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Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) October 4, 2009

Posted by gproject in : Cinema, Recently Viewed , add a comment

Directed by: Michael Bay

After the incredible success of Michael Bay’s unlikely Transformers [review] film adaptation, Paramount were duty bound to give it a sequel, but who would have thought that a project so impossibly complex could have arrived on our screens so quickly?  Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen lands just two short years after its predecessor, and seems to have passed though the sequel-wash on its way here.  More action, more characters, more plot, more running time; all the usual facets of a summer blockbusting follow-up are there.  But so are all the negatives: less adherence to sense, less comprehensibility, less reason to care why you’re watching robots pound each other’s faces in all over again.

This time around our unlikely hero Sam Witwicky is off to college, leaving his boisterous parents, gorgeous girlfriend, and transforming robot-car at home.  Of course, he barely gets two classes into the semester before he is once again whisked off to prevent a war between metal factions that, as a by-product, also spells certain doom for mankind.  It turns out that a shard of the Allspark - the first movie’s all-powerful energy source - has imprinted ancient symbols into Sam’s brain, that manifest themselves in bouts of bizarre subconscious scrawling on any available surface.  These symbols reveal the location of the Matrix of Leadership, an ancient piece of robot gadgetry that would allow Earth to be drained of energy.  The deadly Decepticons come after Sam for this knowledge, but once again he has the righteous Autobots on side to even the fight.  And there are certainly plenty of those.

Make no mistake, this movie is huge even by Bay standards.  It’s also a film that cleverly dodges smart criticism by being so resolutely mindless that you can’t even start an intelligent dissection of it lest your mind immediately turn to mush.  Even its star Megan Fox knows her place: “People are well aware that this is not a movie about acting” she now famously said during the stateside release.  And yet Bay still leapt to the film’s defence.  I dread to think that he believes this franchise is anything more than a collection of explosions, effects, and exploding effects, but the sheer joy he seems to take in doing it after all these years suggests that there’s something more to it for him than just churning out these two-hour headache initiators.

Speaking of which, Revenge of the Fallen is loud.  Or, more accurately, noisy - a statement which applies to both sound and picture, as heavily detailed robotics and swathes of army merchandise fly across the screen, filling all corners with larger-than-life action sequences every ten minutes or so.  When there’s not a giant robot to be crushed, or a large deserted area to destroy, the film uses its time-outs to throw plot at you.  Most of the time, this is pithy momentum material, serving to push us on to the next battle, but about half way through the film we stop for a belated history lesson, taking the story off in a new, convoluted direction that is way too sci-fi even for this franchise.  Merging ancient history with the present day isn’t the most original of ideas to begin with, but attempt to mould this history with that of giant robots from beyond the stars, and watch your interest drop off the charts.

So guess what? Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is pretty stupid.  Yet, despite horrible reviews and a general drubbing even from fans, the film still pulled in huge audiences around the globe.  There is almost no reason for trying to make the point that it is incredibly lazy, stupefyingly moronic, or downright lecherous in nature; it’s summer, so all these points fall on deaf ears.  What has made it such a success?  How about incredible special effects, never-ending action sequences, and some seat gripping fights (when you can make out what’s happening) - all the things that apply to more base-level instincts and emotions.  All in all it’s quite a head-spinner, and you do come out a little dazed.

The delirium effect isn’t helped by a running length that stretches itself to a downright unnecessary two and a half hours.  They may have blown the doors off the Star Trek universe this summer with their action-packed reboot [review], but here, writing team Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (along with The Ring [review] writer Ehren Kruger), feel substantially more hindered.  The time pressure has clearly had an effect, and the script has little of the wit or fun of their first Transformers outing.  It all gets so bogged down in its own mythology and high-impact thrills that you’ll barely have time to notice what the characters are actually saying or doing.

These characters, incidentally, are played by a host of familiar faces from the first movie.  Shia LaBeouf returns as the irrepressible Sam Witwicky, Megan Fox runs around a lot as girlfriend Mikaela, while Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Turturro, Kevin Dunn, and Julie White, all reprise their previous roles.  Ramon Rodriguez is the new guy, playing Shia LaBeouf’s conveniently conspiracy-obsessed college room-mate Leo Spitz, and unpredictably sticks around for the entire movie.  He is merely another product of sequel-itis though, and his contributions add nothing meaningful.

There’s little doubt this is Michael Bay movie - or should that be ‘product’.  Marketed to the extreme and executed with that perfect summer formula which has turned him into one of the most financially successful directors of all time, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a film that embraces its compromises and disregards its failings.  A perfect example of Bay’s brashness comes early on when Sam turns up to college and nobody comments that they’ve just arrived at the only educational establishment in Strippersville, USA.  Then, as if to force the point, when Sam’s parents later take a holiday, it turns out there’s a Strippersville in France too!  His focus is unashamedly about aesthetics above all else, but like his world of human perfection, the beauty is only skin deep.  Inside is a film wrought with a mess of story points, superficial characters, and only occasionally distracting visuals.

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