Transformers: The Revenge of the Fallen
Okay, first of all, why the fuck is the title of this movie like a 70s samurai movie after a lobotomy? The title was one of the reasons why I talked myself out of going to see it in the theater, along with my longstanding pissiness re: Michael Bay, and a knee-jerk reaction against a movie based on a line of toys (even though I had them all when I was a kid, and the comics, and watched the cartoon, but hey, I wouldn't want to see a fuckin Voltron movie in my 30s either). But hey, this kind of thing is what Netflix is for.
Now, we'll recall that upon its release, Transformers part deux was met with some of the most violently scathing reviews in living memory. Roger Ebert called it “a horrible experience of unbearable length” and went on to unfavorably compare it to The Rock (jeez, remind me to never piss Roger Ebert off). Peter Travers anointed it the front runner for Worst Movie of the Decade (and what a decade for it, wow). Just about ever major media outlet took a gigantic shit all over it, and to top it all off, lead actor Shia LaBeouf even said “We got lost. We tried to get bigger. It's what happens to sequels. It's like, how do you top the first one? You've got to go bigger. Michael Bay went so big that it became too big, and I think you lost the anchor of the movie. . .You lost a bit of the relationships. Unless you have those relationships, then the movie doesn't matter. Then it's just a bunch of robots fighting each other.”
Shia's last observation was actually the thing I most disliked about the first movie. There were a lot of agreeably weird elements, and as much as I want to hate the little fucker, Shia's got something as a leading man. Nuance? Depth? For the gays. Shia cracks wise, doesn't look like too much of a dork running from explosions, and can plausibly nail attractive broads, and that's all he needs to do in his job. To be a serious actor, sure, you need a little more than that, but he's not a serious actor, he's a guy you get to play the lead in a dumb movie that makes money. And he does that well. Disturbia was fun. Eagle Eye was too. Sure they were stupid, but they weren't too stupid. The first Transformers teetered a little closer to the brink, and it seemed like the last four hours were indistinguishable robots destroying shit. I was a little worried, before I saw it, that the sequel would be more of the same.
Now that I have seen it, I say with a very large smile on my face, that I was absolutely right. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen goes full retard during the fucking studio logo. It opens with Optimus Prime narrating a fight in 17,000 BC between a bunch of black guys with flaky paint on their faces and a bunch of Transformers. Or maybe it's just one. Doesn't matter. It closes with Optimus Prime declaiming on the deck of an aircraft carrier, with blithe disregard for the George Bush semiotics.
That's the thing about Michael Bay. Some people get on his ass for being right-wing, or for enabling right-wingers, and it's true there's a lot of military shit in his movies, and the adoration his constantly-moving camera has for the military and the men in it verges on masturbatory. But I submit that this has nothing to do with politics. I think Michael Bay faps to the military because they're the guys who have the wherewithal to blow shit the fuck up.
And yes, when shit blows the fuck up, it is awesome. Mr. Bay's foibles as a director (a list as long and over-the-top as his movies) have to be taken with the grain of salt that the man has a near-mystical respect for the aesthetic beauty of the explosion.
Transformers: RotF might be the most perfect sequel ever. It takes the very concept of “full retard” and goes full retard on it. There are about eight or nine different movies co-existing under its umbrella, none of which make the slightest bit of sense, and every single one of them has been made before in less caffeinated form. Hell, let's not beat around the bush. This entire movie is fucking tripping on cocaine.
The plot has something to do with a really old Transformer who wanted to destroy the sun. Somehow Shia LaBeouf is, yet again, the one human being with the key to the whole shmear, some little piece of metal shit he gave to Megan Fox as a keepsake. Shia's extremely horny parents are sending him off to college (Princeton, which the writers apparently researched by watching Harold and Kumar Go To White Castle) where some badly lit Victoria's Secret model is being as obvious as she can in a PG-13 movie that she wants Shia to put his penis in her vagina (in the biblical sense), except Shia resists because he's technically still going out with Megan Fox, who in a parallel plot line develops a really weird sadomasochistic relationship with a Shih Tzu-sized Decepticon who talks like Bugs Bunny. Shia acquires a nerd friend for comic relief. Marines Josh Duhamel and Tyrese are off having trouble with an evil white guy in a suit (who, because this is a Michael Bay movie, turns out to be a gigantic fucking pussy). Robots periodically destroy massive amounts of shit; in one sequence where the Autobots, in collaboration with Josh Duhamel, Tyrese, and Aaron Pierce, on a covert mission in Shanghai, apparently succeed in keeping things covert by only destroying half the city.
Oh yeah, there's a whole bunch of casual racism in the form of an Autobot named Mudkip or something and some other one whose name I didn't catch (they all look alike to me . . . see what I did there? Oh, how I amuse myself). This, rather than being terribly offensive—he says, as a white guy—just kind of adds to the general avalanche of batshit. Because why not have two Autobots who transform into Mini Coopers talk like a WB sitcom?
Anyway, it's a little hard to think about shit in a movie where nothing makes any rational sense whatsoever. Shia, Shia's nerd, Megan Fox, and Megan Fox's sexually obsessed Decepticon take their act on the road after the bigger Decepticons destroy a bunch of shit (and kill Optimus Prime), and they find John Turturro—the government alien hunter dude from the first movie—working in a deli, and he's apparently Shia's nerd's father or something. John Turturro abandons his deli to go looking for . . . something . . . okay, when Shia was in college for five minutes, he had this weird nervous breakdown in Rainn Wilson's physics class (watching the Victoria's Secret models in the front row get all squirmy over Rainn Wilson is both one of the funniest fucking things I've ever seen and probably part of his contract for taking the part: “If I'm going to be in this fucktarded movie I want hot girls eyefucking me”) and started drawing weird, Asianesque symbols all over the place. Which I think has something to do with the thing they're looking for. Which John Turturro can somehow help them with . . .?
Megan Fox's robot sub has what looks like a Benedict Arnold moment when he leads them to some long-asleep Decepticon, except it turns out he's not a Decepticon, and the non-Decepticon teleports them all to “Egypt” (it could not be Arizona more clearly if there was a truckload of Mexicans getting jacked for their passports by cops), which just so happens to be right by where Josh Duhamel and Tyrese are. The robots all start commence destroying the Pyramids, because the thing that's going to destroy the sun is underneath them, except John Turturro takes Shia et al to Petra (in one of a million out of nowhere Indiana Jones references, including Rainn Wilson's eye-gangbang at the hands of his nubile students) where they find some dead Primes. A whole bunch more shit blows up and Shia gets killed and communes with the souls of the dead Primes, who give him some obvious advice (revive Optimus Prime, don't let the Decepticons win). So Shia comes back to life, sprinkles some robot pixie dust on Optimus Prime, who wakes up and kicks ass, and we all live happily ever after. Until the third movie.
To quote my friend—and better writer—Matt Freeman: “Transformers 2 is one of the only truly grandly bad movies made in years. It achieves levels of absurdity that are wild and unruly and boggling.” That just about sums up Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Sure it's bad. But it's bad on such a scale, with such disregard for rational sense, taste, and everything except the worship of size and explosions, that it becomes something oddly beautiful. It's impossible to say until the third Transformers movie is unleashed on us next year, but Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen may be the perfect crystallization of everything Michael Bay is and means to people. Which makes the fact that he officially apologized for it all the more hilarious.
Crank: High Voltage
“In a story so bizarre I can scarcely believe the event I'm reporting, and yet corroborated by at least a dozen eye witnesses. A white male apparently fell from the sky above downtown Los Angeles today, landed in the middle of a busy intersection, destroying one vehicle and hospitalizing its elderly driver, and then was removed from the scene even before emergency personnel could respond. Without a body the police have yet to piece together the events of the day. It can only be described as implausible. Reports of a second body landing in the Boyle Heights area have yet to be confirmed, and are being treated as the bullshit they most likely are.”What's this? Self-awareness? In my post-rational cinema of the visceral? That's right. Crank: High Voltage is another sequel whose progenitor left me kinda cold at the end. While admirably concise and free of unnecessary exposition other than “This is Jason Statham. His name is Chev Chelios—presumably because someone already used the name Rex Roenick and because Gert Gretzky would have been excessively effeminate—and he is a hired killer. These bad guys want him dead,” Crank was nonetheless really fucking stupid, and was shot and edited in such a hypercharged, adrenalized, cartoonish fashion that the action scenes were almost redundant, as they differed from the rest of the movie insufficiently.
Much like Transformers, the sequel to Crank seems almost relieved to not be a first movie, and that it can get on with the proper business of being a retarded sequel. It's almost like, now that we're in the age of sequels, remakes, reboots, and the like, that being the first movie in a series is something dirty that should not be spoken of, and not until the first sequel does a franchise truly exist. Weird, but hey, the modern age is always weird and inexplicable, because due to the selective editing inherent in cognition, the past always seems nice, neat, and orderly.
I didn't even know how the hell they were planning to make a sequel to Crank, since Jason Statham dies at the end. Would they use the Better Tomorrow 2 gambit, having Statham Secunda be the twin brother of Statham Prima? Would they do the prequel route, to wit, how Jason Statham pissed off all those Mexican/Chinese gangsters enough that they shot him full of that poison shit in the first movie? Or something wholly different and heretofore unknowable? That's right, one hot heaping plate of wholly different and heretofore unknowable: Crank: High Voltage has the balls to sell us on the premise that falling out of a fucking helicopter thousands of feet above Los Angeles did not kill Jason Statham. Well, then, Crank: High Voltage, go on. You have my undivided attention.
A bunch of shady Chinese guys peel Jason Statham off the ground with a shovel (no shit, one of them literally has a shovel) and throw him in the back of the van. They proceed to shlep him to a filthy, poorly lit surgical facility where they remove his heart and replace it with a mechanical one. Why? Shush.
Statham, of course, escapes and kills a bunch of dudes. He leaves one alive with a shotgun rammed up his ass (again, literally) and hotwires a car, whereupon he feels a bit drowsy, whereupon he discovers he needs to give himself electric shocks to keep his new temp heart beating.
Not much else actually happens over the course of the movie. Jason Statham chases down the guy who has his heart. Shit gets broke in the process. Writer-directors Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor bring back a number of elements from the first movie, like comic relief Efren Ramirez (who is the brother of the character he played in the first movie, who was killed), and girlfriend Amy Smart, who once again has to have public sex with Jason Statham to keep him alive, this time in a racetrack in the middle of the track during a race (a horse jumps over them, and Amy Smart marvels at the size of its dick). The movie ends with Jason Statham again apparently about to die, except this time around they know better than to imply to us that he's dead. It's Jason Statham. We know he's not dead.
Crank: High Voltage is an entertaining hour and a half, and calling it brain-dead or retarded isn't quite accurate. If Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is tripping on cocaine, Crank: High Voltage is tweaking its fucking tits off. From the grimy cinematography to the “full body Tourettes” Efren Ramirez has to the very title of the movie, Crank: High Voltage is cinematic crystal meth. This, of course, means it's not for everyone. Downers people will find it bewildering. Asians and Hispanics may not be pleased with the caricatures.
Most importantly though, it's not really a picture for women. I hope Amy Smart and Bai Ling got paid for this movie, because holy shit. All they do the whole picture is either melt into liquified g-spot at the sight of Jason Statham (in itself not all that implausible, he's a handsome fellow) or—and this is the bad part—get abused and humiliated. Every single other woman in the movie is either a stripper or a hooker (or both), and there's this shot in the middle of a gunfight where a stripper gets shot in her breast implants and the camera lingers on her deflating rack (I don't know, I think it was supposed to be funny). Sure, the deus ex machina at the end is a bunch of strippers and leather queens with machine guns, but I don't know, dude. It's just self-aware enough as a movie that you can't simply write the misogyny off as a facet of its stupidity.
Of course, Crank: High Voltage is not meant to be thought about too much or too hard. It is, after all, post-rational. The problem with this is, people who don't think are going to watch it and instead of thinking “Wow, either Amy Smart is a really good sport or NOW needs a paramilitary wing” they're gonna go “Yeah, that bitch got owned, bro.” Don't get me wrong, I'm not getting PC on you or anything, but seriously, when a Michael Bay movie (a Michael Bay movie where Megan Fox gets her leg humped to the point of orgasm by a robot, no less) looks good compared to yours in its treatment of women . . . you done fucked up. You know you done fucked up now, right?
All that being said, Crank features the usual rock-solid Jason Statham performance. All he has to do is grimace, look sullen, and growl a bit, but he does these things so well. The Transporter pictures are more my cup of tea, with the European settings, the suits, the calmer—yet still intense—filmmaking, but Crank, in spite of its flaws and ghastly oversights (casual racism and misogyny, etc), is interesting, if a distant also-ran in the retard epic sweepstakes, since Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is now the gold standard.
Seen in tandem, these two pictures don't really have anything to do with each other except shitty lighting, a severe case of attention-deficit disorder, and feverishly, melodramatically stupid high concepts (“Evil robots from space want to steal the sun” and “Jason Statham has to literally retrieve his stolen heart”). They are both fun. They are both kind of upsetting if you think about them for too long. I don't really need to see either one of them again, but they both provided some good laughs. I do, however, want to see something that's actually good next.