Thursday, June 2, 2011

More CG Robots And Megan Fox's Jiggling Breasts Cannot Save Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen!

The Good: Moments of special effect, Moments of story/character
The Bad: Predictable plot, Jumbled effects, Terrible acting
The Basics: With the second attempt to make Transformers an interesting live-action film, Michael Bay and his team give us nothing more than we've already seen before.

As a creative person, it always disappoints me to see things I know I have seen before coming out of supposedly talented individuals. Sadly, Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen is probably a flick that should have remained a film trailer only. Yes, I'd say it would not be wrong to make the movie trailer and have that be the entire cinematic experience in this case. This might not seem like a surprise, considering how my recent viewing of Transformers (reviewed here!) was enough to convince me not to drive down to a screening in IMAX that the director himself was at. Still, I went into Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen with an open mind and even preparation emotionally for some big, nonsensical action that pretty much defines Summer Blockbuster Season. Unfortunately, this sequel does not even insult the intelligence of the viewer by attempting to be surprising, original or even good.

Building on Transformers, Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen has the inevitable return to power of Megatron and the Decepticons and while the viewing experience for the mysticism introduced in the first film might make one think seeing Transformers was essential, Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen stands well-enough on its own to not truly need the first installment. The story of what happens between the two films is told in the graphic novels Defiance and Alliances in more depth. As a result, that's a few hours of one's life one may save by not wasting on the first film, though by the end of the two and a half hour sequel, one might wish they simply took my recommendation and passed on this film. It is worth noting, as well, that my critique of Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen is biased by the fact that I saw the movie on the big screen. The larger-than-life and often confused special effects are more fun on the big screen, yet will probably be less-overwhelming on the small screen when this arrives on DVD. I'm not sure if that made me rate it higher for the big-screen presentation, but I suspect it might.

Filling in the backstory of the denizens of Cyberton (a robotic race that later split into the Autobots and Decepticons), it is revealed that there was an older society of robots, known as the Primes. The Primes created an energy source, Energon, from stars, but their society fractured over capturing energy from stars with planets where life existed. The Primes thwarted The Fallen's ancient plan to destroy Earth's star by sacrificing themselves. Now, as Sam Witwicky leaves his girlfriend Mikaela behind, Sam heads to college while the Autobots search out and eliminate Decepticon forces on Earth that are still active. Sam, though, soon begins to suffer mysterious visions of symbols written in Cybertron glyphs.

As the Decepticons reanimate Megatron, Sam undergoes a nervous breakdown. On orders from The Fallen, Megatron and his forces regroup with a hunt for Sam as the remaining Prime understands that Sam's visions have to do with the location to the Sun Harvester, the weapon which will destroy Earth's sun. The U.S. military, Sam, the Autobots and former Section Seven agent Simmons converge in Egypt, but the Decepticons meet them there. After baiting a trap with Sam's captured parents, the Decepticons wage a battle which threatens to destroy the entire world.

The sense of scope in Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen is decent, but writers Alexander Kurtzman and Roberto Orci, teamed for this with Ehren Kruger, have certainly lost their spark on this one. While fans of science fiction will enjoy their tongue-in-cheek references to The Matrix, this is no The Matrix. While the authors rewrote the Star Trek universe quite effectively earlier the same Summer Blockbuster Season, they fail to convince the viewers of the jeopardy to Earth in Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen. While the idea of the Sun Harvester is not a bad one, there is never a single moment in the film where the viewer honestly believes that Sam, Mikaela, Major Lennox (and sidekick Epps!), and Simmons might fail. To be sure, the guys make a good stab at making the situation seem dire, but they borrow from the animated Transformers film that hit the big screen when I was a kid for their big sense of surprise (or at least the significant death) and that's just sad.

Yes, we've seen it all before. Even as I try to think of what I enjoyed about the movie, it is tough to consider objectively. While Devastator is a pretty wicked Decepticon revealed in the Egypt scenes, it was also in every preview I remember seeing. Yes, you get the best of the film from the trailer as this is probably the coolest, most innovative robot monster introduced in the film. And, without ruining anything, Devastator's exit from the film makes little sense. Simmons, working to save his birthland, calls in a secret weapon (amid some of the dumbest gonad-related humor seen on the screen in some time) which seems to hit Devastator in the shoulder. While this would certainly blow off an arm, it doesn't exactly explain how the evil robot is stopped, other than that it is knocked out of frame.

But this, then, comes back to the fundamental problem with the special effects; the effects are big and ballsy. This is a turn-off-your-brain summer blockbuster with lots of explosions and people running and a final forty-five minutes that have only about ten pages of actual dialogue. But the special effects are often too big and special effects are only special if they are rendered in such a way that the viewer can tell what is going on at any given time. Bay fills his screen with long shots of massive battles with robots and humans shooting everywhere, smoke blowing and giant columns being torn apart and he alternates them with close-ups of robot parts that lack a strong sense of identifiability. And some of the effects work only if one shuts their brain off; the robotic junkyard dog is very cool, but why its spine is covered in gore when it is torn out (even if it is lubricants) makes no real sense.

What also fails to make sense are the characters. Mikaela is little more than Sam's obvious love interest/sexy sidekick, but the writers and Bay give up on even trying to make their relationship make sense. In the midst of the huge battle, Sam orders Bumblebee to take his parents out of the war zone (they pop back up before the battle is actually over with no explanation, so Bumblebee pretty much stinks as a protector), turns to Mikaela and orders her to go, too. She says no and that's the end of it. Call me a romantic softy, but I think if I were trying to save the woman I loved from being crushed to death by psychotic robots with heavy artillery, I might not simply accept her "no" an let it go!

The relationship between Sam and Mikaela and Simmons' sudden desire to explore his heritage are all the character viewers get this round. Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen is dreadful on the character front and it devotes its time and energy to being plot-intensive (though there are not huge dissimilarities between the chase for the All Spark in Transformers and the search for the key matrix in this sequel) and special effects-filled. At least actor John Turturro as Agent Simmons illustrates that the actor wasn't about to waste all his time on screen. Turturro might not be terribly funny in the role as Simmons, but he works with the recognizable bits of a character arc well-enough that the viewer actually cares what happens to his character. Sadly, his is the only one viewers are likely to care about.

Personally, I feel sorry for Megan Fox as Mikaela in Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen. Outside Transformers, I've only seen Fox in How To Lose Friends And Alienate People where she played the over-the-top sex symbol and her role was to glide through her scenes looking beautiful. Michael Bay rides the camera over Fox's curves like a car magazine soft-core photographer and seems content to not have her speak much. Instead, Fox is put in a top with minimal support and run through the desert jiggling. Sure, with all of the explosions going on, there is plenty to draw the eye outside Fox's flopping breasts, but given the target audience, Bay knows where most eyes will be.

And those eyes certainly wouldn't be on Shia LaBeouf, whose acting is so wooden I continue to wonder how he gets work. Granted, LaBeouf is not being asked to recite Shakespeare or even make us care too much about his character, Sam, but when Kevin Dunn outshines LaBeouf as Sam's father constantly (and in the big scene of emotional resonance after Sam rescues him), one wonders how he keeps getting top billing.

On DVD, Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen arrives with a commentary track and an additional disc loaded with featuerettes. Many of the bonus features focus on the special effects, rather than the storytelling elements and those who watched the bonus features to the first Transformers are likely to feel a little cheated; there is not much different in the effects in this film. As well, there is the theatrical trailer to the movie.

Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen sets up for a sequel and while we can hope it might be better, it seems a vain hope. Given the chance to explore the characters of the Transformers universe, the writers returned to that franchise with more absurd plots (we never believe Earth's sun will be obliterated by The Fallen), more complicated special effects and more obvious exploitations of the franchise's most recognizable asset.

For other works by Alex Kurtzmen and Roberto Orci, please check out my reviews of:
Fringe - Season Two
Fringe - Season One
Star Trek
The Proposal


For other film reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2009 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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