewish deli, as long as you love your country hard enough, you too can save the day by having a rail gun shoot a robot in the testicles.
Let’s be clear: Ebert, et al, are right. This is a terrible piece of filmmaking. It’s a toy commercial. It reminds me of the Animaniacs skit, where there is a movie made of nothing but explosions, punctuated only occasionally by a man in a general’s uniform, holding a red phone, saying “Oh my G…” and cut to another explosion. But here’s the thing. It has heart, if no head, and its heart is in the right place. I went to this movie expecting trash, and I got that. But I also went expecting to be lifted, if only for a moment, from the daily drudgery of adult existence, and to once again be that 9-year-old kid that got Starscream for his birthday. I wanted to sit in a dark room and have Michael Bay tell me that I’ll grow up to be a hero, because God dammit I’m an American and that’s what counts. I got what I wanted.
In lieu of stars, I hereby give this movie 3 Decepticon Testicles.
Tags: 3-star, Amerigasm, Animaniacs, CGI, Ebert, Episode I, Explosions, GI Joe, John Turturro, Josh Duhamel, Marines, Megan Fox, Michael Bay, Phillip K. Dick, Ridley Scott, Robots, Sam Raimi, SFX, Shia LaBeouf, Transformers, Triumph of the Will, Tyrese Gibson