As a boy growing up in the mid-1980’s, the prospect of a live action Transformers movie would probably have made my head explode. Sure, there was the animated feature Transformers: The Movie, and while entertaining it was more like an extended episode that served to introduce a new slate of characters for the TV series and toys. It wasn’t until I was 30 years old that a live action Transformers movie finally got made. Despite my cynicism with regards to Michael Bay and the robot designs, I enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. It was a major blockbuster worldwide and here we have the 2009 sequel, Revenge of the Fallen, which I missed in theatres and slowly got around to seeing it on DVD. This time however, my cynicism was justified; as this movie is everything I feared the first film would be – bloated, confusing and generally unlikeable.
<SPOILER WARNING THROUGHOUT>
Summing up the plot of Revenge of the Fallen is a bit of a task, as it is all over the place. So I’ll hit on the major points only. Sam Whitwicky inexplicably leaves his alien robot car and uber-babe girlfriend Mikaela behind to attend college out of town. He gets zapped by a shard of the AllSpark from the first movie and starts seeing weird symbols everywhere. Meanwhile, the Decepticons learn the whereabouts of Megatron’s body and go rescue/revive him. Megatron returns to his master called The Fallen, an ancient Transformer who wants to harvest the Sun’s energy to make Energon, a power source for Transformers. Of course, the consequence of which is the destruction of the Earth. Coincidentally, Sam’s symbols describe the location of the Matrix of Leadership, the startup key to the Sun-harvesting machine. So the Decepticons go after Sam yet again, however Optimus Prime is killed trying to protect him. The humans/Autobots and the Decepticons race to get to the Matrix, a big confusing battle ensues and yadda yadda yadda Optimus is resurrected by the Matrix and proceeds to kick everyone’s ass. Megatron and Starscream manage to escape, Sam and Mikaela get lovey-dovey and all is right with the world again, I guess.
I’ve left out a lot of little details in this summary, but I think you get the idea that it’s more than a little convoluted. The rest of the movie is just finding excuses to insert characters from the first movie in wherever they can squeeze them, as well as military vehicle video montages and general bullshit that will be covering in my points below. To be honest, reviewing a movie like this in a conventional “the script was this” or “the performances were that” format doesn’t really apply – it was meant to be a light popcorn movie, so I’ll just go through the likes and dislikes with a bit of a fanboyish tinge to things.
Firstly, I’ll talk about the (small) things I actually did like, which unfortunately do not outweigh the things I didn’t.
1) Soundwave and Ravage – Finally an update of the 1980’s designs that I truly do like. In the cartoon, Soundwave transformed into a cassette player, and his role was communications and gathering information by sending out one of his “tapes” like Laserbeak (a bird) or Ravage (a dog) to perform reconnaissance/stealth missions. In this movie, Soundwave is a robot satellite in orbit, spying and transmitting information to the Decepticons. Even though he doesn’t do any fighting, I liked the idea a lot. Unfortunately, no Laserbeak but Ravage is there and his design really harkens back to the old show with a modern twist.
2) Starscream vs Megatron – one of my favorite things about the old show was Starscream’s never ending desire to be Decepticon leader. He’d always undermine Megatron’s authority and then would always get wrapped on the knuckles for it. There’s more of that here, which I really appreciated. Starscream was always one of my favorites.
3) References to Energon – again this comes back to more 80’s cartoon references, as the procurement of Energon was almost always the motivating factor behind the Decepticons’ devilish plans. Good to see. Too bad the whole explanation of Transformers on Earth during the Stone Age and the energy harvesting Prime brothers was pretty lame.
4) Optimus Prime kicking ass and taking names – who wouldn’t like that? Especially with the orange energy sword he uses, very similar to the one in the animated movie.
And now, what I didn’t like.
1) Jive-talking Autobots – So there are these “twin” Autobots called Mudflap and Skids in this movie, part of the movie’s comic relief such as it is. The problem is they talk in feels like racially stereotypical “jive-talk”, which felt not only severely out of place but was kind of uncomfortable to listen to. Especially when they come off as bumbling buffoons. Kind of like the whole Star Wars Episode 1 Jar-Jar Binks/Gungan stereotyping controversy. Not that both Transformers movies aren’t otherwise prone to racial stereotyping, but these were particularly off-putting.
2) Confusing fight scenes/character designs/camerawork. It’s almost impossible to tell what’s going on or who’s involved in about 95% of the Transformer fight scenes in this movie, unless it is Optimus (he’s red) or BumbleBee (he’s yellow) or Devastator (he’s gigantic). Otherwise, everyone else in robot form looks almost indistinguishable from another, especially when the action is moving so fast with quick cutting and shaky cameras. The robot designs have too many moving parts/little details that I find it hard to keep track of who’s who. We had to rewind the DVD several times to figure out just what was going on, a luxury you wouldn’t get in a theatre.
3) Mobilization montages – seems like half the movie is made up of montages of military vehicles mobilizing to various locations – deserts, aircraft carriers, cities, you name it. I know Michael Bay loves this stuff, but does it ever get overused here, somehow seems more so than even the first movie.
4) Character development, or lack thereof – outside of Sam’s final admission that he loves Mikaela (which is stretching the definition of character development as it is), nobody in this movie grows or develops at all. Absolutely everyone is a one dimensional character; even the army guy from the first movie doesn’t acknowledge he has a wife and child anymore, which in the first movie at least served to make him well, human. I’m not looking for Citizen Kane, but good movies usually try to give you characters you actually care about.
5) Transformers that look like humans. I don’t have a problem with the concept, but as a friend of mine said to me – if blending in is such a major concern, why doesn’t every Decepticon take the form of a hot blond equipped with retractable claws and whip-like tongue? To be honest there’s a real Terminator 3 vibe in the scene in question, border lining on rip off. Lame.
6) No sense of fun. The best thing about the first Transformers movie was that it felt like a light hearted thrill-ride, as it should. Revenge of the Fallen was plodding, confusing and pardon the pun, robotic. Call it going through the motions or sequelitis – the whole movie felt like a formula, a rehashing of ideas with little payoff.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is awful. The only redeeming parts for me were when they referenced more from the animated series. But based on how much money it made, does that really matter? Perhaps not, but really – it may be easy to cash in on a hot property like the Transformers, but couldn’t there have been SOME effort to make it cohesive and not so clichéd? Instead we get the 2-hour giant robot version of a Baywatch episode – lots of eye candy bounding across the screen, the façade of danger and some of the hokiest acting you will ever see. Then again, Baywatch did last for 11 seasons so what do I know?