Sure, there are lots of robots fighting. And I mean lots. It’s very easy to lose track which robot is which in the frenetic battle sequences filled with 360 degree spinning cameras and explosions every 4 seconds. It’s also easy to lose track of what is actually happening in the plot. Sam (Shia Lebeauf) is going off to college, but not before happening upon a shard of the All-Spark from the first film. The shard somehow imprints a symbolic map onto his brain revealing a hidden energy source located somewhere on Earth. The Decepticons want the energy source, while the Autobots want to protect the Earth. Beyond that, the plot is quite convoluted and filled with holes. (For instance, there is an overly long sequence of the Decepticons falling to earth in giant balls of fire. Later, they join the final battle in the same manner by falling from space. Did they decide that the first entry into the atmosphere wasn’t enough? They jumped back into space so that they could return via fireballs?). Many of the scenes seem to exist simply because Michael Bay thought they would be fun. Multiple dog humping jokes, any scene with Sam’s college roommate, and a Transformer with genitalia are all patched into the story arc.
I don’t have much energy to go into the details of the crass humor, the overt product placement, the racism inherent in two of the Transformers who embody every negative African-American stereotype imaginable, or that every woman in the movie–every single woman, including the extras–are present only to be ogled and objectified. When Walter Brueggemann describes our society’s script as “technological therapeutic consumeristic militarism,” it’s as if director Michael Bay took that script and made a 150-minute long tribute to the worst aspects of the contemporary American zeitgeist. In terms of film quality, the editing is some of the worst I’ve seen in years. Action scenes jump from daylight to night in a matter of seconds; a car driving through the vast Egyptian wilderness is suddenly in a large village with cops chasing them. The film is a mess.
I imagine that many people’s response to my critique will be “lighten up! It’s just entertainment. Why care so much about a movie with fighting robots?” I care because movies can be both entertaining and enriching. Watch last year’s Iron Man and WALL-E, or this year’s Up and Star Trek. I don’t want to come across as some sort of film elitist, but I do want to hold our forms of entertainment to a higher standard than the lowest common denominator. There is no such thing as mindless entertainment. You and I are using our minds and our hearts to engage with the medium of film presented before us. We are shaped by it–its messages, themes, and values–whether we are thinking about it or not. I prefer to be engaged and proactive instead of passively allowing the medium to shape me. Entertainment isn’t inherently wrong, but we should be cautious and wise about what we find entertaining. When sexism, consumerism, militarism, and racism can be deemed acceptable through the label of “entertainment,” it should cause us to ponder what we truly find noble, beautiful, and admirable.
I should note that I promoted the movie to junior high students before watching the film or reading reviews. I liked the first film, so I figured the second couldn’t be that bad. I was wrong, and my eagerness trumped my wisdom. We ultimately chose to watch the film as a youth group, dialoging about the content with students both before and afterwards. I was encouraged to hear students speak up about what they found entertaining (robots fighting) and what they found unnecessary (crude humor, inappropriate sexuality, unnecessary language, etc.). Would I recommend this film as a youth group outing? No. Did we manage to redeem an unwise choice on my part through dialogue and discernment? Thankfully, yes.
In the end, I consider the second Transformers film to be one of the worst films of 2009. Is it entertaining? Not really. Is it noble, beautiful, admirable, creative, or redemptive in any way? Absolutely not.
IMDB Listing: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1055369/