Film Review: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

From the moment Transformers cleaned up at the box office in 2007, it was obvious that a sequel would be coming down the pipeline at full steam ahead. And while Revenge of the Fallen succeeds by the yardstick of “bigger, louder, and busier than its predecessor,” it never transcends this fundamental predictability.

Surprise, surprise – the Decepticons are back. This time they are after a shard of the Allspark, the transformers’ equivalent of a fountain of life, which remains in the possession of Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf). But Sam just wants to go to college like a regular kid, maintain a long distance relationship with Mikaela (Megan Fox), and not find himself (again) at the centre of an age-old blood feud between rival races of alien robots.

Surprise, surprise – he doesn’t get his wish.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Directed by Michael Bay.
Starring Shia LaBoeuf, Megan Fox, John Turturro, Josh Duhamel, Peter Cullen (voice), Hugo Weaving (voice), Tony Todd (voice).

The plot is a mess as only the plot of a $200 million movie whose budget was devoted entirely to special effects can be. The long and the short of it is that Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving), the first film’s “big bad,” is actually only a disciple of an even more evil, even more powerful transformer known as The Fallen (voiced by Tony Todd), who requires information somehow implanted into Sam’s brain by the Allspark shard in order to recover an ancient artifact which will allow him to destroy the sun for, uh, some reason or other. Definitely not good news for mankind, anyway.

This does pave the way for some impressive set pieces (the film’s raison d'être, after all), including an opening battle between the Autobots – now integrated into a top-secret US military team – and some Decepticons in Shanghai, and the grand finale of a showdown at the pyramids of Giza.

Strangely enough, the stand-out action sequence is neither of these, but rather a duel to the death between ultimate nemeses Megatron and Optimus Prime.

Perhaps it’s because director Michael Bay fills the 147 minutes of screen-time (much of it utterly superfluous) with all the high-octane gunfights and spectacular explosions that have earned the name “Bayhem” for this signature approach to cinematic destruction, such that a peaceful silvan setting is a refreshing change of pace.

Somehow, giant robots demolishing one another and the human world around them actually grows tiresome, which photorealistic computer imagery of this scale is not generally inclined to do.

Even the lulls between firefights are offensive, packed to the gills with sexual innuendo, supposedly humorous genital trauma, and unexpected marijuana jokes completely inappropriate for the audience of prepubescent boys who just want to see the Autobots beat the Decepticons on an IMAX screen for a second time.

Let’s not forget the pair of Hispanic-sounding robots who can only stop thrashing one another long enough to confess they are unable to read (apparently when they perused human media to get their bearings on Earth, they watched a Stepin Fetchit marathon), or the dialogue so sloppy, the exposition so cumbersome (yes, even coming from the authors of this summer’s successful and coherent Star Trek) it actually makes one yearn for the stilted manhandling of simple conversations by George Lucas in his Star Wars prequels.

Perhaps the action grows boring because for all the “Bayhem” it’s utterly incomprehensible: out of the myriad transformers (Bay has boasted that there are more than 40 in total) only one or two are recognizable in the midst of the robo-carnage.

But even were that not the case, the sheer scale of it all is simply overwhelming; the effects grow numbing, until the sight of an entire construction site’s worth of machinery transforming and coalescing into one mammoth Decepticon elicits little more than a shrug.

What Michael Bay apparently still hasn’t realized is that no amount of scale can make up for a total lack of emotional involvement on the part of the audience. With Sam and Mikaela as an established couple right from the beginning, they have no arc to follow, and with the writing as poor as it is, the audience has no reason to care.

What’s left is an absolute triumph of spectacle over substance – one which will inevitably make a truckloads of cash, but which plays out like a two-hour ad for the United States military, and with roughly the same emotional impact.

The spectacle does carry a certain wow-factor, but one can only hope that this time the bad guys stay dead.