Updated: June 23, 2009 at 12:00 am
"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" actually surprised me.
It was not at all as bad as I thought it was going to be. It was far, far worse. If you liked the initial "Transformers" film, you'll probably like this one just fine. If you loathed it (as I did), you're going to abhor this one twice as much.
It seems a ridiculous and futile exercise to dispense with plot details when "Transformers" is nothing more than a special effects and pyrotechnics extravaganza, with a storyline that is nearly a remake of the first film. The Decepticons may have lost the last battle but they are in it for the war. Starscream has assumed command of the evil robots and is slowly building an army of reinforcements for an all-out assault on humanity, which has entered into a secret alliance with the Autobots.
When the Decepticons retrieve Megatron's body as well as a shard of the All Spark cube capable of reanimating him, the forces of good realize they are in for the fight of their lives. Little do they know an ancient mechanized foe known only as "The Fallen" is on its way from the shattered planet Cybertron for the ultimate showdown with the Autobots' leader, Optimus Prime.
Director Michael Bay has always made films for the Ritalin generation - big, noisy spectacles long on action and visual effects and short on brains and plot - and here his bravura talent for obtuse, unrestrained excess is on full, gaudy display. While Bay is generally able to get the action scenes right (there is a nice bit in a forest), they are still little more than an unintelligible muddle of metal.
It is still almost impossible to tell all the robots apart, especially when they are locked in combat - a mass of indistinguishable, flailing metallic limbs.
"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" doesn't even work on a kinetic level, a clunky, clumsy, earsplittingly loud advertisement for the U.S. military that is paced at the speed of dripping molasses and punctuated by scenes of long-winded, ill-fitting, endless exposition.
Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, two admittedly intelligent screenwriters who I've never much liked (and whose "Star Trek" script earlier this summer worked in spite of their best efforts to sabotage it) is a ponderous excuse to try and fool audiences into believing that the film is about more than just blowing stuff up.
They plunder bits from "Gremlins," "Star Wars," "Lord of the Rings," "Indiana Jones" and television's "Battlestar Galactica," repackaging the material into a final product that still manages to look no different than the first film. And at nearly 21/2 hours long,
"Transformers" feels interminable and should have been hacked in half.
"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" suffers from the same malady as its predecessor, an almost pathological aversion to taking itself seriously.
The filmmakers are too dense to realize that if they treat the material seriously, so will we. Giant talking robots are no more ridiculous than a guy flying around in a bat suit or a man with the ability to manipulate cyberspace.
What films like "The Dark Knight" and "The Matrix" prove is that audiences are willing to buy into a film's premise, however absurd, if it is intelligently, artfully and above all sincerely presented. Instead, the filmmakers behind "Transformers" slather the film with bizarre, incongruous, inappropriate humor - robots humping humans' legs, robotic scrotum jokes, borderline racist caricatures in the form of two new twin characters - satisfied with going for laughs when they could have both our brains and hearts.
"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is like an ailing patient with a terminal disease, steadily deteriorating as the film progresses. It lacks any sort of human touch, substituting an increasingly outsized caravan of robotic characters when it should have focused on what little humanity it started with, a misstep also made by last's month's disappointing "Terminator Salvation."
In the end, gratuitous shots of actress Megan Fox, attractive as they may be, are little more than a sexualized version of so many effects and explosions.
Those crass purveyors of all things satirical, Matt Stone and Trey Parker once skewered Michael Bay on their "South Park." After being implored to help his government in a time of dire need, the best Bay could come up with was meteors smashing into monuments, jack-knifing semi trailers and lots of really loud booms. "Those aren't ideas," he's chastised, "they're special effects." Bay stares back blankly for a long couple of seconds before replying, "I don't understand the difference."
We know you don't Mr. Bay, we know you don't.
TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, John Turturro
Director: Michael Bay
Theaters: Cinemark IMAX, Cinemark, Hollywood, Tinseltown, Carmike, Chapel Hills, Gold Hill
Rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, language, some crude and sexual material, and brief drug material)
Running time: 2 hours, 29 minutes