Despite the fact that I enjoyed Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, I do feel that there are a few things that audiences should know and remain aware of (whether they’ve already seen the film or plan to do so at some point) while (re)watching the movie. Those viewers who take the following three points into consideration during their Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen viewing experience will, I would argue, have a much more enjoyable time overall. Therefore, without further ado:
1. The Transformers movie franchise is based on the Transformers action figures popular in the 1980s and 1990s; it is not based on the cartoon television series that aired between 1984 and 1987 (which was, in fact, also based on the Transformers toys).
Those of you approaching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen with an expectation for something that holds true to or is associated with the Transformers cartoon series are going to be sorely disappointed. This, of course, is not to say that the Transformers movies have no plot or character development, or that the identities of the Autobots and Decepticons have been distorted. Both Transformers and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen not only have plots, but they each have a plot that is surprisingly developed for a film franchise based on a toy line from 20 years ago. The same can be said for the characters; Sam Witwicky and Mikaela Banes are not one-dimensional characters, and even Sam’s parents are established as likable, relatable individuals.
While I never watched the cartoon series and didn’t have any Transformers of my own (I was a girl in the ’80s, so it was all Barbie for me, unfortunately), I do recognize that the television show and toys still hold a special place in the hearts of those who grew up with them. Such an emotional, nostalgic connection to the source material for the new Transformers movies heightens the emotional reaction of the audience (think about how the Trekkies responded to the new Star Trek film), whether that reaction is positive or negative. Remembering that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is, for all intents and purposes, the reimagining of the Transformers toys through the eyes of Michael Bay and his actors, production team, crew members, etc. will help those of you who are still emotionally attached to your glory days of Transformers toys adjust your expectations accordingly.
2. Even if Transformers (2007) is simply an action/adventure “summer blockbuster,” as advertised, the argument can be made that categorizing Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) in the same way as its predecessor is not entirely accurate (whether Transformers was properly categorized to begin with is an entirely different discussion), especially if the justification for its action/adventure, “summer blockbuster” label is nothing more than the film’s status as the sequel to Transformers (2007).
Given the fact that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is tagged at IMDb.com as an action/adventure science-fiction film and is reported on Rotten Tomatoes simply as an action/adventure flick, the majority of audiences might not be prepared for what the greatly anticipated sequel to the 2007 blockbuster smash Transformers really offers. Several of the major complaints about Revenge of the Fallen were avoidable ones, had certain information been properly disseminated so that audiences could adjust their expectations accordingly. Unfortunately, it seems that the money that can be made from labeling a movie as a “summer blockbuster” or “action/adventure film” forced more accurate characterizations of the film out of the public eye.
The motion picture industry has, since its conception in the late 1800s, been preoccupied with glitz, glamour, and profitability, but I would argue that films (or those individuals and companies that have a hand in the writing, directing, acting, production, etc. of movies) have been most motivated by box-office profit over the past 20-30 years; after all, this time period is one that saw the creation of many of the exploitation genres, including Blaxploitation, Sexploitation, Teensploitation, and even Carsploitation films. The preoccupation of this era of filmmaking with profitability ultimately led to unprecedented levels of audience exploitation, as the names of the genres I just listed suggests. A common theme among these genres is that they were never billed as exploitation films during the time of their release (after all, would you want to go see a film that was openly exploiting you?). In my opinion, that is exactly what is going on with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (and for those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept of unusual conclusions being drawn about a movie based on a well-supported thesis rather than on what the director, producer, or actors might have to say, welcome to the wonderful world of film theory/studies… where arguments are valid as long as they have adequate support and people like to draw unusual conclusions about mainstream movies).
Complaints about Michael Bay’s continuous “ogling” of Megan Fox throughout the film could have been easily avoided were audiences aware that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is more than just a summer blockbuster and in fact displays elements of the sexploitation genre, in which it is commonplace for women to work on a motorcycle or a car engine while wearing jeans cutoffs, a skimpy tank top, and cowboy boots. Or if audiences had known that Revenge of the Fallen could be considered an exploitation film, there might have been less outrage over Mudflap and Skids, two Autobots that did not appear in Transformers (2007). The characterization of the two robots was that of the uneducated Black man stereotypical of hip-hop culture, and Michael Bay has since been branded racist by outraged audiences.
3. When it comes to the movie business, there may be no truer statement than “Expectations are everything.”
As I hinted in the discussion above, expectations are extremely important when entering a movie like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Those individuals who have been exposed to the ideas of exploitation cinema may or may not be able to predict that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a veritable mash-up of elements of various exploitation genres, however the argument certainly can be made. Even by taking a cursory look at Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, I can point out characteristics of carsploitation (other than the Fast and Furious franchise and the Death Race films, is there a more obvious example of the exploitation of cars over the past decade?), sexploitation (two words: Megan Fox), and teensploitation (fast cars, hot girls, and giant robots that kick each other’s asses? Yeah.).
Perhaps acknowledging the exploitative elements of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen would have better prepared audiences to see the movie, but the fact remains that the film made nearly $109 million dollars in its opening weekend in the U.S. alone, a number that exceeds its predecessor’s U.S. opening weekend ($70 million) by more than $30 million dollars. Apparently, as the founders of Blaxploitation, Sexploitation, and other exploitation film genres came to realize, exploiting audiences is an extremely profitable enterprise. But the question remains as to whether or not audiences will realize that they are being exploited. Maybe someday there will be a new exploitation genre for films like Transformers (2007) and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, but for now you can count on these movies being billed as box-office action/adventure blockbusters just as surely as you can count on the ever-increasing price of a movie ticket.
Having realistic expectations for a movie when you walk into the theater is one of the best ways to ensure that your level of disappointment will be kept at a minimum. It’s not that exploitation films are bad or that they should be avoided; in fact, some of my favorite movies are infamous exploitation films (Shaft, Superfly, Faster, Planet Terror, Deathproof, etc.) that I would highly recommend to anyone. No, my point is simply thus: don’t walk into movie theaters expecting Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen to be a film worthy of an Academy Award or a Golden Globe (except maybe for special effects). The Transformers movies are, as I previously mentioned, about fast cars, hot girls, giant robots, and explosions, all of which they deliver with flying colors. So I urge those of you who haven’t seen Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen to make your way to a theater and check it out, and I urge those of you who didn’t like the film to give it another chance (although I understand if you want to wait until the DVD comes out) and to keep an open mind. After all, it’s just a movie.