I’d like to begin today with a hard truth. Many of you will disagree. Some of you may become physically ill. Your first instinct may be to leave this site with extreme prejudice and swear off of my opinions for good. I urge you to keep going. To hear me out. Once you get past the initial shock, I think you’ll be able to see things from a fresh perspective, even if you don’t agree with me. Are you ready? Here it is: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a cinematic masterpiece and Michael Bay is one of the greatest directors of our time.
I know that that seems like a wildly inaccurate statement, but I assure I’m not trying to be provocative. In order to explain myself, let’s take a step back and ask ourselves what a director’s job actually is. It’s not to tell a compelling story. That’s the screenwriter. It’s not really to get great performances. That’s the actors. It’s not even necessarily to make the movie look good. That’s the cinematographer.
The director’s job is to take all of these disparate elements, craft a movie in their head, and make sure what ends up on the screen is as close to what was in their head as possible. Filmmaking is like a game of telephone (or Chinese whispers for our international/vaguely racist readers). The director’s job is to make sure the message goes from their brain to the screen without losing anything on the way. Nothing more, nothing less. They take millions of uncontrollable variables and struggle to take control of them in a ludicrously difficult attempt to make us see what they see.
I dare you to watch any interview with Michael Bay and tell me that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen isn’t exactly the movie he saw in his head. I’m not going to pretend it’s great art. It is a dumb, ugly, racist, dumb, overblown, dumb, dumb movie. But it also achieves something most films don’t: total immersion.
It may be too late to feel that now, as I can’t guarantee that it’s as immersive on home video. Watching it in a packed theater, surrounded by fans is another story. You see incomprehensible flashes of metal on metal and Megan Fox’s skin and the audience is laughing madly at every stupid joke about Shia LeBouf’s mom accidentally eating weed brownies and the outside world just melts away.
If you allow yourself to be taken in, you can spend 150 glorious minutes doing something that is profoundly rare. You can feel what it’s like to be someone other than yourself. That someone else is Michael Bay and maybe you won’t enjoy being him, but such an extreme blast of empathy is worthwhile, even if it’s not exactly pleasant.
I wish I could say Transformers: Age of Extinction reaches the same heights. Gone are the (metaphorical and literal) robot testicles driving the insanity. In their place, Trans4mers gives us a decent, but way too long action flick where big robots punch each other. Kelsey Grammer is great and there are a few moments of vintage Bay, but mostly it feels like he’s either phoning it in or is being reigned in by some higher, less interesting power.