Sunday, July 05, 2009

TransFormers 2: Pretty Much What Meets the Eye

I'm 32 now and I've spent a lot of time the last week and a half (post being run down by a car on Hollywood Blvd) watching old cartoons from my childhood. I still love them even though the stories and characterizations are pretty much universally horrible. The animation stinks and episodes are repetitious unless they were part of a mini-series or movie. I don't know that my enjoyment is derived from a purely nostalgic viewpoint, either. I think I really just like the idea of giant robots and crazy villains. So let's try to look at TransMorfers 2 from that viewpoint.

Last year I spent some amount of mental capacity trying to come up with a reasoned analysis for why The Dark Knight was a great comic book adaptation and a really cool movie without actually crossing the line to being a great movie. I gave up after a while because I couldn't find a throughline and because I wrote a decent draft that then got erased by the wonders of blogspot converging with the frailties of my apartment's power supply. So I have a couple of paragraphs of rambling left to show for it and a reasonable expectation that "serious" film criticism is a dead dog that might not even mean much to the next generation of film students, let alone an uncaring general populace. So this is my obverse of that abandoned project, my attempt to reclaim some territory I hadn't even finished staking out yet. I come not to bury TransFormers but to praise it. I haven't actually seen TransMorphers yet, but I'm really glad to know that it exists and fully intend to avail myself to its potentially considerable charms over the next few weeks. Go-Bots and Voltron? Any producer with a dollar to spend who's looking for a writer, come see me! Now, on to the most-hated and most-watched movie currently in world cinemas.

There is a large faction of new media voices who assert that the new TransFormers movie is racist, and they could be right. I do see the Twins characters as shucking and jiving bastardizations of hip-hop culture but I don't know that this necessarily makes them black. Lots of white kids go through wannabe stages of hip-hop pandering and either throw off the casing as a past mask or actually grow in understanding enough to be comfortable in there own skin and just grow into hip hop on their own terms. So it is conceivable that the Twins are alien-wiggers (for lack of a more understandable term) who are just culture-jacking and wouldn't really be set up as a separate "race" of AutoBots. In some ways that is balm to the part of my soul that actually likes big dumb robots exploding things. I realize, though, that when taken in the context of a vapidly misanthropic film such as this (and perhaps in the larger context of a vapidly misanthropic sheen to most, if not all, of Michael Bay's films) it is impossible to say that the filmmakers didn't just look at the Twins from their own culture-jacking eyes and say, "Well, shit, them colored folks sure talk funny. What about if we's made two dumb robots that talked like them colored folks?" Maybe they even said it in those words. Even so, I think it is more likely a symptom of systematic racism that associates swagger with idiocy and tries to subvert the threat of otherness through mental emasculation. I mean, Mr. Bay probably looks at his work on music videos, on the Bad Boys movies and says to himself, "How could I be racist? I love black people - they pay me!" And then he dives into his money pool, a la Scrooge McDuck. So, this ugly element of the movie (a marked contrast to the at times aggressive attempts at PC inclusion that the cartoons and comic books) does stain the experience for me quite a bit. I'm not saying the film doesn't deserve the derision it receives on this one point because it does. Still there's more open hostility and hate in the Michael Bay canon that should perhaps be put on trial here.

Culture jacking is a serious discussion but it is tough to put much personal perspective on it because it does require some distance to even begin the discussion. (Along the lines of, "I can make pronouncements on race because I am above this discussion", which is never true but is somewhat necessary to even address the issue.) On the other hand Michael Bay is almost violently sexist in a way that doesn't need so much personal distance. What is going on at the "Ivy League" school that Sam goes to? His roommate is running a site called The Freshman 55 (actually a cultural reference, way to go Bay, Kurtzmann & Orci!) that goes completely uncommented upon because EVERY GIRL ON CAMPUS IS A SUPERMODEL. Digression - everyone on campus is also over 22 years old, which is weird. The one super-hot, unattainable blond bombshell that Sam's roommate slobbers over? The one that actually has an awareness of her sexuality? She's actually a killer robot. Really? I know the idea that's sold for union considerations is that the movie was written in like an hour or something but nobody noticed that? No, because nobody cares! The new feminism is that girls should get what they want through sex because it seems to work out pretty well in the long run. Well, it's pretty bad that this can be out in the open like it is. And this comes from someone who does consume as much sex culture as I have available to me. I love sex, I love talking about sex, I love watching sex acts and I love the fact that sex is our most important biological function (big picture here!). And yes I am asserting that racism is trumped by sexism in my defense of the movie. Thereby admitting that the movie is casually sexist and racist. On these cultural points I do concede.

I was thinking, you know what? TranFormers 2: Rolling On The Floor is not as bad as everyone says. It had giant robots fighting and they were sometimes cool to look at. And they made me want to make my own TransFormers movie. Something involving Unicron that could replace the uncomfortable schism that occurs in this franchise from feeling the need to focus on human characters at the expense of cultivating any personality for the real stars, the robots. But you know what else? Fuck Michael Bay for being such an inhuman prick. I wish I had never paid to to see this movie. I'm ashamed to admit that I did. I really thought I could form an advanced argument to say this is not such a bad movie. It is a horrible movie, however, I do still think it has more entertainment value that the garbage that was delivered in the first installment of the series. So there, faint praise indeed.


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