Movie Review - Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
By Matthew Huntley
July 5, 2009

We hope he uses that stabby thing on the jive-talking twins.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is the biggest, loudest and dumbest Hollywood blockbuster since, well, Transformers (2007). Not much is different between this overblown sequel and the original. Both have the same look, style, cornball characters and a ridiculously overwrought plot. And why wouldn't the studio want more of the same? The first one made so much money that it was practically a no-brainer to copy it. What's interesting is the fact that Revenge of the Fallen has garnered some of the worst reviews of the year, many from the same critics who liked the original. Do they not see it as more or less the same movie?

For me, that's problem number one, because I was not much a fan of the original. It was an overproduced, overstylized and ultimately confusing mess, stuffed with sitcom-level humor and cartoon characters that got on your nerves. Luckily, Revenge of the Fallen is slightly better and seems to have grown up a bit by relinquishing some of the elements that made the first one annoying and frustrating to watch. It's still loud, crazy and all over the place, but at least it's more tolerable, especially on the comedic level.

Because the first one was such a bona fide hit, the sequel also seemed surer of itself, although it still suffers from an exceedingly long running time and a plot that's too complicated for its own good. Come to think of, why do both movies spend so much time on their plots anyway? Does anyone really care about them? So many scenes are about putting pieces of a puzzle together that it comes at the expense of character and story.

About that plot: It's been two years since Optimus Prime and his team of alien Autobots arrived on earth to do battle with Megatron and the evil Decepticons. Megatron now lies at the bottom of the sea, under heavy surveillance, and the Autobots have formed an alliance with the United States Army called Nest, in which they team up and search for the remaining Decepticons around the world.

If you can believe it, the movie actually opens in 17,000 B.C. and a voiceover explains how humans and Transformers first came into contact thousands of years ago. Primes, as they were called, searched the universe for solar energy but agreed to spare those planets with sustainable life. But there was one renegade Transformer, nicknamed "The Fallen," who went back on this agreement. Now, in present day, he wants revenge, as do his followers, including a revived Megatron and his faithful Decepticons.

Over on the human side of things, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is starting college and trying to build a long-distance relationship with his hotter-than-heck girlfriend, Mikaela (Megan Fox). But he comes into contact with a shard of the All Spark, the source of all Transformers' life, and it infuses his mind with mysterious symbols that provide a map to the Sun Harvester, the device sought by "The Fallen" and the Decepticons. In a nutshell, the Sun Harvester will be used to destroy earth and mankind. Naturally, a battle ensues between Bumblebee and friends to prevent the bad Transformers from getting their hands on it.

The long and short of the plot is that it's an excuse to transport the main characters, who also include Sam's college roommate, Leo (Ramon Rodriguez), and Agent Simmons (John Turturro), around the world so the Decepticons can chase them and the Autobots can protect them. Then again, it doesn't matter where any character is in this movie, because despite the location, there is always screaming, things are always getting blown up and destroyed, characters are always running, jumping and hiding (much of the time in slow motion), and there is always a lot of transforming going on. Amidst all the noise and special effects, two action sequences did stand out - one in a car hanging upside down, the other in a forest. These, surprisingly, provided a real sense of rush that was missing from the first movie. Watch out for them.

I also liked the humor better this time around, especially from Rodriguez and Turturro, who have good chemistry and aren't afraid to make themselves look stupid. However, instead of coming across as annoying, their characters have an innocence to them act just plain goofy.

Where the humor doesn't work, and in a big way, is with two vexing twin Autobots named Mudflap and Skids, who manifest all the African-American stereotypes. They're so obnoxious they'll probably go down as the Jar Jar Binkses of the Transformers franchise.

I mentioned the two action scenes, but aside from those, there's not much else to speak positively about with Revenge of the Fallen. Some people will call it mindless fun, or escapism, but it doesn't allow us to escape so much as put us into a trance of ceaseless violence and destruction. After a while, I became numb to what I was watching because it seemed like the same images and sounds were being thrown at me over and over again. At about the one-third mark, none of it fully registered with me anymore and I found myself tuning out.

Director Michael Bay must learn to pace his movies instead of letting them constantly go on all-out sprints. Otherwise, we're merely seeing and hearing things; we're not watching or listening. Plus, because the action is so prolific from the very first frame all the way to the last, it doesn't feel as urgent, dangerous or critical for the characters, so it bears no narrative value. It's there because there's nothing else.

Still, I'm glad Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is only stupid and orotund and not necessarily offensive, unlike Bay's previous monstrosities (Pearl Harbor, Bad Boys II). It's so silly and laughable that it prevents me from being too hard on it, although I'm sure many people will find plenty of reasons to find it assaulting.

For Transformers 3 (and there will be another sequel), Paramount should relieve Michael Bay of duty and let another director try his or her hand at the material. Bay has already made the studio a fortune, so a more gifted director, one with a knack for storytelling, should take over and attempt to bring narrative balance to the equation, preferably where story and character are prioritized over action. Unfortunately, Revenge of the Fallen will probably make so much money at the box office that it's probably a lost cause to beseech the studio for something new and different. Not only is that a lost cause, but ultimately, so is this movie.