Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Directed by Michael Bay. Voices by Hugo Weaving, Peter Cullen, Tom Kenny. Starring Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Turturro, Rainn Wilson, Ramon Rodriguez. (2009, PG-13, 149 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., June 26, 2009
Bay’s follow-up to his international smash hit of 2007 ups the ante on big and dumb. His new Transformers movie, the extraterrestrials of which are based on the Hasbro toys that can morph from cars and other prosaic metal objects into awesome fighting machines, aims for impact over sense, clobbering viewers with its sensory overload and bludgeoning us into weary submission. The film plays to our senses, whether it’s the spectacle of a GM vehicle methodically folding and unfolding itself into a mighty killing machine, the exhilarating sound of metal thrashing metal, or the lewd thrill that comes from ogling gearhead babe Mikaela (Fox) in her short shorts and cleavage-revealing tops or, as she’s fetishistically shown in her introductory shot, horizontally astride a motorcycle so that her torso looks like an organic extension of the bike’s gas tank. Revenge of the Fallen might not be louder (though I didn’t bring my decibel meter) than its predecessor, but it’s assuredly “noisier” in the sense that the film is a clanging, full-metal racket from start to finish, with only the rare narrative pause for dramatic scenes devoted to exclusively human interactions. Bay opens the movie in full-tilt mode as the heroic Autobots and villainous Decepticons are shown waging their epic battles on Earth as long as 17,000 years ago and as recently as present-day Shanghai. Much time passes before a human storyline enters the picture – and when it does, the gist of it is given over to the high-stakes drama of which of the lovebirds, Sam (LaBeouf) or Mikaela, will be the first to say “I love you” to the other. (Their love, of course, was forged in the process of mutually saving the world in Part 1.) Rodriguez earns some credible laughs as Sam’s new college roommate, while Sam’s parents return for a few witless scenes in which: 1) Sam’s mom scarfs some pot brownies and makes a fool of herself on campus, 2) the empty-nesters take a French vacation (denoted solely by a display of disgust for escargot and a mime who interrupts their lunch), and 3) a Transformer scoops them up in France and deposits them, for no discernible reason, in the midst of the climactic battle royale taking place in the Egyptian desert. Indie icon Turturro also returns for this outing to provide some needed comic relief – unfortunately the highlight may be the gratuitous shot of him bare-assed in a jockstrap. Revenge of the Fallen also introduces some new Tranformers (including one with wrecking-ball testicles). However, the illiterate, ghetto-speaking Skids and Mudflap (voiced by Kenny, of SpongeBob SquarePants fame), who are poised as the breakout Autobots, are instead the most retrograde blockbuster embarrassment since Jar Jar Binks strode across the screen. So the script (by Star Trek writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman and The Ring scripter Ehren Kruger) is from hunger, but, honestly, that’s not what we and gazillions of non-English-speaking viewers around the globe want from this franchise. It’s the action. On that score, this film is a poster child for the idea that more does not always equal more. Even though there are more Bots and more prolonged battle sequences than in the first movie, it is often difficult to discern precisely what is happening as mechanical body parts unfurl and thrust as they fight. We are bombarded with the magnitude and plenitude of these “nonbiologicals,” while paradoxically losing sight of their distinguishing characteristics. (And maybe this is just an outsider’s question, but I don’t understand why, in battle, these multiton creatures fight like human beings, kicking and punching instead of using their endowed metal brawn as their best offense.) With a typically grandiose running time (one of Bay’s signature directorial touches), Revenge of the Fallen overstays its welcome by at least a half-hour. But, assuming that cute Camaro stays in the picture, I expect we’ll all be back for the planned round three.