26 June 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

With the possible exception of Spice World (1997), I cannot think of a movie that launches a more brutal assault on the eardrums than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

The scraping and screeching of metal on metal is the pervading sound, interrupted only by an endless barrage of gunfire and explosions, punctuated by a bombastic musical score and a few bad rock songs. Characters don't talk; they shout and scream and occasionally bellow—they have to, to be heard over the deafening soundtrack.

There are no quiet scenes, not even a moment for the audience to catch its breath.

The camera or its subjects—usually both—refuse to stay still (even in a simple goodbye scene, the camera spins wildly around the characters, with no effect other than to induce nausea), and no single shot lasts longer than a few seconds.

It feels like the work of incredibly insecure filmmakers, a movie that spends 2½ hours desperately trying to sell itself—and the latest products in the toy line upon which it is based.

It is as if the director, Michael Bay, is afraid the audience will turn the channel if he provides any break in the action.

I tried hard to avoid looking at my watch and did not relent until I figured we were heading into the finale. Wrong! Seventy-five minutes remained on the clock. It felt even longer.

Written by the returning team of Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (hot off their Star Trek success), along with Ehren Kruger, Revenge of the Fallen picks up two years after the events of the 2007 blockbuster.

Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is heading off to college, hoping to maintain a long-distance relationship with his girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox), while his parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White) have vastly different reactions to his departure. The benevolent Autobots have been working covertly with the U.S. military to hunt down the remaining Decepticons, who are after plucky young Sam for the secrets buried in his brain. Something to do with a device, buried in the Egyptian desert circa 17,000 B.C., that will allow their leader, known as "The Fallen" (voice of Tony Todd), to steal the power of the Earth's sun—or something.

Fortunately, the Autbots' leader is Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen), a descendant of the original Primes who used their own bodies to form a protective tomb for the device and the only Transformer left with the ability to defeat The Fallen. That Optimus is a descendant implies that these robots reproduce in some fashion—a disconcerting thought I choose not to ponder any longer.

There is an obvious attempt to give the 'bots more personality this time; maybe it's an effort to counteract the lifeless void that is Megan Fox. The geriatric Jetfire (voice of Mark Ryan), who walks with a cane and even has a sort of metal beard, is the only source of real entertainment, but the filmmakers take a big cut and miss badly when it comes to the jive-talking twins Skids (Tom Kenny) and Mudflap (Reno Wilson), who perpetuate negative African-American stereotypes that I thought had died out a long time ago. There's just no need for this today.

The first film made a star out of LaBeouf—and not without reason. He somehow managed to give a winning performance, providing a small spot of humanity in an otherwise monstrosity of a movie. Now Sam, once an awkward and likable teen, is a hyperactive nutcase, and LaBeouf is as annoying as everything else on the screen.

The Transformers aren't even fun to look at. We get the impression that the special effects are spectacular—and they might be, but the movie never settles down long enough for us to get a good look at them for more than a second or two.

The movie eventually maneuvers all of its characters (which also include John Turturro as the former Man-in-Black-turned-ally Agent Simmons, Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson as a pair of soldiers and Ramon Rodriguez as Sam's college roommate) into place for the Egyptian showdown. Here's where it gets really painful.

The final battle is Michael Bay on steroids, an action scene that goes on and on, and then on some more and a little more after that. When all is said and done (emphasis on the "done"—little of what is said has any lasting importance), the movie leaves us with as grave a threat as I've heard, spoken by the evil Megatron (voice of Hugo Weaving): "This isn't over."

Grade: F+

(Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, language, some crude and sexual material, and brief drug material. 150 minutes.)

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