So it happened – the successful popular revival of that late 20th century icon, the Transformers franchise. I’ve just watched the sequel moviefilm and despite the surprising criticisms, I found it excellent.
To get it out of the way, I’ll say that I actually sat back and noticed the almost unending action. The movie starts off with wire-fighting robots, explosions, and the “BOO YA!” moments form a consistent basis of the film. There were a few sexually charged scenes and some rough language, though of less crude standard than found on a typical American television programme. What really intrigued me though was the political and almost philosophical commentary that was going on.
First, the value of a man. The protagonist (Sam, from the first film) is now on his way to college (not the place of residence, it’s what Americans call University) and is becoming a real man. He is moving out of home, preparing to enter a long distance relationship with his ridiculously attractive girlfriend, getting on with his conspiracy-theorist roommate and generally resuming normal young-adult life after his adventures with alien truck robots with guns.
I noticed that though the sexual tension between Sam and the girl (I’ve already forgotten her name) is obviously played up for the audience, their dynamic is not one of sexual contact. The girl is constantly shot in ways which highlight her supermodel body, but the only bedroom scene features her rival on Sam’s first week at “college” (fully clothed, followed immediately by killer robots from space). Sam and [girl] are not leading the same promiscuous relationship that the rest of Hollywood shoves down our throats, but the normal kind where a boy and a girl who are attracted to one another actually spend time talking and things. The film comes out strongly against the hookup culture (Bumblebee’s role in this is particularly amusing) and stresses properly ordered relationships between husband and wife (father and mother), mother and son, father and son (very impressive!) and the unmarried “dating” youth.
Following this is the theme of responsibility. To this has been already alluded above in the mention of Sam’s strong sense of fidelity to the girl (especially when his new roommate takes him “hunting for chicks” at a fraternity party), but also there is the struggle between Sam’s desire to lead a simple student’s life, free to worry about the ordinary problems he faces, and (to paraphrase Optimus) the “call of destiny”. I think the line goes “fate rarely calls upon us at a time to our suiting”, immediately after which Sam still is free to choose whether or not he will lend his aid. A magnificent commentary on the apostolic life! Though God calls every soul to play their part in the eternal symphony, ultimately we must choose either to play in harmony or rebel with dissonance.
Intimately connected with responsibility is sacrifice. As in the first film, Transformers 2 has the unique distinction of showing men being men. All of the male protagonists in the film (from Sam and his father, to Optimus, the soldiers, and even an unexpected return) are willing to give up something of themselves to protect something greater. On the other hand, the men whom the viewer dislikes are those who take the cowards path, such as the “presidential delegate” who reveals that Obama is considering “negotiating” with the Deceptacons. A direct slap in the President’s (and Liberal Hollywood’s) face if ever I saw one. The link above to Creative Minority Report also made me realise that this is the first film I’ve seen in years where the military are shown in a truly positive light – not a collection of high school dropouts and criminals, nor a collection of wrathful closeted homosexuals, but a group of honest men risking themselves to protect others. This is clearly targeted at American perceptions of the American military, but doesn’t it truly apply to Australia and Europe as well?
Finally we come to the grand synthesis of all these, Optimus Prime. There is a moment at the film’s climax that makes absolutely plain the producer’s perspective: Optimus Prime is Christ. We know from watching the first film that through a sacrifice he defeated Megatron (satan, obviously) and that this time around it is a dramatic fall which will make Optimus even more powerful, so much so that Megatron can do naught but crumple at his feet. I’ve already given away too much, so I’ll simply say that when considered as an analogy of Salvation History, this is the most fascinating and perhaps one of the most effective presentations I have ever seen.
The violence is also worth a mention. We do not see human blood, nor viscera, nor even corpses. There are explosions, smashed cars, and people tossed about, but overall we are spared the grisly end. What we do see, however, is extremely graphic violence amongst the robots – early in the film a small Deceptacon is briefly tortured by a human (its “eye” is burnt out), later the Deceptacons turn and dismember one of their own to provide parts for Megatron. There is even a moment which for a moment horrified me, because I knew that if the robot I was watching were a human then it would presently be having its spine ripped from its body. Astounding that when these things are done to even animals we retch in physical discomfort, but because they are machines we feel virtually nothing. I don’t think watching this would affect children as it did me, because they haven’t had the experiences I have with dissection (and so where I see a spine, they will just see a toy).
Therefore, my final impressions of this film are resoundingly positive. It has some moderate human violence mixed in with intense machine violence, a stream of action, cool mechanical martial artistry, profuse pyrotechnics, wholesome portrayal of relationships and seasonal philosophical-political commentary. All of this without feeling any heavier than a relatively-clean, very fun movie about fighting robots from space.