When I was a sophomore in college, I saw a film that changed my life. It utterly changed the way I looked at cinema. Some know it as a landmark for the ratings system, a veritable train wreck in how-not-to-make-a-movie. Most know it as Showgirls.
I actually saw that movie for a class, and I have this vivid memory of walking out of the film center, through the dark streets of Greenwich Village, unable to remember the last time I’d felt so dirty. Showgirls would later grow on me for the over-the-top camp classic it is, but I never felt so mentally assaulted, so cinematically violated by an initial viewing of a film again. I must have misunderestimated the potential of Michael Bay.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is transcendent. Transcendent may not be an adequate term for how much this film is going to change the face of cinema. It is beyond post-modern. It’s post-intelligent. Yes, I believe this film is simply the flagship of a new era; we are entering the era of post-intelligence.
Bay has a special way about him that some might describe as pure id, and perhaps this is a key to his success; after all, the id seeks pleasure and rejects logic, and I’ve never seen a Michael Bay film that accepts logic as a warm and welcomed colleague to a screenplay rather than the pretentious waste of time he seems to think it is. But more than that, the thing that always struck me about Bay films is the venom with which he defies logic; it’s not just that he thinks we’re stupid, he outright accuses us of being stupid, and dares us not to enjoy his movie despite the leaping gaps of nonreality. I understand that this film takes place in a reality where girls like Megan Fox wear midriffs to high school and black men greet friends to the door by screeching at their grandmamas. Large scale city destruction is cover-up-able. Thirty foot robots can climb around on Griffith’s Park and be seen by no man in broad daylight. I understand that. But why, Bay, do you have to be so hateful about it?
The thing about the first movie was it did manage to cling enough to this reality to not go beyond the pale of the completely irredeemable. I found the final sequence in a major city rather odd (let’s take the doomsday device into a hugely populated area!), but there was enough in it that wasn’t pointing a self-assured finger of superiority at its audience (especially the non-white audience) to make it not completely irredeemable.
But despite all that, Bay’s id-driven mode of filmmaking is present in that first film, if not in such potent, undistilled unpleasantness as it is in Fallen. And moreover, why does Bay’s id graft towards such horrible, unpleasant, unenjoyable things? Where in the name of God did he declare that these two minstrel show twins would be a good idea, and no one said, “Hey, you know, maybe this is just my opinion but that sounds like pan-fried anal lesion”? So we saw John Turturro’s boxers in the first one, who decided that upping it to a g-string and seeing his poor, withered ass was a good ante to up for the sequel? Who wants to see Julie White high on pot brownies? What focus group demanded this? I want to know!
In a way it’s stunning and telling as we basically have come upon a person so powerful that he has no compunctions showing us his 200 million dollar worldview, now in theaters worldwide. But more than, so many accept it, even relate to it. In the theater I was in, empty though it was, there were definite laughs at the twins when we first see their faces, their monkeyed, grillz-encrusted faces, and those were not the laughs of horrified disbelief that I’m fairly sure I made; they laughed. They found it genuinely amusing. Not for the first time in my life, I was a bit ashamed of my species, which Optimus Prime tells me is not so dissimilar from his. I wonder if Cybertronian directors dared their audience to turn off their brains (or processors) for their entertainment. Hell, maybe that’s why they’re fighting. Clearly this advanced alien species isn’t all that bright.
I understand that there always has been a large contingent of people who graft to genuinely unintelligent fare, but I’ve never seen anything so brashly awful be accepted and enjoyed by the masses. The Batman and Robins of history are generally accepted by people as cinematic dreck, and in many ways this one is so, so much worse. Oh yes, I went there.
When I say post-intelligence I do include some evidence that testing, in America, is showing signs of slumping, and I can’t help but feel like the Internet and web-speak is largely contributing to that. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen doesn’t feel like the symptom of an ever-dumbening populace; it’s like a cinematic dare, a hundred-and-forty minute lewd gesture in celluloid, and the people are embracing it.