The Summer Blockbuster, it seems, lives or dies on aesthetics. There’s more: tapping into those primal male reactions to violence, explosions, and the female body, but for that to work the aesthetics have to succeed.
And Transformers is a very very ugly film. Look at that subtitle: “Revenge of the Fallen”. The dialogue is painful: the clever one-liners generally consist of using the cliched one-liner voice and swearing; there are trite pop culture references that are already going out of date. The film’s main McGuffin is named ‘The Matrix of Leadership’. At one point in the film, someone literally announces “I am crying: this sucks!”
Ugly, ugly, ugly.
We are presented, for our delectation, a shot of two dogs having sex. This is echoed later as a small robot humps Megan Fox’s leg. There’s a point in the film where, for no apparent reason, the camera continues to rotate around the two romantic leads. They chat, on and on, so not only does the camera reveal its presence to the audience but its genuinely, pointlessly dizzying. There’s no sense of reason behind any of the decisions; aesthetic ugliness can be a brilliant (and, to use that most hackneyed of film critic phrases, ‘brave’) move, but here it just seems a result of the way the film was made. Ugly.
I concede that this doesn’t apply to everyone, as they’re the film’s major unique-selling-point, but even the eye-candy robots are aesthetically unappealing and, again, in some cases, plain ugly. The two comic-relief characters in particular are designed in a way I can’t believe is unintentional.
These characters are the film’s worst excesses personified- they use a black hip-hop-culture stereotype that is not only ephemeral in its appeal (hilarious phrases like “oh snap”) but in some cases seems sub-Walt Disney racially sensitive. Most of all, though, they’re just painfully unfunny, in that unique way that comes from trying hard to force funniness on the viewer.
But I’m being unfair to the film. It escapes these trappings later into the film (particularly the awful attempts at humour) as it tries to become a more straight-laced action epic and becomes a better film for it. The ugliness of the first half an hour seeps away, and by the end there are even glimpses of lovely cinematography.
The film has many more upsides than I’m giving it credit for (the score has some wonderfully attractive moments, and I’d be hard pressed to suggest Megan Fox is anything less than aesthetically appealing; there’s also what appears to be a giant Alan-Moore-bot), just as it has more problems than I’ve talked about (primarily, the horrible comedy/serious drama clash).
I’ll say it again- Transformers II (I’m not giving that awful subtitle the attention it so obviously craves) isn’t a bad film. It’s just often so very very ugly.
Confession: I was really trying hard to do one a day. But my Tuesday plans went a bit awry. And technically, it’s not even Wednesday any more. There will be 7 posts this week, I promise (to myself).