Transformers 2: The Defacing

Amy and I snuck out yesterday to see Transformers 2 while the kids were at their cousins’ place.  (Please note – this was Amy’s suggestion, not mine.  Because my wife is that cool.)  Currently, the movie is getting trashed in the reviews.  21% at Rotten Tomatoes as of this morning.

But you know what?  I liked it.  It’s silly, over-the-top, with problems ranging from a cartoon plot to Prime’s face fetish, but like the first movie, that’s not the point.  You go in with low expectations, turn off your brain, and enjoy the spectacle of giant robots pounding the crap out of each other.  I thought some things worked better this time around.  It was nice to actually get some personality from Starscream.  On the other hand, sometimes Michael Bay’s idea of “personality” is problematic in the extreme.

Next up: the spoilers, including points that worked and didn’t, and a deeper look at Mudflap and Skids.

Optimus Prime kicks ass, and it’s about time.  I was disappointed in the first film when he gets his tailplate handed to him by Megatron.  That ain’t the Prime I remember.  This time, he’s got his double-swords going and he’s taking on all comers.  This doesn’t always turn out too well, but overall, he seemed much more heroic this time around.  None of which changes the fact that, “Give me your face!” is one of the worst lines ever.

The Fallen, on the other hand … this was supposed to be one of the original Primes, so powerful he rebelled against the rest and came out alive.  So he sits around on his ass, finally hops down to Earth, and promptly gets his face ripped off.  Bored now.  More Megatron please.

Megatron and Starscream – Booyah!  There’s the snippy little S&M dom/sub pair I remember from childhood.  So much better than the first movie.

Sam’s Webgeek Roommate – Bored again.  Please replace his scenes with a few minutes to maybe give us the names of the rest of the new autobots?

The Plot was dumb as rocks in socks, but this is a movie based on a cartoon made to sell toys.  Draining the sun of its energy is exactly the sort of scheme 80’s Megatron would have loved.  Can’t you just hear Frank Welker’s voice gloating about his plan to destroy the fleshlings and conquer the universe?

Devastator should have been awesome.  Instead we get this clunky, slow, sand-sucking monstrosity who can’t stand upright.  I get that the mass of a robot so huge could cause serious structural problems (see the square-cube law), and that realistically, it makes sense to give Devastator some back issues.  But really?  This is the part of the movie where you suddenly worry about making something realistic?

Sam and Mikaela – Meh.

Wheelie – Why in the name of Primus would a robot express his loyalty by humping someone’s leg?  That said, he was still less annoying than Wheelie from the cartoon.  I’ll take it.

Jetfire rocked.  They captured his Decepticon past, gave him a new personality, and he was probably my favorite character in the film.  A bit like Grell the goblin if she were an ancient 40-ton robot.  A little over-the-top, but I thought he worked well, and I wish the rest of the ‘bots could have gotten similar development.

Mudflap and Skids – The New York Times described them as racist caricatures, robot versions of Jar Jar Binks.  They certainly serve the same role as Jar Jar did, bringing childish humor and attempted comic relief while spouting pseudo-urban slang and, in one case, sporting a massive gold tooth.

Personally, I found them annoying, offensive, and totally unnecessary.   (I did like the “Decepticons, suck my popsicle!” bit in the beginning, though.)  Most interesting to me were the responses to accusations of racism.  Reno Wilson, one of the voice actors for the twins, said “he was told that the alien robots learned about human culture through the Web and that the twins were ‘wannabe gangster types,'” going on to add, “If he had uploaded country music, he would have come out like that.”

The thing is, from a more skilled director, that might have worked.  We’ve already established that the Transformers learned our language from the Internet.  Think of the quirks and misinformation they could have absorbed.  We’re lucky Optimus Prime didn’t leap onto the Fallen shouting “On ur back, takin’ ur face!”  (Or worse, “All ur face are belong to us!”)

Only there were no country music bots.  No LOLbots.  No caricatures whatsoever, save our gangster twins.  They played it straight with all of the Transformers except the black caricatures.  But that’s all right, because according to director Michael Bay, “It’s done in fun.  I don’t know if it’s stereotypes — they are robots, by the way.”

Oh Michael Bay no.

All right then.  They’re just robots.  That doesn’t count, right?  Good to know.  (Do you think Hasbro used the same reasoning back in the 80’s when they decided the black character in G.I. Joe would speak only in rhymes?  They’re just cartoons, right?)

And sure, the characters aren’t literally black.  They’re green and red, so that makes it okay.  Except you’re still taking elements of racial stereotypes and associating them with bumbling, illiterate idiots.

In the end, Bay’s motives were pure.  “I purely did it for kids.”  The sad thing is, it works.  My 4-year-old will love this level of humor, the infantile bickering, the roughhousing, the endless idiocy.  As a bonus, he’ll get to absorb another 2.5 hours of racial caricature.  Thanks a lot, Bay.