Sunday, December 20, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Is it redundant to state that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) is about product placement? It is first of all a matter of franchise—establishing momentum in a series of intense-action films about giant robots engaging in an ongoing battle of good and evil. Revenge of the Fallen is the second Transformers film, and surely it will not be the last. In the final scene the voice of the uber-robot Optimus Prime assures us that the transformers and the human race will be allies for years to come—enough logic for a sequel. The Transformers films are based on a line of toy robots manufactured by Hasbro, a company which surely must share in whatever profits the film earns, and that will sell more toy robots as a result of the interest it generates among the toy-purchasing population.

To make this clear, or at the least to make clear that it makes no pretense about motive, a message early in the film announces that it is based on a line of toys created by Hasbro.

A major flaw in this sequel is the over complicated story. In the first film there is a certain novelty in the revelations that giant and not-so-giant robots lie hidden in cars, toasters, cranes, and other mechanical or electrical devices, and that their mission is to protect the human race from undisclosed menace. In the sequel, novelty is replaced with an overly complex mythology involving Egypt and ancient rivalries between a race of robots, loosely resembling the ancient war in heaven that is part of Judaeo-Christian mythology. The more the story unfolds, the more ridiculous it becomes.

Another element of product placement in the film is Megan Fox. In between this sequel and the 2007 original, she became a popular culture phenomenon, fetishized by the media, teenage boys, and apparently also by Michael Bay, director of the Transformer films. Bay’s name is appropriate to one of the primary cinematic devices in the film: slow-motion camera sequences focused on flimsily clad, highly developed, usually female human bodies moving in slow motion down the beach. This technique alone made the 1990s television show Baywatch what it was, which was not much. In Transformers the camera focuses on Fox’s pulsating, heaving breasts, partially hidden (and revealed) by whatever flimsy shirt or blouse she is wearing, as she runs straight on towards the camera, or across the screen, fleeing from marauding hostile robots. Fox is Mikaela Baines, the girlfriend of Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBoeuf), the presumptive main character of the film. While he leaves for his first year at college, she stays at home, painting designs on motorcycles and cars—at least until hostile robots threaten to take over the world and destroy the sun. But Witwicky is not really the main character—Megan Fox is, along with the oversized robots that compete with her for time on screen. Next to them, the plot and LaBoeuf’s Witwicky matter very little if at all.

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