First things first: giant alien robots who know kung fu are awesome. Movies with hand-to-hand combat are usually fun, more so when sometimes the hands become red-hot swords, or canons, or shoot tiny guided missiles. I just had to get that out.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is not going to be in the running for any awards that have to do with acting, direction, or writing. There were too many low-panning shots, too much slow motion, too much sophomoric humor, and not enough social commentary. But there aren’t many movies that can keep me entertained the whole time I’m in the theater. Even fewer that can pull it off at a length of 2 1/2 hours. This one pulled it off.
There’s no master thread holding this thing together, it’s pure formula. There are strong themes of faith (not in God), responsibility (Optimus: “Fate never calls on us at the moment of our choosing.”), and accepting who you are (Sam tries, and fails at, being “normal”). In the end though, it’s a Good vs. Evil showdown – all life on Earth hanging in the balance – featuring the purest good and purest evil characters you’ve seen on screen.
And this is where my dilemma lies in reviewing a film like Transformers. I see no real benefit in trying to delve deeply into the presuppositions and assumed worldviews of a typical summer action blockbuster, because there is no depth. It’s like the pool at my apartment complex: it’s 3 feet deep all over. This movie does not beget thinking.
In my opinion, the $250 million the film has pulled in at the domestic box office (nearly $500 million worldwide) as of Thursday is more significant. Why are people turning out for this movie in the same numbers as they did for The Dark Knight? There’s hardly any similarity. The Dark Knight offers a broken antihero, a “white knight”, and a villian with no history and no purpose, who seeks only chaos (and finds it with little trouble). The plot twists and the characters go through wrenching change as “an unstoppable force meets an immovable object.” It intentionally raises questions of value and principle in society.
Transformers has none of that. The plot twists are emotional, but uninspired. The premise (Earth will be destroyed!) is not at all creative. The characters are two-dimensional at their best. And the ancient robots are stronger than the new ones for no reason at all. I want so, so, so badly to go on a rant about intellectual passivity and the dumbing down of culture…but I can’t, because I liked the movie as much as the other 50 million lemmings that preceded and succeeded me in the theater.
So I let Murray Jardine, an Auburn poli-sci professor, lead into my thought with this bit from his book The Making and Unmaking of Technological Society:
Perhaps the most familiar critique [of consumerism is that it] represents a crassly materialistic way of life as opposed to a more aesthetically oriented way of life that would be more fulfilling. People should quit buying so much junk and instead appreciate great literature, fine art, and classical music. But this argument actually demonstrates how complete a hold consumerism has on our thinking.
As I sit here lamenting the fact that even I, the particularly intelligent fellow I like to think I am, enjoyed such a bottom-feeding movie, wishing I had spent my time on something better, like Up, or whatever else is out that critics think is grand, I realize that it wouldn’t matter. Even if I hadn’t seen it, I could talk until I lost my voice about what it means when a culture spends half a billion dollars on a bad movie without making myself any better. Because if it had been a good movie, I would have completely condoned a culture spending a half a billion dollars on something of so little true value.
I know this is a pop culture site and you probably just came to find out if there was anything in the plot worth thinking more about. Honestly, the three paragraphs I devoted to the actual film do it justice completely. The rest is written in the hope that Christian pop cultural analysis—not necessarily what you find here, which usually meets the standard—will start to go deeper than the films, books, music, or trends we’re discussing to the foundational aspects of the culture they embody.