Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

In this movie machines command far more attention than the stars.

In this movie machines command far more attention than the stars.

(DreamWorks) Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Kevin Dunn, Ramon Rodriguez, Julie White, Isabel Lucas, John Benjamin Hickey, Rainn Wilson, Michael Papajohn, Deep Roy. Directed by Michael Bay.

The most anticipated movie of summer 2009 was easily Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. After Michael Bay’s Transformers was a megahit in 2007, a sequel was inevitable. The questions are; would it be entertaining and would it be as good as the first.

Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) is trying to put his past behind him. Having helped defeat a race of evil robots, he is ready to resume a more-or-less normal life. He’s leaving home for college at an Ivy League school, much to the pride of his mother (White) and to the financial discomfiture of his father (Dunn). He is still with Mikaela (Fox), a much hotter girlfriend than he has a right to be with, and a robot guardian who transforms from a sick sportscar into Bumblebee a mute robot with the loyalty of a terrier.

However, destiny isn’t quite done with Sam Witwicky. A sliver from the Allspark that was destroyed in the first movie remained in his hoodie. When Sam picks it up, he begins to have visions of strange symbols, the meaning of which he can’t understand. He also begins to display an understanding of math and physics that is way beyond what humans currently understand.

The benevolent Autobots have not strayed far from Earth. Led by the noble Optimus Prime, they assist NEST, a military team led by Major Lennox (Duhamel) dedicated to rooting out stray Decepticons that have remained after the battle in which their leader, Megatron was apparently destroyed. Optimus and Lennox are disturbed because they have been a lot busier of late than they’ve ever been. Lennox believes that a signal sent out into space by Megatron before Optimus shut him down may have attracted new Decepticons to Earth, but for what purpose? With the Allspark gone, there isn’t anything left on Earth that the Decepticons would want – or is there?

The reason for the season turns out to be found in an ancient fact; the Transformers had been on Earth thousands of years before. It turns out they had been hopping from planet to planet, utilizing a machine that was able to extract energy from stars. The Primes, the ruling class of the Transformers, had forbidden the use of this machine on a planet that had life on it, but one of their brethren, to be known thereafter as The Fallen, attempted to use the machine on Earth, leading to a battle that would ignite the civil war that continued for millennia. The machine remained hidden on Earth, and the means to use it protected by the very bodies of the Primes. The Fallen, locked in exile off-planet, has plans to reactivate the machine and claim final victory over his nemesis Optimus Prime, but he would need his apprentice Megatron to do it. The wheels are turning and events set in motion. The stakes are sky-high; if Sam Witwicky can’t decipher what these symbols mean, the human race is lost.

Michael Bay has developed a reputation as a director as one who specializes in loud, aggressive action movies with lots of explosions, and this one is no different. In some ways, it’s the perfect summer movie – it doesn’t require too much thought and moves from one action sequence to the next with a minimum of exposition and a maximum of explosion. There are also gratuitous shots of Megan Fox looking worried (and sexy), annoyed (and sexy), disappointed (and sexy), scared (and sexy) and sexy (and….oh never mind). It’s a wet dream of a movie for adolescent boys. The pacing is meant for those with the attention span of adolescent boys.

The problem here is that most of the acting is as wooden as a log cabin. LaBeouf in particular seemed uninvested in the movie; I got the impression that we would have seen more passion from him at the bank while he was depositing the very large check he undoubtedly received for making the movie. Also, I have no idea why Megan Fox is in this movie other than to provide the target audience of young boys some sort of fantasy figure to run in slow-mo away from explosions. On that end she is at least successful; she looks very good running in slow-mo away from explosions. Only Turturro, Dunn and pop star Tyrese seem to be having any fun at all and Turturro is so over-the-top he’s almost annoying, like he’s a villain in a Robert Rodriguez children’s movie.

The special effects and action sequences are top-notch; I can guarantee you get more than your money’s worth in those departments. They’re good enough in fact to allow for a mild recommendation, which is more or less irrelevant because this movie will make big box office bucks regardless of what any critic has to say. And say it they will, and not without justification. My issue with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is not that it’s a bad movie; just that it’s a lazy one. It could have been written better, it could have been a much more satisfying film in so many ways if the filmmakers had taken the time to give it just a little bit of depth. One of my favorite movies from last summer was Iron Man – there was no shortage of action in that movie, but it was well-written and well-acted. Iron Man is a movie I own on DVD; I doubt I will be that interested in owning Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen unless it shows up in the Blockbuster pre-owned bin at a ridiculously low price.

So about those questions I asked earlier: is it entertaining? Definitely yes. Is it better than the first movie? I’d have to say no. If the reason you’re coming to see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is, as my 20-year-old slacker son says, an excuse to see robots battling each other, you’re in for a treat. I have to admit, though, that’s an awfully low bar of expectations to have in this day and age.

WHY RENT THIS: Special effects and robot battle scenes are extraordinary. Those who grew up with the Transformers are going to not only want to rent this but buy this for their home collection.

REASONS TO STAY: Poorly written and woodenly acted. It’s sometimes difficult to tell which robot is battling which, and who the good guys are (hint: they are the ones with color). It’s definitely aimed at adolescent males which may be a problem if you aren’t one.

FAMILY VALUES: Smaller children may be terrified at the battle scenes and the very LOUD sound effects.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: John Turturro was allowed to climb the pyramids in Giza for a climactic scene, a rarely-granted privilege. While filming the scene, he became so overwhelmed by the location that he broke down in tears.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: On the 2-Disc DVD and Blu-Ray editions, there is a feature on the history of the Transformers, and one in which a film crew accompanied director Michael Bay for 24 hours revolving around the film’s premiere in Tokyo. On Blu-Ray there is an Allspark feature that allows you to Transform customizable vehicles to see what happens. There is also a database of new characters for the movie that allow viewers to take a unique 3-D 360 degree look at the machines.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Away From Her

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