It would be easy to say that Michael Bay‘s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen plays like a movie made by a thirteen year old boy for other thirteen year old boys, but if that were actually the case, it might not be such a wretched experience. Made by a filmmaker who doesn’t seem to be much evolved beyond the mentality of a teenager, yes, Revenge of the Fallen could also probably be characterized as the Hollywood sequel machine run amok. Who needs ‘better’ when you can do more, louder, flashier?
Transformers is dull, ponderous and overlong, packed to the gills with glamor shots of busy robot designs and Megan Fox, flashes of idiocy (a small robot humping the leg of Fox, who smiles at it fondly) and endless examples of Bay’s increasingly tedious military porn. If summer entertainment is meant to be diverting and imaginative, Revenge of the Fallen succeeds only in that it drove me into periods of catatonic daydreaming, where I imagined watching anything else.
Returning human couple Sam (Shia LaBeouf) and Mikayla (Fox) are both one-dimensional fantasies, so they’re perfect for each other. (He’s the overly geeky, awkward kid who still gets the wildly hot girl, she’s said wildly hot girl who also knows which end of a wrench is the important one.) As Sam is about to go away to college the two get drawn back into the interstellar war between the Autobots and Decepticons, which is now revealed to have roots in events that took place on earth twenty thousand years ago.
The story is overbearing, and despite occupying massive chunks of the overlong two and a half hour running time, never quite comes together. The Fallen is a rogue cousin of Optimus Prime who decided to make a power grab. Decepticons want to resurrect him and Sam, infected with subconscious knowledge of Transformer history, discovers that finding an old object of power is the only way to stop him. Cue a global trek, the resurrection of an old geezer turncoat robot and endless scenes in which human military tries in vain to shoot down evil robots, seemingly included because all the weapons look neat.
The script allots the story moments of huge importance, like tedious military briefings and intense confrontations between human and robot, because this is a Mythology! It’s a Real Story. The impulse to graft a dense narrative onto what should be ninety minutes of giant robot battles is a tremendous mistake.
Bay always makes movies with an eye that takes in little more than what looks good. The approach has worked in the past: The Rock, the Bad Boys movies and much of Armageddon are entertaining in exactly the big, silly sense that Bay seems to intend. But here he goes all out, and all semblance of storytelling gets lost in the whirlwind. A massive evil spaceship plays home to the Decepticons and is then never seen again. Entire swaths of story is set into motion when the bad guys overhear a couple chunks of expository recap dialogue. And a Decepticon disguises itself as a human, begging the question of why all these robots are bothering to be cars in the first place.
Continuity is out the window. Robots marked with dents and battle grime turn into immaculately polished cars. It seems to be daytime everywhere on Earth at once. A construction vehicle becomes a wild two-wheeled Decepticon (seen in the trailers) that grows larger in every successive shot, until it is a dozen times larger than it originally appeared. (Edit: by which I do not mean Devastator, the giant Decepticon which is assembled from a bunch of other construction vehicles.) And unless I missed something (which is possible, as this film bored me into a stupor at times) the characters enter the National Air and Space Museum in DC, look for a mothballed old Transformer, find it and break out the back door, which opens on what seems to be a field in Arizona.
A movie like this is always crafted from flexible, fuzzy logic; this is a story about battles between giant robots from space that discard all laws of mass and physics when they change into cars. But Revenge of the Fallen feels like it was pieced together moment to moment, scenes written on post-it notes and napkins at lunch to be filmed that same afternoon. That’s where the feeling of storytelling by thirteen-year old comes in; it’s all ‘and then, and then, and then’ with no sense of movement or structure. The result is initially disorienting, then just crushingly dull.
The most entertainment the movie offered me was in the handful of scenes shot in native IMAX format. They include a knock-down fight in a forest and some of Devastator’s assault on a pyramid. Perhaps because the sequences were composed and designed to take advantage of the large format, they aren’t as incomprehensible as everything else. They have more flow and a slightly calmer pace than other fight scenes. The visual clarity was also impressive, and after the first such sequence, when I saw the aspect ratio open up to occupy the entire IMAX screen I got a lot more willing to accept the showy theatrics. But as Dave Chen pointed out, those sequences are also undermined by poor planning. The latter IMAX scenes featuring Devastator constantly switch back and forth from the widescreen aspect ratio to IMAX format, which is wildly distracting.
A few moments of nearly inspired lunacy almost brought me back into the tale. (Notably, I was quite amused when Sam is confronted by what seems to be a cohort of heavenly, angelic Autobots.) But those moments were few and far between, and the endless gunfire and explosions separating them were like the loudest lullaby ever written.
/Film rating: 3 out of 10