Monday, June 29, 2009

On headache and heartache - spoileriffic

Okay, so "heartache" might be a bit dramatic. But disappointment is definitely there. I saw Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Thursday at the McWane Center in staggering IMAX. And I suppose I should see it again in standard theatreview before I make a judgment, since I only really caught the center third of the movie and had to crane my neck to see any action to the sides. But a few things, a few chunks of plot - or lack thereof - still came through, and... ugh.

Ten reasons the best part of "Beer, Barbecue, and Autobots" was the beer and barbecue:


1. The lurrrv. Did anyone particularly care about the romantic subplot? I sure didn't. It seemed kind of shoehorned in there, almost as a salute to the first movie but without any purpose of its own in the sequel. The relationship itself was one of those that seemed to be based on shared dramatic circumstances with no other real foundation than a mutual love of cars. So when they're worrying about maintaining a cross-continent relationship in the beginning, I didn't particularly care if it was going to work out; I was more affected by Sam's tender breakup scene with Bumblebee. And then he's getting the eye from the blonde chick at the party, which didn't, to me, represent any kind of legitimate threat to his existing relationship because obviously a chick like that would have no interest in a guy like him without some kind of ulterior motive. And then Mikaela flies over - announced - and wigs out when she finds him getting sexually assaulted by an alien robot in his dorm room, completely ignoring the glaring facts that a) knowing that his girlfriend is going to show up any second, he's probably not going to choose that moment to initiate a makeout session with some other girl, and b) as mentioned above, a chick like that is almost certainly not into him for the smoothness with which he dramatically flipped out in astronomy class. And then, even after the true circumstances behind the assault are made strikingly clear, she continues to bitch at him about it.

And then, of course, we come to the scene where as he lies at or near death in the sands of Egypt, she finally realizes what she's lost and utters those three words she's been holding back for so long. Because without him, something would be missing from her life, and that something is... something. It's left to our imagination. Twoo wuv. Four years of Web chats. Long-distance jealousy and mistrust. I commended the first film for its avoidance of the hackneyed pause-to-kiss-in-the-midst-of-battle, but Michael Bay made up for it in this one with the hackneyed dead-guy-revived-by-the-power-of-love (and, to some extent, the power of ancient alien robots).

Verdict? An aside stapled into the movie to entertain the girlfriends while their guys ooh over the explosions and oogle a sweaty and dirty Mikaela. Thanks, Michael Bay.

2. The family subplot. Again, it felt like something shoehorned in to add depth to the movie but ultimately just added... stuff. Sam's mom spends the first half-hour of the movie hysterically weepy (when she isn't stoned) about him leaving, while his dad has a single not-quite teary quasi-moving moment in the front yard of their house. We don't see them again until they're kidnapped halfway through the movie, and then Bumblebee rescues them, and then Sam is comforting his dad and telling him he has to let go, and his mom is the voice of reason, like Pop is the one who's been clinging and peeing himself over Sam's departure all this time. Plot continuity, thy name is someone else.

3. The characters. Was anyone able to find any? You'd think that, having had to lay down a lot of groundwork in the first movie, the filmmakers would have capitalized on that, made the most of familiar characters, and explored a little bit of backstory and motivation. Yeah, I know, I'm an idealist. Instead, we get the standard introduction of tons of new characters in the interest of tons of new merchandise. Optimus Prime and Bumblebee had to return, of course, but O.P. gets whacked early on and Bumblebee hardly makes an appearance - especially in robot mode - after getting dumped at the beginning. Jazz was, of course, whacked in the first movie, so he wasn't coming back, but Ratchet returns to deliver, what, all of one line? And apparently, Ironhide is in it, but I had no idea. I don't remember seeing him at all.

Instead, we get a cast of underdeveloped, unknown Autobots who apparently only show up for battle scenes and dramatic establishing group shots. We get Sideswipe, who rollerblades, and Jolt, who does something with whips. We also get Jetfire, a geriatric, crotchety, British-accented SR-71 Blackbird who grew on me and actually brings a lot of the funny before it becomes apparent that he was brought in purely to die and provide spare parts for Optimus Prime's dramatic resurrection.

Who do we get a lot of? Mudflap and Skids, two characters that start out as a single pink and white multiple-personality ice cream truck and turn into two cars to deliver a dose of the funny as the Black Gay Stereotype Comic Duo. For all values of "funny" equal to "Jar-Jar Binks." These two bumbling boobs are, inexplicably, given the responsibility of protecting Sam and his horndog college roommate, for lots of excruciating screen time. Lots. A lot.

4. The shard. Why does Sam get whammied by the shard of the Allspark? He carried the entire mysteriously lightweight cube through the second half of the first movie and bodily shoved it into Megatron's chest without going nuts, but suddenly a little-ittle sliver of it is enough to stuff him with alien brilliance and send him into Einsteinian micro-machine mode in the middle of class.

5. The chick robot. Pardon me for my obligatory feminist rant, but the character of Arcee confuses me. When I was little, of course, an awesome (albeit pink) sports car-spaceship thing that transformed into a chick robot with mad skillz was the coolest thing. But as I got older, I started to wonder - if we can assume that robots don't reproduce sexually, why would they have different genders? And why pink? And, for that matter, why was Hot Rod the only robot who got a girlfriend? That's why I was kind of impressed that the first movie (2007, not 1986) didn't include her as an attempted bone tossed to the feminists. But they dragged her out for the sequel, giving her about seven seconds of screen time and one line, which I don't remember, before she goes the way of that silver car and that other one.

And not that the audience has time to notice, but now Arcee conveniently transforms into three motorcycles, for three times the shelf space at Toys R Us.

6. Devastator's nuts. I know, I know, it was the funny, and it got a chuckle, but the single reason for their inclusion was for John Turturro to look up and comment on them. Cheap.

7. Magic. I know it sounds silly to start talking about realism in a movie about invading alien robots, but the cool thing about the first movie is that it managed to justify just about every sci-fi move made, to the point where suspending disbelief wasn't really a challenge. The sequel brought that, and then it brought in visions of ancient robots that bring Sam back from the dead and a mystical "Matrix of Leadership" (gag) that, through the magic of Sam's theretofore undisplayed greatness, reforms from charcoal dust to form a Klingon K-bar capable of bringing Optimus Prime back from the scrap heap. Come on. Y'all took the time to design robots that, when transforming, managed to account for every single panel and gear of the original form, but when it came to reviving Prime, you resorted to robot pixie dust? Give me a Peterbilt-sized break.

8. The headache. This is one gripe that may be mitigated by a viewing in a standard movie theatre, but by the end of the IMAX version, girlfriend needed a Motrin and a liedown. There was the constant on-screen chaos - "Michael Bay has never met an explosion he didn't like," Doug said - and the robot carnage and the noise-noise-noise-noise. It became so tedious and uninterrupted - not to mention lengthy - that I actually started drifting off during some of the action scenes.

9. The length. They could have cut it by 45 minutes and I still would have been... pretty bored.

10. The beefcake. Couldn't we have stood a little more contribution from Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson? Preferably sweaty and dirty. Okay, so yeah, I'd appreciate a little something for the ladies. Hey, I have a heart. And loins.

So dinner was great. And hanging out at the McWane Center is always really cool, because there are all these exhibits that you can play with, like physics stuff and one of those frozen-image walls and this cool video game that's the size of a dance floor and you play it with your feet. And when Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen comes to your local second-run dollar theatre, I fully recommend that you see it and get a big bag of popcorn. And if you decide to shell out ten bucks and two and a half hours to see it right now... well, that's your call.

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