Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Review
Michael Bay made Transformers happen. The Big Screen outing for the popular Hasbro toy / comic line / animated TV show was only possible through Bay's vision, enthusiasm, and - arguably most importantly - his funding. Throw that much money into a movie about a bunch of giant robots from another planet (which can convert themselves into vehicles just by looking at them) battling it out on Earth and it is quite hard to go wrong. Bay's interpretation sacrificed substance for visual opulence, opting instead to give you more bang for your buck - but little else. Still, for a first Transformers outing it was pretty damn enjoyable, extremely impressive and paved the way for a potentially better follow-up.
Personally, I had hoped that improving on the original may have included improving on the fight scenes between the robots. Seeing massive robots duke it out in true retro Transformers style should have been the clear highlight of the original, but actually the best bits were often the scenes where the puny humans were overwhelmed by some thundering, transforming robot. These were the highlights. However the best moments should have been those where Optimus Prime, leader of the good robots - the Autobots - is going mano-a-mano with his arch-nemesis Megatron, the leader of the evil Decepticons. Instead, those scenes were a bit of a mess. Lots of crashing and swirling in the air and then, when it was all over, just two damaged robots crawling around on the ground. The fighting was disappointingly difficult to follow. So maybe a sequel would fix that too? Yes, better story, better robot confrontations, more robots in general and less silly goofy humans - however likeable Shia LaBoeuf may be and however hot Megan Fox may be. Sounds like a plan, Mr Bay? Well, how did the sequel turn out then? Was it an improvement over the original or was it just yet more bang for your buck in typical Bay style?
Transformers introduced us to a bunch of ancient robots (massively futuristic by our standards) who land on Earth in search of a mystical 'Allspark' cube. Two opposing 'races' - one prepared to protect and co-exist with humans, and one content to wipe out everything in their path to get to what they want - fight it out to get to the cube, and whilst the good guys win out, the cube gets destroyed in the process. The leader of the Decepticon 'bad guys' gets put out of action and - for some stupid reason - rather than being destroyed, he is dumped in the Laurentian Abyss, where warships will supposedly guard over him ad infinitum. And in the aftermath, several robots on both sides are found to have been destroyed, a city devastated, and many troops killed.
Cut to a couple of years into the future and somehow - unfathomably - the Government have covered everything up and nobody knows anything about these giant robots. Instead they are now part of an elite military unit which sweeps the globe picking off Decepticon stragglers. Of course, what this largely involves is the military going in, getting the hell kicked out of them, and then the Autobots saving the day. When a shard from the previously destroyed Allspark turns up, all hells breaks loose once again on the planet, as the Decepticons rise up to get the shard, free Megatron and discover the location of an ancient planet-destroying weapon controlled by an even older evil Transformer called The Fallen. And it's up to Optimus Prime and his brave Autobots (as well as the same motley crew of irritating humans - together with a few extra, new - even more irritating - ones) to save the day once again.
I should say that Revenge of the Fallen gets one thing right. The fight scenes. Although there is still a big issue over distinguishing the Transformers (particularly the silver Decepticons, which, frankly, all look identical), the fights are much easier to follow. From the opening confrontation to the rescue that sees Optimus and Megatron go at it, to the fantastic three-on-one fight between Optimus and 3 baddies (admittedly who, again, all look the same) in the forest, to the extended finale, you can see very discernable, choreographed moves - kicks, punches, and even some more complicated martial arts thrown into the mix (particularly with Bumblebee). If you watch what I call the 'kids version' which I showed to my cousin - which basically consists of all of the aforementioned robot fights and lasts little over an hour, with me skipping the chapters in between - then you have a very enjoyable, flashy blockbuster movie. Unfortunately the full movie runs at some two and a half hours and is neither suitable for children nor particularly entertaining for them.
The first Transformers movie had the benefit of being very original, breathtaking in its amazing effects, and extremely good fun. Sure, it had silly moments - a few too many - and sure the robot fights were a little blurry and fast-cut, but you could forgive a lot basically because you had never seen anything quite like this before. The Fallen has no such excuse, and whilst it has some superb fight scenes - and many more of them - it also has much more silliness, and a stupid, protracted globe-trotting story that really isn't very interesting (or coherent) at all.
Shia LaBoeuf's Sam Witwicky, the innocent kid who got swept up in the exploits during the first outing, returns along with his unbelievably hot girlfriend Mikaela (Megan 'The' Fox) to get into trouble once again. LaBoeuf - who does Harrison Ford-style everyday man extremely well - is perhaps the only endearing character in the movie, although his girlfriend is certainly pleasing on the eye. The problem is that they get caught up in a horrendous storyline that involves a bunch of uber-pretty geeks, an evil Decepticon (who can somehow transform into a human?!?), a rebel Decepticon (who can somehow teleport?!?) and a few returning familiar faces - who were also irritating the first time round. Sam's parents get high on pot (?!?), he teams up with John Turturro's now ex-special agent (who manages to find an excuse to show us his underwear, yet again?!) and they basically jump around the globe to find the planet-destroying weapon before the Decepticons do. A couple of the Army guys from the first movie return - and have some less irritating parts, but are no less pointless: there really is no reason for them to be there at all. None of the locations make sense, none of the trips are plausible and, for some insanely stupid reason, they just drop a little teleportation into the middle of the whole thing for the hell of it. Characters drive, fly, teleport and - even more unbelievably - run from location to location, the 2-mile midday run made improbable mainly due to the fact that THEY ARE IN THE DESERT. I bet all University students wished they were as fit as Sam and Mikaela.
The subplots are ludicrously protracted. Why bother with them except to buff out the runtime, allow for further extravagant locations and have more room for goofy human behaviour. I don't want to see John Turturro's hairy ass, hear a grown man scream like a girl, watch Megan Fox squat on a bike like a pornstar - on her knees with her ass hanging out of a short shorts (at least I didn't wanna' watch this bit with my younger cousin) or see Isabel Lucas' crawl all over Shia LaBoeuf (again, remember the younger cousin) flashing her also admittedly fantastic ass as robot tentacle extends from under her nothing of a skirt. Am I watching Transformers here? Or is this American Pie? When Michael Bay famously stated that Revenge of the Fallen was like Apocalypse Now crossed with Ben Hur (?!?), was he referring to the bit where Turturro shows his ass for no apparent reason, or the bit where Turturro talks about being directly beneath a Decepticon's giant testicles?
I saw Revenge of the Fallen during its brief UK IMAX run, and I have to say that it looked amazing. But its bone-numbingly overlong runtime certainly made you frustrated by the end of it all. Trust me, you can trim it down to an hour of action, maybe a little longer if you want some Shia LaBoeuf (the only decent character in it) thrown into the mix, but there is so much sheer wasted time (the Tranformer 'heaven' moment was truly truly awful) that nobody can really justify sitting through this mess - in its entirety - more than once. As such, Fallen marks a massively wasted opportunity. I'm glad Bay picked up on the fact that the fights had to be improved, and did so, but his other tactic of more bang for your buck just leaves you positively exhausted and marginally unfulfilled by the end of it. Some judicious editing would have worked wonders, and a decent plot would have been a good idea. But maybe that was a bit much to ask for with Michael 'bigger is better' Bay behind it all. Tediously long, sporadically jaw-dropping.