Transformers 2: How Bad Can it Be?

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Transformers Revenge of the Fallen

[Published 26 June 2009; Updated 28th October 2009]

One of my favourite ever film reviews was in Photoplay. I forget who the critic was (I was about twelve), but it was for Friday XIII Part V. It read: “Not since Citizen Kane has there been a film so … just kidding.” And that was it. Puerile, dismissive, haughty and daft, but there’s something delicious about bad film reviews. I have no intention of seeing Michael Bay’s Transformers: Revenge of the Filler; I don’t want to be judgmental about a film I haven’t seen, but having spent valuable time on his other films and been infuriated every time, I feel confident that I’ll be better off gving this one a miss. It’s time to stop blithely accepting this crud as “just a bit of fun”. I know, it’s not supposed to be Bergman. But it might at least aspire to being Simon West. I’ve spent a good portion of what passes for my academic career defending spectacular cinema from charges of simplistic numbskullery. Spectacle has an important cultural role to play in exercising the physical, visceral aspects of spectatorship. But the wow factor is always multiplied when it’s packaged in a thought-provoking way. Whatever you think of the Matrix films, you can see how their visual effects compliment the themes and philosophical issues they want you to mull over, probably on a repeat viewing. Glorious eye candy sweetens the bitter pill of even the grimmest dystopia or challenges preconceptions of what it means to be a human in a human body. Or it can make big robots hit each other.

Transformers was the film that tipped me over the edge. I didn’t muster up any hatred for it (it was quite clear in its intentions, at least), but I didn’t get it visually. I couldn’t figure out which robot was which, or why I should care about them fighting, and I couldn’t really make sense of the fast cutting and frenetic action. It finally made me feel out of step with mainstream cinema, like that moment when you first notice that BBC Radio 1 is not playing any music you understand and that lightweight news-based quiz programme on Radio 4 is probably more your speed (sorry to non-Brits for the culturally specific reference…).

Having just written a couple of posts about King Kong punching things, I probably need to fend off some charges of hypocrisy: what makes Japanese monster movies charming, while Transformers is dismissed as an amoebically stupid, poop-dumb military masturbation fantasy? Both of them were thin concepts pegged to merchandising and toys. Well, one has grown old enough to acquire some kitsch value. The other is Transformers. One of them didn’t cost $200,000,000 to make. The other is Transformers. One of them built lovely miniature sets by hand using age-old crafts of engineering, carpentry and modelwork. The other is Transformers. All of my prejudices are old-fashioned, for sure. Transformers gives movies about giant robots thumping other giant robots a bad name. But the real sin of Michael Bay’s films is their numbingly cynical repetitiveness, and their underestimation of the intelligence of cinemagoers.

Transformers Revenge of the Falling

Anyway, the main thing is that I’m having fun reading some of the insults being hurled at the film from all quarters, which will no doubt be as effective against its box office shell as the gunfire that always glances off Godzilla’s rubbery skin.

This from Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian:

Bay has a great love of flashy effects, stroboscopic editing and loud crashes; he famously calls his cinematic technique “fucking the frame”. That phrase might be brutal, but it’s accurate. And there’s no doubt about it: he really has given the frame a right old seeing-to this time. Bay has turned up at the frame’s flat with some unguent massage oils, scented candles and a hundredweight of Viagra. It isn’t long before the headboard of the frame’s bed is crashing repeatedly against the wall, while the frame gazes up at the ceiling … and I think the frame is faking it.

According to Roger Ebert:

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a horrible experience of unbearable length, briefly punctuated by three or four amusing moments. One of these involves a dog-like robot humping the leg of the heroine. Such are the meager joys. If you want to save yourself the ticket price, go into the kitchen, cue up a male choir singing the music of hell, and get a kid to start banging pots and pans together. Then close your eyes and use your imagination.

From Anthony Quinn in The Independent:

Fourteen-year-old boys will get their money’s worth. This boring, preposterous nonsense is stretched to an agonising two-and-a-half hours, the last battle scene alone – where the pyramids of Egypt crumble (thanks guys!) – seeming to last longer than the whole of The Iliad. That at least was poetry. This is just machinery.

Getting the point? Many critics are using metaphors of head trauma, skull-beatings and physical violence to describe the experience of watching this thing. Here’s some more:

Matt Bochenski at Little White Lies takes pertinent swipes at the film’s conservative politics, but it’s funnier when he’s attacking its director:

However blinding the film’s bright spots, there’s simply no getting past Bay’s reductive disinterest in the mechanics of filmmaking. Indeed, in one cheeky scene, he makes it clear exactly what he thinks of all those brainiacs who complain about how, well, fucking stupid his films are by blowing the shit out of a library. But the point remains: Bay is an awful storyteller who’ll sacrifice any element of logic or reason to serve the greater goal of aesthetics. The film raises all sorts of questions that it doesn’t stop to consider: why, if Transformers have been around for millennia, do they all look like late-twentieth-century model cars? Why, if they have the special new technology seen in Sam’s college, do they not make more use of it? Why did the Decepticons not notice that an entire US battle fleet was parked above the spot where they sank Megatron? Why, if the US has a special naval doomsday gun, do they not just shoot all the bad guys with it? Why is Michael Bay such a shit director? Stuff like that.

Peter Travers in Rolling Stone digs deep into his reserves of contempt:

Disguised as a human director, Bay is actually a destroyer of dreams. When Hasbro invented those Transformers toys, the intention was for kids to use their imagination about what those bots would morph into. Bay crushes that imagination with his own crude interpretations that seem untouched by human hands and spirit. I know there are still 17 months to go, but I’m thinking Transformers 2 has a shot at the title Worst Movie of the Decade.

Mike Ward questions the wisdom of some of the film’s dramatic choices:

Toward the end, when Shia almost dies, he “sees the light” and spends a few minutes in Transformer heaven hanging out at the the pearly, errrr, silicon chip gates and chattin’ with the spirits of dead Autobots. The robot spirits instruct him to return to earth and make another “Transformers” sequel so their robot grandchildren can reap merchandise rewards and go to college – and aren’t forced to get their CDLs and slum it hauling Chinese carnival prizes coast to coast. OK, I only made up that last part. The rest is all true.

By now, I think the reviews are getting as repetitive as a Michael Bay film. Could it be that the film is just too dull to inspire any real venom? This from Russ Fischer at Slashfilm:

Transformers is dull, ponderous and overlong, packed to the gills with glamor shots of busy robot designs and Megan Fox , flashes of idiocy (a small robot humping the leg of Fox, who smiles at it fondly) and endless examples of Bay’s increasingly tedious military porn. If summer entertainment is meant to be diverting and imaginative, Revenge of the Fallen succeeds only in that it drove me into periods of catatonic daydreaming, where I imagined watching anything else.

Mary Ann Johanson whips out the hyperbole, which seems appropriate in this case:

I’m certain that someday it will be acknowledged that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is like the most totally awesome artifact ever of the end of the American empire. It’s so us, a preposterously perfect reflection of who we are: loud, obnoxious, sexist, racist, juvenile, unthinking, visceral, and violent… and in love with ourselves for it. And Michael Bay is the high priest of our self-engrossment. It’s not enough that we like blowing shit up: the blowing shit up must be transubstantiated into something religious by having, say, a ridiculously gorgeous girl humping a motorcycle, her face aglow in the golden hour of sunset as she watches the shit get blown up, her glossy lips parted just a little in orgasmic joy.

Megan Fox in Transformers Revenge of the Fallen

How shit is Transformers 2? Without having seen it, I can’t say for certain. But it has a score by Hans Zimmer and Linkin Park. What more do you need to know?

If you know of any more choice reviews that eloquently slag off les films de Michael Bay, let me know and I’ll add them to my collection. EDIT: I recognise (as I noted above) that these reviews are one-note rants, the point where critics have stopped having fun and despaired of this stuff, but if you can find a positive article about Bay, one that makes constructive sense, I would be genuinely interested to read it; in the past, I’ve changed my mind about Roland Emmerich (except in relation to Godzilla, which stinks in every respect), so anything is possible.


Another funny review, from io9, which dubs ROTF (coincidence that the film’s title is the acronym for “Rolling on the Floor”? I think not…) “a brilliant art movie about the illusory nature of plot”. Relax, it’s ironic:

You have a movie that tries to reassure men that they can actually be masters of their reality — but then turns around and says that actually, reality is not real. There’s no such thing as the “real world,” and the only thing that’s left for men to dominate is a nebulous domain of blurred shapes, which occasionally blurt nonsensical swear-words and slang from ethnic groups that have never existed. If you’re drowning in an Olympic swimming pool full of hot chewing gum fondue, do you still care if Megan Fox likes you? So yes, ROTF approaches the sublime, and then just keeps rocketing. Next stop: total anarchy. In a sense, it’s the first war movie ever to convey a real sense of the fog of war, the confusion that comes with battle. Somewhere around hour nine, you will understand why friendly fire happens in wartime.

Drew McWeeny begins his review at Motion/Captured thus:

I have never felt more like a third nipple than I did, as a screenwriter, while watching Michael Bay’s new movie, Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen.

I would have left at that myself, but he continues, veering towards a stalwart defence of the film:

In some ways, I think “Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen” is the movie that fanboys have been slowly but surely placing down payments on for the last 20 years of pop cinema.  When I hear people complain that it’s overstuffed and indulgent and excessive, I am sort of amazed that they feel the need to point that out.  OF COURSE IT IS.  That’s what Hollywood believes you want.  Thanks to the way we’ve rewarded the lowest common denominator wrapped in the shiniest package, summer after summer after summer, and the way we seem to constantly demand that sequels turn everything up louder, make everything longer, and fill the frame with moremoreMORE, Michael Bay stands astride Hollywood like the perfectly evolved Modern Action Director.

So, the film is not evil, it’s just the natural outgrowth of the economic state of the film culture? But then, it all gets a bit more objectionable:

Politically, this movie couldn’t be more out-of-step with the so-called “liberal media.”  I actually found that subtext far more squirm-worthy than the racial stuff.  Optimus Prime is, sorry to say, a genocidal creep, and his zeal for pulling the heads and spines off the Decepticons is more disturbing than heroic.  Realizing just how little I have in common with the mindset of the film, I disconnected emotionally from it completely, and maybe that’s why the spectacle of it all worked for me.

Does that mean that the film is using spectacle to mask some dodgy ethical positions, or that those positions are naturally insinuated with a love of head-thumping special effects? This may be why the film can’t just be shrugged off as light entertainment – contained within the “just for fun” disclaimers is an injunction not to look away while the subtexts are administered: focus on the giant robot, do not look away from the giant robot…

28th October 2009:

I still haven’t seen Transformers 2. Never really had the chance or the inclination, and my reasons for not making the effort are hopefully clear from the first section of this post. But maybe I will have to sit down and watch it at some point. As an academic, it won’t be the first or the last time I’ve had to sit through something that doesn’t appeal to me, giving it a fair crack as a bit of history or cultural production. This post has been amongst the most visited of everything I’ve posted at Spectacular Attractions, perhaps because some passing traffic gets pulled in by the picture of Meagan Fox (thus implicating me in the cycle of objectification from which I end up benefiting), or perhaps because plenty of people were interested in responses to the film; sometimes more interesting than our own experience of a film is the process of comparing our thoughts with others or defending our interpretation. Despite starting the post that produced a number of interesting responses in the comments section, I can’t fully participate in the discussion of a film I haven’t seen, yet I’m loathe to give my money/vote to this film – whatever my academic endeavours require of me, I’m still participating in a commercial exchange, which is always an ethical choice.

Megan Fox - Transformers 2 Revenge Of The Fallen Seoul 02While I’m wrestling with my miniature ethical dilemmas, here’s a bit more about Transformers 2, which has already given me plenty of enjoyment via hilariously scathing reviews. But there’s also a bit of banter back-and-forth by the film’s personnel. Meagan Fox opened fire with her description of director Michael Bay in Wonderland Magazine:

He’s like Napoleon and he wants to create this insane, infamous mad-man reputation. He wants to be like Hitler on his sets, and he is. So he’s a nightmare to work for but when you get him away from set, and he’s not in director mode, I kind of really enjoy his personality because he’s so awkward, so hopelessly awkward. He has no social skills at all. And it’s endearing to watch him. He’s vulnerable and fragile in real life and then on set he’s a tyrant.

Cute. But not entirely damning or nasty. You could actually see these as humanising comments about a man who most people would assume was a Poundland James Cameron, a one-note, steroidal freak. A group of crew members came to Bay’s defence, though, and their attack on Ms Fox in an open letter to the press is far more unpleasant:

When facing the press, Megan is the queen of talking trailer trash and posing like a porn star. And yes we’ve had the unbearable time of watching her try to act on set, and yes, it’s very cringe-able. So maybe, being a porn star in the future might be a good career option. But make-up beware, she has a paragraph tattooed to her backside (probably due her rotten childhood) — easily another 45 minutes in the chair!

And who is the real Megan Fox? She is very different than the academy nominee and winning actors we’ve all worked around. She’s as about ungracious a person as you can ever fathom. She shows little interest in the crew members around her. We work to make her look good in every way, but she’s absolutely never appreciative of anyone’s hard work. Never a thank you. All the crewmembers have stopped saying hi to Ms. Princess because she never says hello back. It gets tiring. Many think she just really hates the process of being an actress.

Fox seems to attract a great deal of hatred. Apparently, she’s not supposed to speak her mind. I wouldn’t have expected her to have anything much interesting to say, so I’m not sure what people are expecting, and why she deserves this kind of vitriol. Perhaps someone could explain.

For the sake of balance, here’s a positive review of Transformers 2:

This does exactly what you expect from a Bay film. Explosions, hot girls, piles of military hardware and nary a thought for plot as it hurtles recklessly toward an epic, money-shot climactic fight outside the pyramids. We get to see every penny of the CGI budget onscreen as upwards of 40 robots collide. If there isn’t a part of you that doesn’t enjoy the site of an especially massive robot called ‘Devastator’, complete with two huge wrecking balls between its legs, punching the top off the Sphinx, I pity you.

Crazed, hyperactive and nonsensical. It’s also curiously lovable and a true multiplex movie. Roll out and see it now.

Again, I find it interesting that the film’s stupidity, either endearing or stultifying, is the basis of both positive and negative reviews.

18thFebruary 2010:

I think I may have found a paean of praise to Michael Bay, and it’s almost rather touching. It comes from academic Jeanine Basinger, via Bay’s own website, and talks about his time as her student at Wesleyan University. This article comes from around the time of the release of Armageddon:

The first time I saw Michael Bay, he was a polite eighteen-year-old who stopped by my office at Wesleyan University to tell me he wanted to major in Film Studies. He also asked me if I would like to see his still photographs. As a teacher, I believe there is only one answer to that question: “Of course.” (It’s my job.) Over the years, I’ve seen a great deal of material from freshmen—short stories, novels, plays, ceramics, paintings, sculptures, prints, fashion designs, videos, computer art, movies in 8mm and 16mm, even recipe collections—but I have yet to see anything like Bay’s high school photos. They were astonishing—revealing an amazing eye for composition, an instinct for capturing movement, and an inherent understanding of implied narrative. Later, I saw this same ability in film classes. In history/theory, he listened intently, but said little, speaking mostly to ask keen questions or to deal with what he felt was nonsense from his peers. But in film production classes, he was the Road Runner, taking off on his own, needing little guidance. His senior film, Benjamin’s Birthday, won Wesleyan’s Frank Capra Prize for Best Film, and it was definitely what we now know as a “Michael Bay Film.” It was funny. It was fast. And it featured a very ritzy yellow Porsche. It told its story clearly, but in a highly nonverbal manner. Bay was ahead of his age group, but he was also ahead of his time. He still is.

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34 thoughts on “Transformers 2: How Bad Can it Be?

    • Thankyou, Sergio – for the swift reply, and for mollifying my grouchiness. I’ll modify the post to make a plea for positive thoughts about Bay. I’d be perfectly willing to be persuaded. I admire Armond White’s counterintuitive attempt to rationalise the superficiality of Transformers as a celebration of pop cultural artefacts (a very generous way of interpreting the toyshop franchising that’s really going on here), but he lost me at the point where he describes it as a “post-nuclear version of Hoffman’s The Nutcracker“. Hoffmann, at various points, hated machines and was very suspicious of them, and all the imaginative work is done for you in the gross detail of CGI – there’s no room for the unsettling weirdness of objects required for the uncanny to take effect.

      And, to be honest, I just can’t get my head around this:

      “Bay photographs Fox and luscious/vicious rival Isabel Lucas like pin-ups—a pop culture joke encompassing what every young girl, post-Madonna, is told is OK. (They’re girls “with options” as Sam says.) There’s still advertising porn in Bay’s soul, but it’s so expressive of the media norm that it’s funny—proof we’re watching nothing more than fantasy.This commercialized life force “Cannot be destroyed, only transformed,” as a Decepticon warns. Transforming is the capitalist dream of rebranding. It’s not transcendence—thus, the need for the basic sci-fi story of good vs. evil, where Revenge of the Fallen alludes to the story of Lucifer.”

      How do I distinguish the objectification of women/toys/cars from the ironic interpretation White offers? When is a leering upskirt shot (Megan Fox has claimed that her audition for the film required her to do nothing more than wash Michael Bay’s car, but I’m not sure if this is just a rumour) a “pop culture joke”? I know it’s possible to do this – Starship Troopers is a spectacular blockbuster movie that makes you feel uneasy about spectacular blockbuster movies, and even Roland Emmerich manages a delicious moment of self-parody every now and then, but I’ve usually found Bay an unreconstructed, sentimental and self-absorbed traditionalist. He might not claim to be making anything other than entertainment, but I’m a little tired of the “it’s-only-entertainment” defence being used to avoid challenging yourself and your audience.

      • As I said, I haven’t seen the film yet… Two unrelated points, however.

        (1) I think the song from Team America is very funny – but unfair from a critical perspective. PEARL HARBOR, a terrible film, is an anomaly within Bay’s filmography (that’s not made of war dramas).

        (2) You ask: “How do I distinguish the objectification of women/toys/cars from the ironic interpretation White offers?” I can say something about the first film. You imply that a film must signal its distance from the mere celebration of the negative aspects of our culture. TRANSFORMERS is not a satire, like STARSHIP TROOPERS, but such distance indeed exists. It’s about fantasy as something connected with adulthood and responsibility (a not so obvious connection). How do you distinguish between the two? The first film is seen through Sam’s (Shia LaBeouf) amazed eyes, who gets his first car (a token, a rite of passage) and sees technology, machines, and Mikaela (Megan Fox) as realized fantasies. This reveals how contemporary culture (and the fantasies it creates) works. I reckon that’s Armond’s point: that this new film also exposes – and records – this truth about our time, about its images, our imagination, and their links. This is one one of the things that art should do.

      • That’s a persuasive interpretation, Sergio. This may be a question of preference – art may be observational about contemporary culture, but I tend to like it more when art critiques and reworks truths about our time rather than flattering and magnifying them. We don’t live in a world where fantasies can or should be wished into being: this is wish fulfilment, which is fine on its own, but deserves to be attacked when all it can wish for is a simplified world where brute force settles conflict and women run as smoothly as finely tuned engines. I found Transformers to be a deadening experience because it it was visually inelegant and excessive in every way – sometimes a sunset can make things a little more beautiful, but it loses its impact when it accompanies every scene; loud noise is more effective when it’s counterposed with silence etc. By thinking that surplus is all his audience desire, and fearing that a light touch will lose their attention, he misjudges another aspect of contemporary culture – that consumption doesn’t have to be instant/constant gratification. Just because you like a bowl of ice cream for dessert, it doesn’t mean you want it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, too.

        I agree with you that Transformers contributes to a cultural dreamscape and proposes a particular approach to fantasy. Surely every cultural product released into the wild does some of that, however trashy it might seem. I just don’t happen to like or respond to its vision of how the world works. I don’t think it takes a critical approach to issues of technology and consumption; it just shakes you by the shoulders and says “wouldn’t it be freakin’ cool if all our hardware was alive and kicking, and chicks were all a little less so?” To which my answer would be: “No. Enough shit gets blown up these days without someone trying to make blowing shit up look sexy.” It was fun for a while, but enough is enough. The fantasy reading of Transformers you propose seems plausible to me, but aren’t fantasies supposed to let us allegorise the world in terms that show how we might make it beautiful, or how we’ve been deceived about its ugliness? The problem for me is that Transformers looks too much like the way the world really is – big guns settling fights between boys, wars fought via anthropomorphised, fetishised technology.

  1. Oh, Armond.

    So, shooting the women like pin-ups is “proof we’re watching nothing more than fantasy”. And there I was, scrabbling in the dark… Only he writes stuff as stupid and utterly meaningless as this in a professional context.

    Ebert’s rant is the liveliest thing he’s written for ages, but Nathan Lee’s review is the best I’ve read so far (he’s worth about a milllion Armonds, of course).

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  3. Yes, Nathan Lee’s article is great:

    A choice bit:

    “There’s no question that the movie achieves its primitive aim — an overwhelming vision of technological supremacy — nor that this vision has been executed with astonishing audio-visual sophistication by legions of technicians, designers, animators and crew.

    But when the lights go up, and you stagger back to reality, all that remains is a vague sense of having been relentlessly stimulated for close to three hours, as if by a low-grade electrical shock.”

    There’s a real consistency in this comparison of the film with some kind of sensory assault – ironically, both the makers/marketers of the film and the critics who hate it are reaching for the same rhetoric of overload.

  4. I was going to pollute your blog with a long rant on this movie, Dan, but since your issue here is not really about the movie, but more about the method of exposure and reception, I’ll save you the misery and just say, I agree with everything you’ve said here. And yes, I’ve seen it, and yes, it’s awful. :-)

    • Thanks, Mike – I’m so glad there are people prepared to watch this crap so I don’t have to. Ordinarily, I have a high pain threshold for trashy cinema (not many people can claim to have “researched” all of the Critters, Ghoulies and Child’s Play movies in a single week), but trash shouldn’t be this expensive, and it shouldn’t make it onto Happy Meals. But feel free to rant if you need to…

  5. Michal bay’s interpretation of the movie gives the transformers cartoon series a bad name. The real story and characters will never be truthfully told. Alex kurtzmen and robert orci also have written the worst script in history. I believe this movie insults the intelligence of human kind in all levels. The dialogue presented from beginning to end was so corny and unessecary that not even a dumb 5 year old would enjoy.

    • Thanks, Dennis – this film has brought out a tone of resignation in critics that is very telling. I wonder what the “real story and characters” might be, though. Wasn’t the franchise always compromised by its origins as a toy franchise that had to be moulded into a marketable show, rather than a story world that got co-opted for commercial ends?

    • Oh, and I’m sure you were as surprised as I was to find out that Star Trek and Transformers 2 share screenwriters…

  6. I have not seen the movie yet and I am not sure if I really want to see it. The way you described this film to me and the way all of the critics were describing this movie makes me kind of mad that Michael Bay would think that he can take a shitty plot line and cover it with shit load of robot fights. I prefer to look at movies as works of art rather than entertainment but ill let some movies get by as just being entertainment and accept them as good or decent movies. but it seems like what bay has done is he got way too cocky and crossed the line of a movie of being just entertainment to being just really fucking retarded. Thats not even what pisses me off the most though its the fact that movie goers who have seen this film are letting him get away with it. the movie goers ignorance towards picking out a quality film from a shitty film is what makes me mad. As much as I hate to say this but all my friends who have seen transformers two and said it was a good movie need to be slapped and need to be lectured on the true definiton of a good film. Also for all those movie goers who say shia lebouf and megan fox are good actors they’re fucking dumb. Im not saying theyre bad but im not saying theyre good. For shia, every film i have seen him in it seems he does the same type of role or a role that is similar. Until he is in a more serious role for a more serious film and not some retarded teenager flick he is a so-so actor in my eyes. For Megan Fox just because she is hot does not mean shit. Just because she dresses like a whore for her character in transformers two does not mean she is a good actress.

    • Steady on, Austin. I don’t think people are all stupid if they like this film. I’ve just had enough of “it’s just a bit of fun” being used to justify the huge investment in films that take no risks. We all have times when we’re in the mood for something that is enjoyable and not too demanding on the intellect. But we should all be free to choose from a vast spread of popular culture instead of having these giant hyper-marketed movies rammed down our throats, gaining attention through their sheer scale and noise and prominence.

      I quite like Shia as a performer, though his nervous schtick can get a bit tiresome, and I suspect he could do well with more complex roles than he’s been given so far. I haven’t seen Megan Fox in anything else, so I can’t say whether there’s anything else about her aside from her looks, but at least reports suggest that she’s realistic about the quality of Michael Bay films:

      • she was realistic about the movie. she has guts. but she does have a lot of growing up to do as michael bay said. she peddles herself as hollywood eye candy and then bites the hand of the one person that catapults her into the spotlight from her unsatisfying dime-a-dozen spot among the other superstar hopefuls? she’s in hollywood. hollywood wants to make money. what did she think was going to happen when she teamed up with michael bay? he creates action films. raw, womanizing, shallow, dumb, action films.

  7. i just saw it tonight and it truly disappointed me. more though i am disappointed in myself for paying for this flat predictable creation. i should have known by now that all that come out of these expensive pop culture films is hollow exploitation of vision and human desire. did someone forget that film is a hybrid creation of the arts and the most powerful persuasive tool of all time? but it sucks! cuz most of the time i, the consumer, forget that. i’ve cast my vote for more hollow spectacle. if anything i’m more disgusted with myself than with Bay and the money mongers. they’re just doing their jobs. creating a shiny new product. we, the people, are making the demand. might be too bad for Bay though. i don’t want to see another one of his movies even though he is talented. lol. yeah right, i know. one viewer out of millions.

    • Thanks, Tigerzeb. Your response doesn’t sound unusual. Bay’s defence against his critics is that his films are not to be analysed, but for entertainment: if this is the case, where are these people who are so entertained? I would’ve thought that if you spend $200,000,000 crafting pure entertainment, most people would find it entertaining and inoffensive.

  8. JAJAJAJA.. critics are a bunch of boring people who don´t have anything better than criticize what they can´t do better…. Michael Bay is not interested in your critics but in the profits … Let´s see: 200 millions in production… more than 800 million in the box office… WAO!!! what a wrong business!!!! JAJAJA.
    By the way.. I´m 40, huge fan of Transformers original series and guess what? I loved the movie…. and, do you wanna know another thing? million and millions of people thinks the same !!In the end, that´s what really matters…


    • Fortunately, we don’t assess the value of films by how much money they make. Otherwise, Home Alone II would officially be better than The Godfather Part II. Michael Bay would suddenly “care” about the critics if it turned out they liked his work.

      I’m glad you’re a fan – somebody needs to enjoy this stuff. So while you’re speaking out for it, why not explain what’s so great about it for you, instead of telling us that it made a lot of money. The fact that lots of people went to see it confirms that it was shown on more screens than any other film, and that it was heavily marketed, but it doesn’t guarantee that all those people enjoyed the film itself. I said in my post I was happy to be persuaded, and that is still true. But if this is critic-proof popular entertainment, then I’d like to see some evidence that it is at least popular.

  9. I believe Charlie Brooker described the first one as like being shat on by a dishwasher for two and a half hours, which is probably the best transformers soundbite I’ve heard.

    To date my experience of Michael Bay’s directorial oeuvre amounts to watching half of Armageddon at a mate’s house when I was 14, and ditching it to play footy or something in a then-rare act of exercise. I suppose he’s done wonders for the physical fitness of burgeoning adolescent film geeks.

    There are perhaps limited comments one can make about his place in the cinematic apparatus. Mark Kermode often slags off the “Bayification” of cinema, and there’s a sense in which treating his films as unique entities of themselves is already to miss the point – Bay (along with, in my view, James Cameron) is simply at the leading edge of machine-cinema, in which the total elevation of meticulously constructed spectacle necessarily represses narrative, semic/ideological content and what I’d like to call ‘formal dynamics’ (in the sense of the dynamic range of a sound recording).

    You can’t actually get rid of this stuff, however – all that happens is that what gets spliced in in different ways is the hegemonic forms/ideologemes. In Cameron, for example, the great advances in CGI represented by Titanic ride on the most utterly typical doomed romance fable, following the exact same narrative rhythm, with the McGuffin/framing narrative (the divers’ search for the amulet) sewn up with the technical logic of the film. The new 3d extravaganza whose name escapes me right now sounds very much of a piece. (His older work doesn’t seem so bad…Terminator 2, despite being an Arnie action extravaganza, has ‘dynamic range’ and uses it to play with predestination and time travel with a little more sophistication than your average shotgun fest; and Strange Days, which he scripted and produced, has a more complex relation to genre, though the ending is schmaltz personified.) For Bay, the result seems to be gun-porn, military-porn, and (in the case of Megan Fox) porn-porn.

    I wouldn’t want to say that this is necessarily ‘better’ or ‘worse’ than older forms of crass cinema (the chronological distance we have from those older forms actually makes it very difficult to judge – just as Linkin Park strikes us as qualitatively worse than Ratt, simply because we still have to put up with them!). But it certainly seems to be the animating spirit of blockbuster films now – an acute technological prometheanism which acts as the unlikely avatar for aesthetic reaction.


      • Yes, I was just reviewing the Avatar trailer. It looks a bit like 1970s fantasy art to me. I guess the difference between Bay and Cameron is that, while Bay presents technology (military, commercial) as “totally freakin’ awesome”, Cameron still has that ambivalence towards machines. Of course, it’s totally contradictory – he can’t bring himself to wholeheartedly condemn the hubris that produced the Titanic’s design flaws because he’s so enamoured of its scale and surface detail. There are always corrupt forces using technology for “evil” ends, but he has such faith in the power of technology to do beautiful things. It looks like, with Avatar, he’s gone the whole hog and pitched a sentimental battle between Earth’s military forces and a bunch of forest dwelling alien tribes.

  10. I didnt watch the film in the cinema, bought it on DVD…got bumped to this website from a link and cant believe what im reading.

    When did light hearted cinema become so serious??

    Why does every film that doesnt have some deep and hidden meaning all of a sudden become bad??

    It is what it is, intense, fast paced and great special effects! If you wanted to see a life revealing deep and meaningful film why not watch something designed to be that?

    For what it was, it was a good film. Good to sit down after coming home from a stressfull day and slapping something light-hearted and amusing on.

    • Hi, Richard. Sorry you got bumped here against your will. Have a look around and see if you find anything you like – I don’t usually spend my time denigrating films I don’t like, especially when I haven’t seen them, but I thought Transformers 2 was turning point for me when I would stop waiting to see if Michael Bay would turn into something interesting and just avoid his latest film. I was struck by how venomous the criticisms of the film were, so I wanted to reproduce them: it’s often fun to read reviews of bad films, especially since Michael Bay will make an absolute fortune from the film anyway (i.e. it’s a victimless crime!). But by all accounts, critics found something troubling about the film’s form of “lighthearted entertainment”, in that it was predicated on noise and spectacle rather than wit and nuance. I didn’t think 2012 was a great film, but there was plenty of knowing wit in the way it constructed its big loud action sequences and played with the conventions of the disaster movie genre. So I don’t have a vendetta against films that aim at entertainment. Criticisms of Michael Bay, I suspect, come from several positions: 1) A suspicion that this kind of massive-scale production takes away resources and attention from more deserving and artistic cinema. It’s difficult to run a varied programme of films in a multiplex when the screens have been reserved in advance for the tentpole releases of the season. 2) The stereotypical representations of ethnic minorities as supporting comic figures, and of women as aestheticised objects. Claiming that this is “only entertainment” just helps to mask the ways in which “entertainment” reinforces stereotypes that more thoughtful artists are working hard to deconstruct. 3) Two reasons is enough. I don’t need a third option, and it’s late I’m trying to leave the office, sorry…

      If you’re suggesting, though, that films like this shouldn’t be thought about, I’d have to disagree. If they enter the cultural arena, they’re up for grabs from whatever perspective people want to view them.

  11. Hi Dan,

    I very much enjoyed this article – I had stumbled across your site because you have a link to mine (thanks!).

    I’m in my 30s and loved the Transformers toys as a kid. I’m a nostalgic kind of guy, and as you mentioned, there is a place for some harmless kitsch in entertainment.

    Having said that, I could tell from the trailer of the first film that it was not my cup of tea, and waited for it to pop on on Blu-Ray disc.

    I thought it was horrible. Not quite Indy IV horrible (but then again, what could be?), but just really, really bad on so many levels that it’s really not worth going into it. You brought up some of my own complaints – the robots were so hyper-detailed my eyes couldn’t figure out what to focus on, and it all moved so fast and was cut so fast it was al some kind of computer graphic abtract (non) art…

    Anyway, I don’t know why, but I gave Transformers 2 a shot on Blu-Ray as well. It was actually much worse, I think mostly because it played out like it was a 10 hour version of the same crap.

    Please, just don’t do it. If I could undo it, I would. There is nothing more to be learned – it is utter crap. I found no entertainment value in it whatsoever. It didn’t even have any unintentionally funny bits.


  12. God this was funny!!! : ) Those reviews gave voice to feelings about Michael Bay’s awful filmmaking that I wasn’t even aware I had…

  13. Probably due to the fact that I watch movies for the sake of entertainment and de-stress, I actually hated people who love to critically-analyze movies, they seem like trying to be intellectual, as if managing some literature assignments. I’m a simple man. To me, movies are meant to be spectacular, high in budget and rich in graphics to justify their worth in big-screen. storyline is secondary (if you want to enjoy stories, go read a novel instead!) The purpose of wide-screen cinema is to magnify the aesthetic effect of a movie, so instead of trying to crack your head figuring out the loopholes of a movie, why not just enjoy it?

    As for Transformers, I dare say there will be opposite-ends of fans, people either love it or hate it. Heavy machineries appeal to the young-at-heart and fans, not those who are motion-sickness prone.

  14. Probably due to the fact that I watch movies for the sake of entertainment and de-stress, I actually hated people who love to critically-analyze movies, they seem like trying to be intellectual, as if managing some literature assignments. I’m a simple man. To me, movies are meant to be spectacular, high in budget and rich in graphics to justify their worth in big-screen. storyline is secondary (if you want to enjoy stories, go read a novel instead!) The purpose of wide-screen cinema is to magnify the aesthetic effect of a movie, so instead of trying to crack your head figuring out the loopholes of a movie, why not just enjoy it?

    As for Transformers, I dare say there will be opposite-ends of fans, people either love it or hate it. Heavy machineries appeal to the young-at-heart and fans, not those who are motion-sickness prone. :)


    • Each to their own, TP. I wouldn’t want to put a narrow definition on what cinema is or could be. There’s plenty of room for diverse forms of film – the problem comes when the theatres are full of the same few films and the low-budget stuff gets squeezed out. I see this a lot, so you’re not the only one who’s suggested “just enjoying the film” without analysing it, but it seems strange that so many people go round discussion forums telling people not to think about stuff. There is plenty of non-thought going on, so don’t worry, but those who populate blogs, forums and message boards are the ones who are choosing to think things through, to criticise, to argue and hold an opinion. To “just enjoy” something regardless is your choice, but it’s not an opinion. If you want to persuade others what makes it worthy of enjoyment, what is fun, novel, spectacular or exciting about it, then please do – I’m still waiting for someone else to actually make the case for Transformers 2 (see some of the messages above where people have helpfully offered arguments in favour of the film), instead of just assuming that we have no choice but to accept it (“shut up and eat your awesome”, as I’m fond of repeating).

  15. Thank you for your stimulating discussion on this subject, Dr. North. I was disturbed by this banal and excruciatingly boring movie’s phenomenal success and have been searching for perspectives on why this might be so. I think the gesture you identify amongst the film’s fabric, “wouldn’t it be cool if all our hardware was alive and kicking, and chicks were all a little less so… and blowing shit up look[ed] sexy…” pretty much hits the nail on the head. What disturbs me is that in spite of the movie beggaring any artistic sensibility (save technological whiz-bang), the vast majority of the moviegoing public seem to think the response to that gesture is a resounding “yes.” Is this a testament to the failure of our education system, or were the post-modernists right all along?

    • Hi, Andrew,

      I don’t know if we can blame the education system, or pinpoint a single reason why the film was successful, except that it was very heavily marketed, and a lot of people have a high tolerance for daft films if they’re led to believe that they’re a talking point. Because the film is dressed up as “just a bit of fun”, it becomes churlish or mean-spirited to criticise it. The turn towards the anti-intellectual, where thoughtful is dull and quietude is inactivity can’t be blamed on one particular artist or franchise, but Michael Bay seems like the most defiant proponent of this kind of film.

  16. I think all the bad reviewers miss the audience the movie is intended for. The movie is based on toys and cartoons from the ’80s. The people who loved those toys and cartoons as children plus their own children are whom the movie is targeted to. It’s not meant to be a dramatic movie like Titanic or West Side Story like most movie critics want every movie to be. It’s an action movie based on robots that are in a civil war that have landed on earth.

    If you don’t understand why they’re transforming into “primitive” vehicles, then you obviously have no understanding of the movie and shouldn’t comment on it. Is Transformers a movie worth getting Oscars and such? No. But that’s because it’s not what Transformers intention is.

  17. Pingback: Picture of the Week #28: Super 8 Trailer | Spectacular Attractions

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