"Hi. My name is Michael Bay, and I never met a stereotype
I couldn't totally and completely exploit..."
[Below is my review of Transformers 2, in the clever guise of an open letter to franchise director Michael Bay]:
Dear Mr. Bay:
You almost made me a believer with the original Transformers. Having seen several of your previous film experiences, each one a bit more, what's the word... boomtastic, or perhaps explosinomenal... than the next, I was convinced that while you were more than able to create large balls of fire, when it came to working with actors, you were on the same page as George Lucas, to whom Harrison Ford once famously said, "George, you can type this shit, but you sure can't say it."
But in Transformers, most of the main characters had no actual soul; they were robots. You went and got the original voice for Optimus Prime, and that was pretty awesome. The special effects were great, and Shia LeBoeuf showed that he had quite a bit of comic talent and timing ("Satan's Camaro is in my yard; it's STALKING ME!").
And then you got me all hyped up with the Super Bowl teaser trailer, which showed massive Decepticon devastation. Sweet.
But then came Transformers 2, where no stereotype goes un-trampled and no storyline goes un-pilfered. LeBoeuf's Sam Witwicky is off to some university that looks like Hogwart's if you subtracted the magic and added booty shorts, where he discovers that a tiny little shard of The All-Spark - which caused all the trouble in the FIRST movie - uhhh, well, it got stuck in his hoodie. And now, the Decepticons are after it so they can turn on a giant machine that will destroy the sun to harness its energy.
Why they weren't trying to do this the first time around is beyond me.
And sure, the special effects are still awesome, with the notable exception of two characters, Skids and Mudflap, who I'd politely refer to as the One-Step-Below-Al-Jolson Autobots, pretty patently-offensive African-American caricatures who come complete with everything but gold teeth.... oh, wait, except that one DOES have a gold tooth.
In interviews, your writers and the actors who voiced the robots have tried to blame this on the fact that the Autobots "learn" by downloading information from the World Wide Web, and that Skids and Mudflap are "wannabe gangster types." And if you want to deflect blame onto a fictional concept over which you had total control, that's cool. But let's not forget that the primary audience for this PG-13 movie - although you wouldn't know that from the amount of Megan Fox ass shots, the Decepticon schoolgirl whose tail comes out of her panties and tries to strangle Sam and the curse words - is children.
Children who might not make the distinction, and perhaps see it as the latest in a long line of "oh-but-isn't-it-funny?" characters that serve no real plot purpose, other than to "add humor" by mocking black culture.
And I'll admit, there probably wouldn't be as much backlash if Skids and Mudflap had been a broken-down Silverado and a mobile trailer who transformed into toothless redneck robots making jokes about not being able to read - which both characters are forced to admit in Transformers 2, by the way - but that doesn't make it any less offensive.
Onion Associate Entertainment Editor Tasha Robinson put it best and most succintly in Sandy Cohen's article on The Huffington Post:
"They don't really have any positive effect on the film," she said. "They only exist to talk in bad ebonics, beat each other up and talk about how stupid each other is."
Black actor Reno Wilson, who voiced Mudflap, said "it's unfair to assume the characters are black."
Except of course that they're the only two characters in the whole movie whose voices bear any resemblance to African-Americans. If you don't count Tyrese, who really doesn't talk; he spends most of Revenge of the Fallen flexing his arms and looking like the supermodel that he used to be before he tried his hand at music (props on "Sweet Lady," though) and now film.
And all of this is to make no mention of the fact that the film is pretty much a two-and-a-half-hour vehicle for technical wizardry, sorely lacking in the plot department and basically a slightly-smudged carbon copy of the original.
So thanks, Mr. Bay. I eagerly await Pearl Harbor 2, starring Buddy Hackett as Japanese Imperial General Hideki Tojo.