Saturday, June 20, 2009
An honest Michael Bay movie
I can feel it.
I'm trying to deny it, but I feel it nonetheless. A desire creeping up inside of me ... a desire to potentially see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen in the theater.
Why, Vance? Why?
My official position on this movie has been one of doubt at best, sneering superiority at worst. There was nothing in me that was the least bit curious about the next chapter in this story. The silly title made it all the worse. Which Transformers are considered to have "fallen," and why did they need "revenge?" I couldn't remember. Their ability to deliver revenge, for that matter, would be entirely dependent on how far they'd "fallen" -- a lot of the time, to be "fallen" means you're dead, and you can't get revenge when you're dead. (Unless you're, like, a ghost. Robot ghosts?) What's more, I couldn't imagine why we needed to see Transformers on the screen again. Didn't the first movie say all that needed to be said, do all that needed to be done, for us to get the Transformers-based nostalgia out of our system?
But then a funny thing happened. I remembered something I'd conveniently forgotten. Namely, that I sort of liked the first Transformers.
Not enough to want to see another one, apparently -- or so I'd thought. But why not? I had fun watching it. Fun enough.
And then I noticed myself lured in by the billboards featuring a Transformer (I know almost none of their names) standing by an Egyptian pyramid. (It's not the same image as this poster, but close enough).
And then I heard that sound in the ads -- that sound the Transformers make when they go from vehicle to robot. It's a satisfying sound effect. Even though it's not very similar, it reminds me fondly of that awesome noise the giant robots made in War of the Worlds right before they started shooting. You know the one I'm talking about.
And then there's, well, Megan Fox. It's almost difficult to look at her. She's like some robot of hotness herself. It's imposing.
Michael Bay is enough of a creative bottom-feeder that it gives me great shame to consider contributing to his box office take. But should it? Maybe we need to examine whether there are certain circumstances under which it's okay to like a Michael Bay movie.
And I think there are. I think it's okay to like a Michael Bay movie if he's honest about the fact that he just wants stuff to blow up. Michael Bay is at his "best" when he doesn't try to do much more than that.
Let's take Transformers. Transformers is the ultimate example of a movie where the only thing that needs to happen is stuff blowing up. Yeah, there was a love story -- of course there was, there always is. But I don't remember it being particularly intense. And I don't remember a lot of people crying. I just remember stuff blowing up.
On the other end of the spectrum, you have Armageddon, a film I hate. What movie begs for stuff to blow up more than an asteroid movie? But not that much stuff blows up in Armageddon. No, this was one of those movies where Bay indulged his Achilles' heel for American flags, jets streaking through skies, and people blubbering emotional crap at each other. I feel like that scene where Bruce Willis says goodbye to his daughter is still going on.
You can break down much of Bay's career this way. Stuff just blew up in the two Bad Boys movies, and in The Rock, though I guess, there was probably at least a small dose of emotional crap in each of those movies. But see, I don't remember it. It didn't overwhelm the movie. Those movies aren't great -- The Rock may be his best, but that's not saying much -- but they were all they needed to be: popcorn movies.
Then you've got Pearl Harbor, the go-to movie when you're trying to slam Bay. It's bombastic and maudlin, and people are crying all over the place. The attack scenes were pretty phenomenal, actually, but all everyone remembers is the ridiculous Titanic-sized love story between Ben Affleck and Kate Beckinsale. And because I don't like throwing my initial impressions of movies under the bus (speaking of Titanic), I will admit that when I left Pearl Harbor, I was saying things like "Oh come on, it wasn't that bad." And I wasn't the only one of the four or five of us who saw it together who felt that way. Still, this movie is considered one of Bay's biggest turkeys, and it's undoubtedly because he tried to do too much.
Then there's one movie I haven't mentioned yet, which might be his worst -- even worse than Armageddon. It's The Island, and it's kind of in a category all its own. All of Bay's movies have high concepts, but this seemed to be different -- a potentially idea-heavy movie about an apocalyptic disease outbreak, cloning, and Big Brother. Yet in this movie, it's as though he didn't try to do enough. A movie that should have been about its ideas was instead about things blowing up. Michael Bay explosions that are organic to the story -- as they almost always are -- are one thing. But an orgy of car chases, helicopters and debris falling off buildings -- in a movie that should have been cerebral -- is just insulting. I don't know where this fits into my thesis, but I thought it was worth mentioning.
There's nothing essentially wrong with movies where stuff just blows up. We try to be superior to those movies because we pretend to want intellectual meat in everything we see. But sometimes, let's admit it, we just want to see chunks of shrapnel and balls of fire. We don't have to be ashamed of it.
So stick to that, Michael Bay. Blow stuff up. Just don't try to make us feel pride in America for being able to blow up stuff better than anyone else. Don't try to get us feeling jingoistic about explosions. If we need to see flapping American flags, we'll go to the state house, or a baseball game. And for crying out loud (pun intended), don't try to direct people making tearful farewells. You just can't do it, and we don't care enough about those characters to feel their pain.
Will there be tearful farewells between Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen? Or will we just get another heavy helping of robot mayhem?
I'm trying to determine if I'm going to allow myself to find out.