REVIEW: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen [2009]

Score: 5/10 | ★ ★

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 150 minutes | Release Date: June 24th, 2009 (USA)
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director(s): Michael Bay
Writer(s): Ehren Kruger, Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman

“What if we leave and you’re wrong?”

My screening of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen ended around 10:00pm. What do we see in the lobby as we exit the theatre? A line already forming for the midnight show less than two hours away, the premiere time slot to expose the world to the ancient Decepticon Fallen. Those kids were ready for a good time, hoping that the sequel lived up to the surprisingly effective first installment. If any of them had asked me as I walked by what I thought, I would have told them the truth: it’s not that bad. In hindsight, I think I gave the original too high a rating. It did entertain and the computer graphics were impeccable, but it too often had me shaking my head at the clumsy script and abundance of cheese. It was a crapshoot on what to expect with a sequel from maestro of destruction Michael Bay. All I knew for sure was that he’d bring more robots, explosions, and carnage, because, frankly, that’s how he rolls.

Let’s put this phenomenon in perspective. Not only are all local theaters playing a midnight show—yes, even the drive-in—but tomorrow’s “first day” screenings begin at 10:00am. It’s a Wednesday people. I understand it’s the summer and most kids are off of school, but one can imagine how many people lining up in the morning are playing hooky from work too. This thing will be breaking the bank for sure, despite the early, mostly derisive reviews. The people that will be pumping money into Hollywood’s coffers aren’t likely to be reading those critical analyses anyway. No, they are probably going to see it again instead. In all honesty, I don’t blame them one bit. If I were a serious critic—looking at this thing in comparison with the great movies of all time and nitpicking every minute detail—I’d probably be hailing it as one of the worst motion pictures ever. But I am not and I won’t. Transformers 2 is a heck of a lot of fun and I can say with a straight face that you will have a blast with it if you enjoyed the first.

The movie brings what you’d expect from Bay: more of everything. There is a ton more action (mostly robot versus robot fighting) that intrigues immensely. I could have gone without the quips and stupid catchphrases they throw at each other, but that is a minor quibble. Even the comedic aspect is increased. And as someone who thought the first was too campy, this actually isn’t a bad thing. The humor is shored up and honed with less head-shaking and more laughing. Even little inside jokes thrown in, like a Bad Boys II poster hanging in Sam’s dorm room, spark chuckles. I was also beginning to think that John Turturro redeemed himself for a dismally weak performance in the first until they had to put him underneath a robot with two hanging metal orbs to which he spoke over the radio, “I’m beneath the robot scrotum”. It was a very poor error in judgment, but the audience of course ate it up along with twins Mudflap and Skids. I don’t know what was worse: the ghetto-bots’ blatant caricature bordering on racist or the fact that every time Tyrese Gibson was on screen he was saying “that can’t be good”.

But Gibson wasn’t the only human left with nothing to do. In fact, besides Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky, every other real actor was relegated to being a two-dimensional prop. It’s a shame because not having many people talk while exposing us to so many robots and sequences completely devoid of humans means you can’t help but notice how weak an actress Megan Fox is. It may be good that she is so under-utilized because her real purpose is eye-candy and that is a sad truth. I did enjoy Kevin Dunn and Julie White reprising Witwicky’s parents, but for the most part all other actors were pretty much forgettable—especially the mostly annoying Ramon Rodriguez going a bit too over the top too many times. I’ll give credit to LaBeouf, though, because “The Beef” (Why has that nickname stuck?) does deliver. This is the kind of role that he is perfect for: equal parts naïve and smart-mouth with courageous, action hero instincts. You relate to a guy like him (besides having the “every man’s dream” girlfriend that enjoys posing provocatively on motorcycles and hot-wiring cars) and believe that if he can save the world, you can too.

The true success here, however, is that the story revolves around the Transformers. If the first film was about Earth and humanity’s discovery of this alien race, the sequel is about that race and what it is they are doing here. It is a time for them to prove themselves and show that the trust humanity has given is earned. As a result, we get a ton of computer-generated robotics to brilliant effect. They came to Earth to harvest its sun for energy only to discover life before realizing they’ll have to find another sun so as not to destroy a civilization. Except that one Prime decided to stay and reap the power—forever being called Fallen— before being exiled by the other Primes to block his takeover. That means the Harvester is buried, the matrix key guarded, and Fallen is awaiting a chance to return. Once Sam touches a remnant of the All-Spark, well, the map to destruction is embedded in his head and the search for Earth’s survival is on. Yes, the mythology is convoluted, but if you buy into an alien race of robots coming to our world the plot should fall into place too.

So, yeah, the faults of the first are shored up pretty well, but the story loses something in the process. For being over two hours, the end comes with the realization that not much had happened before Optimus Prime’s voiceover gets us wondering if we accidentally just watched the first film again. Who goes to a Michael Bay film for a strong story, though? You go for a good time, an escape from the challenges of our world to watch the little guy defeat an impossible foe and save mankind. Bay is the master of escapism and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is one more feather in his cap. You know what to expect and it will be delivered, so just sit back, relax, and enjoy a new adventure—much like the previous—full of robotic goodness from front to back.

[1] Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Image Courtesy Paramount Pictures. Copyright © 2009 Dreamworks LLC & Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
[2] John Turturro as Agent Simmons and Shia LaBeouf as Sam Witwicky in Paramount Pictures’ Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Photo Credit: Robert Zuckerman. Copyright © 2009 Dreamworks LLC & Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
[3] Megan Fox star as Mikaela Banes in Paramount Pictures’ Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Photo Credit: Jaimie Trueblood. Copyright © 2009 Dreamworks LLC & Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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