Saturday, June 27, 2009

Zaki's Review: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

The first Transformers worked. Inexplicably, it turns out.

The second Transformers doesn't. Inevitably, it turns out.

As I sat watching Revenge of the Fallen, the second silver screen outing for the evergreen Hasbro toyline, a most peculiar thing began to happen. I could actually feel myself aging right out of the target demo.

Longer, louder, and explodier than its 2007 predecessor (which is positively sedate by way of comparison), the epic-length non-epic only demonstrates yet again that concepts like "restraint" and "subtlety" are as alien to director Michael Bay as the titular ETs that populate his sun-soaked cinemascapes.

Here's what I had to say in '07 about the first flick (which I enjoyed, by the way):
...in the end it's hard to be overly critical and nitpicky of something like this without sounding like an old grump.
Well, here comes the criticism, here comes the nitpicking, and hoo-boy, here comes the grump.

I'll assume if you're poised to see the new movie you've already done due diligence with the last one, so I'll jump feet-first into the synopsis. Having forged a covert alliance with the United States military, the Autobots (the good guys), led by the noble Optimus Prime (again voiced by the terrific Peter Cullen), have spent the last two years scouring the planet seeking out camouflaged Decepticons (the bad guys) and eliminating them.

When college-bound Sam Witwicky (still Shia Lebeouf, still dating Megan Fox's Mikaela Banes), finds a shard from the destroyed All-Spark, things heat up, as the remaining Decepticons retrieve the husk of their deceased leader Megatron from the bottom of the ocean, revive him (don't get me started on the elastic nature of robot "death"), and set about readying the Earth for the return of their leader, the mysterious "Fallen" of the title.

There's more, including two ghetto-bots who manage to give Jar Jar Binks a run for the money in the Stepin Fetchit sweepstakes, the abrupt switching of McGuffins halfway through the movie, and a nonsensical name-check of the Autobot "Matrix of Leadership" designed no doubt to send nostalgic hearts a-flutter.

Bear in mind, my fondness for the Transformers mythology stretches back to before it was a mythology, with many a cherished memory of Chicago's WGN in the mid-'80s and their weekday afternoon Transformers/G.I. Joe one-two punch. If anyone is inclined to be forgiving of this thing, I'd think it's me. And yet there I was, running the full gamut over 150 very long minutes from anticipation to apathy to antagonism.

There's just nothing here. No wit, no charm, no purpose.

The increasingly nerve-deadening effects sequences are strung together by flat, uninteresting dialogue spoken by flat, uninteresting characters. Foremost among these is the vacant, eye candy-riffic Megan Fox, but there's also poor Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson, who return from last time as bad ass army guys and who might as well have stayed home for all they're given to do. Even LeBeouf, who tries mightily, is ill-served (though he probably comes off the best).

When it comes down to it, the presence of writers Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman on the bill notwithstanding (and unfortunate really, given their stellar contributions to last month's Star Trek) this is a Michael Bay movie through and through.

Ever since 1995 and Bad Boys, the experience of watching Bay's continued filmography has been a steady downward trajectory punctuated by fleeting upticks. For every demonstration of expert action helming (The Rock, for one), there was an Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, or Bad Boys II, betraying the sloppy lack of storytelling discipline and addiction to ever-greater visual excess that have come to typify him.

When the creative and box office disaster of '05's The Island washed Bay back onto more commercial shores with Transformers, I was initially wary, but whether the penitence of a man coming off the biggest flop of his career, or the presence of exec producer Steven Spielberg watching Mufasa-like over his charge, that first flick showed faint glimmers of new promise in the midst of the usual sturm und drang.

Not to elevate Transformers 1.0 more than it's due, but it was fun in the right places, funny in (mostly) the right places, and effectively lent some gravity to a concept that's rife with potential for ridicule, nostalgic attachment aside. It also managed to keep Bay's peculiar propensities somewhat subdued. Well, hello Revenge of the Fallen, and welcome back, Old Michael Bay.

Really, between Wolverine and Terminator, this hasn't been the year for franchise sequels, but Transformers 2 is made somehow more rank by the hubris evident in its insultingly padded two-and-a-half hour running time.

Rather than use his expanded canvas to deepen the existing mythos a la The Empire Strikes Back or The Dark Knight, Bay just does more of what he always does: more hop-skip-jump cuts that defy comprehension, more wafer-thin characterization, and more uncomfortably-long glamor shots of women in various stages of dress and undress.

In retrospect, none of this should be all that surprising. After all, if you hand a pyromaniac a box of matches and he burns down your apartment, it's your own damn fault. And so you can't blame Bay for being Bay. Thanks to the overwhelming box office approval we gave the first Transformers, Revenge of the Fallen is all of our own damn fault. D

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

it might as well be called Team America : World Police 2.

IrfanR said...

Great Review Zaki. You hit it on the head. Transformers 2 was really all over the place and could have been cut by at least 30 min. to make it a tighter movie. Pretty disappointing.

The Mad Swede said...

Thanks, Zaki!

You've just saved me the admittance fee. The trailer for this one (seen for the first time on the big screen right before Terminator Salvation for my part) actually had gotten me somewhat interested.

Now that interest will much more nicely "just" translate to my finally going to pick up the first film; seeing as how I recall both yourself and Matt Reed having spoken favourably about that film (and both of you have provided me with some solid and much appreciated recommendations in the past).

John Mietus said...

it might as well be called Team America : World Police 2.

Funny, I saw the trailer for G.I.Joe and that was the first thing in my head.

Zaki, you pretty much hit the nail on the head with every point. I think it's rather telling that, once they got to Egypt for the big climactic battle, I kept nodding off. Too much sensory overload, and too much repetitive action that seemed to serve no purpose.

But the box office take on this pretty much guarantees we're up for another round.

A Rasul said...

And I couldn't believe how quickly the "fallen" went down - the whole movie was based on his revenge. And also, the Terminator woman (T-X rip off) and the transporting (ENERGISE!) by the old trasnformer were ridiculous and insulting.

Terminator Salvation wasn't a classic but at least it was better than this!!!

By the way, anyone a fan of the animated Superman movie, Doomsday? I thought it was great, would make an excellent film - I think Kevin Smith wanted to make it at one point but his script was rejected. I miss Superman!

Ahmed Abdul-Jaleel said...

Zak, great review ... couldn't agree more. Most of the action scenes seemed mere replicates of the first movie. Definitely way too long and unworthwhile.

Zaki said...

Big fan of SUPERMAN DOOMSDAY. Far better than the Singer flick, in my opinion. In fact, all of the DCU animated movies (JL: NEW FRONTIER, WONDER WOMAN, etc.) have been pretty darn good.