Review: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

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Michael Bay is one of those film directors that people seem to either love or hate. I know of many film aficionados who cringe when they hear that Bay is involved in a project. His signature style is certainly big, loud, flashy, with big, big special effects and, too often, a weak or completely incoherent story line.

My relationship with Michael Bay is a bit more complex because I really do like some of his films while others are just ghastly. I really like both The Island, and especially the thrilling The Rock, and mostly like the blockbuster Pearl Harbor and Bad Boys. I think that Bay has also made some daft films too, notably Armageddon which was out and out stupid in this reviewer’s opinion. 
The first Transformers movie?  I didn’t like it that much because I couldn’t really figure out what was going on most of the time. I also wasn’t much of a fan of the original Transformers TV show or toys so that entire “autobots versus decepticons” story passed me by.
Which brings us to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
In so many ways, this is the quintessential Michael Bay film, so without even reading any further I can safely tell you that if you like big, loud, beautiful visual effects and can safely ignore hiccups in the story, then you’ve got a great film to go see this weekend.
If you care about the story in a film, not just the sf/x, however, things get a bit more complicated…

If you’re not familiar with the Transformers mythic world, they come from the planet “Cybertron” and are split into two factions: the Autobots are the good guys, led by Optimus Prime, and the Decepticons are the evil ones, led by Megatron. They’re able to “transform” themselves from, say, a Chevy Camaro into a 20-foot mech robot in a few seconds. The show launched on TV in 1984 and spun off a very successful line of toys in the late 1980s.
I found it pretty difficult to keep track of the story in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, but basically Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBoeuf) finds a sliver of “The Cube” in his personal effects as he packs up for college, and touching it transmits ancient data from the Transformers into his brain. He doesn’t know what it means – it’s all alien glyphs – but he “sees” the symbols.

More importantly, the evil transformers, called the Decepticons, are aware of the information he’s unlocked and seek to obtain that information from him so that they can find the “Matrix of Leadership”, a key that will unlock an all-powerful machine and let them, well, do all sorts of evil things to our planet.
While Sam is packing up to leave for college and trying to figure out how to have a long-distance relationship with girlfriend Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox, whose clothes miraculously never get dirty even as she crawls through ruins) we learn that the Autobots (the good Transformers, remember) have established a cooperative partnership with the U.S. military. Around the world various Decepticons are showing up and wreaking havoc and the Autobot/military team (called “NEST”) are dealing with the flare-ups while trying to keep the news that there’s an alien race amongst us quiet.
Things come to a head when the rather dorky Sam is basically assaulted by the gorgeous college coed Alice (played by Isabel Lucas) while in college and in an alarming way that’s very reminiscent of Mimic finds that she’s actually a Decepticon trying to get the secret information out of his brain.
This really launches the film and from that point on the story follows its logical – if simple – progression to a quite inevitable, but still enjoyable ending. What really stands out, however, are the action sequences, which are the star of the film. Sure there are a number of other actors involved, including a stand-out performance by John Turturro as the paranoid but heroic Agent Simmons, but it’s the computer graphics, the Transformers themselves that are center stage in the film.
In many ways, Michael Bay has also created an action film that is an homage to many of the great films of the past. I caught references to 2001: A Space Odyssey, Mimic, Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian, Star Wars (even to the two Transformers that reminded me of the hated Jar-Jar Binks), Pearl Harbor (another Bay movie, of course), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Jumper, and more. There’s also a one-sheet of “Bad Boys” that shows up just before a critical scene, if you’re paying attention.
Finally, I have to say that the visual effects were great and the sound in particular was amazing. Even the first few seconds when the Paramount stars are flying into the logo, you are immediately pulled into the film through the sound effects and brilliant use of deep bass and the multi-speaker audio of the movie theater. 
Would I see Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen again?  Quite possibly. But I wouldn’t drop $20 to take a date to this particular film. It’ll be a good Blu-Ray rental, though!

6 comments on “Review: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

  1. I’m not sure I go along with your comment about homage; first, he couldn’t possibly tip the cap to Night at the Museum, nor do I think Mimic, Pearl Harbor, or Jumper qualify as great movies.

    More importantly, though, is Bay’s resistance to connect with his audience on any level. In the first Transformers, he managed to do it through LaBeouf’s performance, which had a vulnerability. He was our way into the movie. He should be again, but there’s so little character development, which is still a requirement of quarter-billion dollar effects movies, that Sam Witwicky only exists in mini Green Day videos talking to Mikaela about nothing or running for his life.

    I also don’t know that the visual effects deserve any credit. After all, it’s a sequel to a movie that used the same effects two years ago. Are there more of them? Sure, but is that it? More = better?

    And good lord, could it have been any longer? The real culprit there is the action scenes you speak of. Yeah, they’re the best thing about the movie (primarily because everything else is so substandard), but they’re entirely too long and I still can’t make out which Transformer is which half the time.

  2. Colin, thanks for your note. Obviously we disagree on some things related to the movie, and that’s fine. While the Night at the Museum: Smithsonian wouldn’t have been out while they were in the scriptwriting process for this film, it was known two years ago that the second Night at the Museum would be taking place at the Smithsonian, so Bay and his team should certainly have been aware anyway. In any case, I didn’t say that they were homages to great movies, my comment is more that it seemed, um, “derivative” (to put it politely).

    Clearly you liked the movie less than I did. That’s cool.

  3. We don’t go to see movies like this because we think it’s going to win an Oscar for anything. We go to watch robots change into things and beat the crap out of each other. The story needs to be just believable enough to thread the movie together.

    I’m going now to see it on IMAX. If the movies delivers on entertaining me, that’s all that matters. I’ll feel good about spending $7 for great action and special effects. Will find out if more effects is better.

  4. Okay, just got back from seeing it. Scratch that $7 comment earlier. It was $10 for IMAX. For that kind of cash I feel like I got my money’s worth. The movie was over 2 hours of exactly what I was hoping for. Hot robot on robot action with lots of good bot and bad bots.
    The “twins” seemed a bit much for me. And what do you know, USAToday wrote an article about the racial slur inspired “jive talking” robots.

    Anyone who liked the first one will probably really like this one. One of the criticism’s of the first movie was not enough robots. Check! They addressed that in the second.

  5. Hi Dave! I took three of my boys and two of their friends to see this movie on Friday night. In about twenty seconds I knew that I wouldn’t have much idea of what was going on; whereas a lot of sequels spend a few seconds telling folks who may have missed the first episode (like me) what’s going on, this one didn’t, and that was okay with me. I just sat back and figured ‘whatever happens on the screen, I’ll go along with it.’ By about the ten-minute mark I was thinking “Please God, let the boys like this movie.” I figured they would. I was bored to tears and couldn’t tell the good robots from the bad robots, and only hoped by $50+ investment (not including refreshments) wouldn’t go to waste. Great news: the boys said the movie was EPIC. Like Rick, I was turned off by the jive-talking robots. Didn’t we learn anything from Jar Jar Binks? As for me, I earned some Good Mom brownie points. I had to check out when I got home to assure myself that I wasn’t crazy, the movie really did stink (from a straight-up movie-going perspective, that is – not for folks who like this sort of thing, obviously.) Sure enough, the rating is 20% positive, with one critic calling it “the most boring movie of all time.” But hey, the director obviously hit the mark with the demographic he was shooting for – $112M in the opening weekend. I liked “The Island,” too. 🙂

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