Tuesday, 23 June 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

In the first Transformers film director Michael Bay struggled with the Spielbergian conceit of a lonely boy and his alien pal - the fantastical grounded in a high school status predicament. Is my car cool enough to get girls? It's a premise I can't imagine the swaggering Bay has the least bit of interest in. Bay doesn't make films concerned with real people or their problems. Instead his films are about grotesque stereotypes outrunning explosions.

If his films are any indication, Michael Bay is basically a sociopath or, at the very least, an adman. He has a hard-on for James Cameron and so likes to build three hour chase films full of violent, shapeless robots. People are essentially alien to him, they're either gorgeous possessions or ugly and funny. Nothing else has value. Bay is like one of the Scott brothers filtered through moneyed living, conservative politics, and aspirational music video ignorance. Just enough alienation to make him hate too. What Michael Bay can do though is photograph unthinking machinery in action. His films are always at their most engaging when the director is careening from rolling military briefings to explosive engagement. This is the material that Bay can best project himself onto - ruthless efficiency, informed by all the gadgets money can buy. Anything else, he flounders.

The ideal Michael Bay film would be a forty-five minute long, silent action sequence in which an unfeeling thing breaks lesser versions of itself. Everything else the director produces is as phoney as Buffalo Bill's broken arm. With that in mind, the first adrenalised stretch of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen holds. The adult Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, are working in tandem with a Coalition of the Willing wet work team, tracking deep-cover Decepticon cells. Unlike the first film, in which Prime and pals were portrayed as slapstick action figures, here they are a tight soldiering unit. The Decepticons are also afforded a little more dramatic wriggle room, enduring a cosmic hierarchy inherited from The Empire Strikes Back. Even Sam's witless college excursion is enlivened by a fuck and kill sexbot strand that Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines was too unambitious to pursue.

This first section is a fast forward rumination on biological jealousy and automated hatred. The live action re-design of the transformers, that stresses a flayed, mechanical musculature, couples with Bay's endemic crudities to congeal into a workable thesis. How can a sexless metal titan relate to a fragile mass of tissue and organs? The impotent Megatron, father to countless stillborn atrocities, dispatches agents to seduce and penetrate Sam. When Megatron finally has the human in his possession, he expounds on a desire to tear the teenager apart to see what makes him work. The Decepticons are a nightmare - might monsters who gleefully cannibalise inferior comrades to resurrect their junked high-command. A terrible unit of alien vivisectionists, vomiting up ever shrinking subordinates to invade every level of human experience.

Transformers in Fallen are rootless alien super beings, stranded on a rock manned by wheezing biological germs. They seethe hatred. Never more so than when the two factions clash. They claw at each other, grasping at exposed pistons and joints. This mechanical battling is vicious in a way rarely explored in mainstream pugilism. A lack of recognisable biology helps to keep things ratings board friendly too.

There's a palpable sense of loathing between the combatants as they systematically dismantle each other. Binary hatred being explored by whizz-kid ILM animators, their heads full of childhood toy junking and anime blocking. The forest fight sequence that tops the first half is a crescendo of pivoting total violence. Fallen never comes close to repeating this success, bogging itself down with a witless McGuffin race complete with racist comic relief, relentless misogyny, and a flatulent stealth codger. All of the 2007 model's disastrous faults return for this distended concluding run. Attention plummets as Fallen locks into a mugging, minstrel act for cackle-minded simpletons. I began to doubt it ever held my interest at all.

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