Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Bigger, louder, sillier, and longer than the first film, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” shows that more is just more.  At once a product and a victim of the blockbuster mentality that now dominates Hollywood, this sequel was made without much consideration for narrative, involvement or pleasure.  

Fans of the first film, which grossed north of $700 million globally, won’t be disappointed, but whether this “Transformeers” will recruit new afficionadoas remains to be seen, when Paramount releases the picture June 24, almost a week after its opening in France, the U.K. and other countries. Since his first outing, Shia LaBeouf has acquired a new fan base, a combined result of his onscreen appearances as well as press generated from his off screen conduct, which may help the box-office, too.

The shortcomings in the script and characterization, which are more apparent here than in the 2007 hit, are the main problem, representing a low point for writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (who penned the first feature), joined by Ehren Kruger (“The Ring,” “The Brothers Grimm”). There are three hypotheses for the absence of a coherent (or any) story.  The scribes are lazy and don’t much care, or they know that the fan boys will take anything that transforms, or they have low regard for the viewers’ expectations.

 The screenplay is, in one word, inane, failing to make sense on any level, thematic, historical, or even geographic.  Nominally, the saga is old-fashioned, borrowing many elements (particularly in the second half) from Lucas-Spielberg’s “Raiders of the Lost of the Ark,” and from the cheesy archeological epic “The Mummy,” in both of which the protagonists are searching an invaulable object that might hold the key to the future.  As a result, we have a story that obeys no rules, a scenario in which human characters and robots appear and reappear aribtrarily, join forces and separate out of nowhere, so to speak.   

 

 There are many more robots than in the first film and the spectacular CGI effects hit you over the head fast, often drowning out the dialogue and forcing the actors to scream just in order to be heard (not that it matters so much).

 

As the director of this mega video-game-picture, Michael Bay unfairly will be blamed for all the deficiencies, even though his staging of action sequences and orchestration of special effects is the film’s most entertaining element.  This may sound like a strange defense of Bay, known for such actioners as “Bad Boys,” “The Rock,” “Pearl Harbour,” and, of course, “The Tranformers.”  However, stuck with a poorly written tale, Bay did what he could to make an aggressively  sensorial spectacle, one which relies heavily on stunning visual and sound effects, some never before experienced.  

 

 

(I saw the movie in an Imax theater, surrounded by uoung noys, which was an amazingly immersive experience.  You can see the movie as a test of endurance, namely, at what point you stop fighting what you see and  surrender or succumb to the movie).

The sensibilities of Orci and Kurtzman, who go for Spielberg’s kind of suburban life, family issues, and juvenile humor, without his wit or talent, and that of Bay, known for a maestro of big explosions, simply do not match.  As a result, there are two movies that run parallel to each other, colliding rather than meshing: One that tries to tell a story with minimu characterizations; the other a flick totally dominated by special effects. 

The premise is rather simple. The Autobots work alongside the U.S. military to protect the world from further Decepticon attacks.  The evil Transformer known as The Fallen is masterminding a plan to destroy all the Autobots.

The Autobots, led by Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) have joined forces with the military to hunt down the remaining Decepticons.   However, after chasing a giant creature through Shanghai, they receive a warning the sinister robote Fallen is heading for Earth.
After a prologue, which is set in 17,000 B.C., and is accompanied by an ominous voice-over, we meet U.S. Army Capt. Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and Sergeant Epps (Tyrese Gibson), who are now members of an elite squad called NEST.  The unit uses humans and Autobots to hunt down rogue Decepticons across the globe.  

 

For their part, hoping to free their leader Megatron (Hugo Weaving), who was previously imprisoned at the bottom of the ocean, the villains are hoping to uncover the remaining shards of the powerful cube (“the Spark”) that was destroyed at the end of the first picture.

 

Cut to the bright, fast-talking teenager nerd Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), who is heading for college (Princeton), without his girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox), the sexy mechanic who lives in her father’s garage.  She is introduced wearing tight denim shorts, leaning in a suggestive position over a motorcycle.

Some goofy humor is included in the scenes depciting Sam’s packing up his stuff and preparing to leave his nest, while his dotting, klutzy mother (Julie White) is crying hysterically for losing her baby, and his father (Kevin Dunne) is trying to calm everybody, though he is a nebbish himself.  

At college, Sam finds himself suffering spasmodic, brain-scrambling visions, which seem to be related to the ongoing Transformers war.  Speaking of school, comic Rian plays a flamboyant (gay?) physics professor, wearing black leather pants and a scarf, and all the students, including Sam’s techie roommate, are extremely attractive, with the women dressed and walking like models. 

Times have changed: The students’ frat parties now rake place as sleazy discos and strip clubs.  On Sam’s first night out, he’s seduced by a Decepticon posing as a seductive fresh student.  A lap dance leads to a near consummation, when the door opens and girlfriend Mikaella shows up, unexpectedly.

 

The best characters in the first film were Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, but in the second chapter, the narrative center (if there is such a thing) is occupied by a pair of Smart Autobots called Mudflap and Skids.  

Globetrotting, the tale goes to New York, Paris, Shanghai, Egypt, and Jordan, and at one time or another, each of these locations gets blown away to pieces (even the sacred) pyramids with a series of escalating explosions; in fact, the next-to-last reel is all explosions, with everything in sight blown away, including the actors who seem to be flying from one location to another.
 

Visually, the picture rocks rather than moves, and constantly pounding rock music on the soundtrack magnifies that feeling.  That said, the combat sequences are better choreographed than in the first chapter, and there are more close-ups of both the Transformers and the humans’ faces.

Size matters: All of Bay’s movies tend to overstay their welcome, and this one is no different.  However, with all its protracted running time (149 minutes), which is at least half an hour longer than it needs to be, “Transformers 2” does not take itself, the audience, or anything else too seriously; it’s all trivial, inconsequential fun, the kind of which we expect to have at an amusement park.

Shia LaBoeuf wears a bandage, the cause of which was worked into the plot as an explanation of the accident that occurred during shooting. As an actor, he possesses streetssmart and innocent charm, qualities which help him play a youngster caught up in circumstances way beyond his wildest imagination.

It’s still hard to tell whether Meagn Fox can act, but she’s nice to look at, sort of an eye candy for the boys.  She’s either shown wearing ripped denim shorts or running around in tight white jeans in the desert, that never get messed up (nor does her make-up or lipstick).

Indie icon John Turturro, whose character has been demoted from a government agent to a butcher in a Brooklyn delicatessen, brings some  zany humor to the proceedings, and at one point, changing outfits, he’s shown from behind wearing a G-string. Don’t ask why, because that the level of humor.  In another scene, Rodriguez lands on top of Megan Fox in a suugestive position with his head buried in her crutch, while he complains that her knees are smashing his balls.
 
Balls are used in the picture in literal and metaphoric ways. One of the visual highlights is a floor full of silver balls, which begin to form a geometric figure until they emerge as a full robot.  It’s an amazing sight to behold, a testament to the level of technological sophistication and artificial intelligene that inform the entire picture and is very much absent from the storytelling and paper-thin characters, who most of the time rather than acting are engaged in running and trying to avoid the chasing hardware behind them.  

The whole movie is informed by a “cartoonish reality.” “It’s about big explosions, beautiful women, fast cars, and insanity,” LaBeouf told  the press before the London premiere.  “We never try to be anything else and it is not like our audience ever wants it to be anything else.” 

 

 Which makes me wonder how long, loud and metallic the third chapter of the planned trilogy will be in 2011?