Transformers Revenge of the Fallen Review: Bigger is Not Better

Give a kid a nickel and they would rather a quarter. Give Michael Bay a firecracker and he would demand a stick of dynamite, preferably already lit and ready to blow.

Bay loves to design and execute explosive action set-pieces and his passion for playing with fire reaches new heights of spastic uncontrolled energy in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Tasked by Paramount executives and rabid fans of the original to put more emphasis on the alien Transformers and less on sweaty humans, Bay accepts the challenge with the subtly of a napalm bomb and a budget to back it up.

The story starts promising enough in 17,000 B.C. where the original Transformers, the lanky Pharaoh-looking Primes, have arrived to set up a harvester machine to create Energon, their fuel, by destroying the sun. Upon realizing Earth is inhabited, all but one of the Primes abide by their own rule to not destroy a sun supporting a planet with life. The other, known as The Fallen, rebels and becomes the founding member of the modern Decepticon army.

In present day, two years have passed since the events of Transformers. Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is readying to attend college on the east coast while his girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox) stays behind to work in her father’s auto shop. The Autobots, still commanded by Optimus Prime, have joined forces with a new multinational military team called NEST to secretly hunt out and eliminate Decepticons in hiding around the globe.

Prime and a team of new Autobots are quickly introduced in an amazing but too brief Shanghai street battle more rich and detailed than anything seen in the original. While this opening action sequence is thrilling and pleasing to the eye, it equally represents everything wrong with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

The first Transformers found success thanks mostly to the brilliant visual effects work by ILM and, to a lesser extent, the script’s everyman humor that counterbalanced giant alien robots shooting at one another. For Transformers 2, scribes Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Ehrun Kruger have gone out of their way to introduce new Transformers characters but never offer the chance to meet them. The Decepticon car in the opening is seen in robot mode for a split second, the Autobot motorcycles manage one line of dialogue, and Sideswipe, probably the cleanest and coolest robot design yet, gets 10 seconds of glory before fading into anonymity for the remaining two-plus hours.

Visually interesting robot characters such as the individual Constructicons, electric car Jolt, Decepticon spy Soundwave, Sideswipe and others are shunned so Bay can spend time fondling his inner child by letting the Autobot Twins Mudflap and Skids crack adolescent jokes in street slang and wrestle with one another. The humor has degraded so far beyond Transformers in the sequel that testicles, tasers and being high on drugs are the running gags. Even the most formidable robot seen on-screen, massive towering Devastator, is the butt of a scrotum joke.

Bay throws everything and the kitchen sink into the film’s elongated Egyptian climax where all of the Autobots and Decepticons square off in a small village looking suspiciously similar to the one Scorponok terrorized in the original. Sand is a great place to bury explosives and Bay sets off more of them than can be counted. The dizzying progression of action across the desert is completely nonsensical and almost impossible to follow as robots jump in and out of battle at random times. Even armed with teleporting abilities, The Fallen does not bother to show up until the final moments which leaves him just enough time to briefly show off a single incredible ability that could have made the entire 30-minute battle before it a moot point.

The real stars of Transformers 2 are the artists at ILM, Digital Domain and the other studios that worked on the films effects and robot animations, such as The Fallen. Aside from one shot where the Twins did not quite look right in front of the pyramids, the effects are a sight to behold and will certainly be a contender for an Oscar next spring. The original might as well be a trailer compared to what has been accomplished in this remarkable artistic encore performance.

Where the original Transformers film was able to overcome its storytelling and narrative mistakes with the “wow” factor or 40-foot tall photorealistic robots, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen has no such luxury. Frenetic action and spastic direction make it all but impossible to latch onto the robots and care when they clash, much less choose a side or favorites. I dare use the word “boring” to describe this technical marvel but Bay has blown the intrigue right out of the franchise with one hundred random explosions and a handful of testicles too many.

– Dan Bradley

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