Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
I was not a fan of the first Transformers movie. What I remember most about it is an incredibly moronic plot hole during the climax that I can't believe no-one - not Michael Bay, not Orci or Kurtzman, not any of the hundreds of film crew, not any of the millions of people who watched it - spotted. I've also been getting seriously annoyed by the drooling fanboys, who've taken to flaming anyone who speaks a harsh word about it on forums. (And I'm actually in the perfect age group for it - I played the toys and watched the cartoon as a kid.) All these plus my latent cinephile snobbery equal a serious lack of enthusiasm as I sat in the cinema, waiting for the movie to start, surrounded by excited chattering.
Well, colour me surprised. I kinda enjoyed it - certainly better than I did the first.
Two years after the events of the first Transformers film, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is leaving for college and the promise of a normal life, while Optimus Prime and his Autobots have been helping the elite U.S. Army NEST team to hunt down remaining Decepticons. A shard of the AllSpark that Sam finds in his old jacket downloads strange symbols into his mind, and soon the Decepticons are hunting him down for the secret hidden within the symbols. They revive Megatron from his watery prison, but the Decepticon leader is merely a servant to the Fallen - an ancient and extremely powerful Transformer with a plan to destroy the Earth.
Why did I enjoy this film? Three reasons, all of which are things I finally "get" about the franchise. Number one, the character of Sam Witwicky. He's the world's biggest dweeb who somehow scored himself the world's hottest girlfriend. This is by no means deep (or even actual) characterization, but I at least understood who he's supposed to be. This even explains every scene with his parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White), particularly his cartoonishly over-protective mother - with a mom like that, of course he turns out to be a dweeb. LaBeouf knowingly plays him this way, and it's fun to watch.
Number two, the humour. Yes, it's broad and juvenile and slapsticky, but that's just the world that these people live in. Momma Witwicky gets high on pot and embarrasses her son, Sam's college roommate Leo (Ramon Rodriguez) is a snivelling coward, ex-Agent Simmons (John Turturro) is a strutting buffoon, there are two "comic relief" Autobot Twins who bicker a lot and speak in African-American-Stereotypese, and at one point a robot humps Megan Fox's leg. No, it's not always funny, but it all belongs in this cartoonish world - fitting, since it's a movie based on a cartoon. Accept that, and you'll laugh at a few bits, and the bits that don't make you laugh will at least not annoy you.
Number three, the robots. Another thing that bothered me in the first film was how little personality they were given. Now I finally understand - they are not characters. They're MacGuffins. Yes, even Optimus Prime, who gets the most screen time at the expense of every other Autobot. He - it - is ultimately just a Receptacle B for someone to plug Plot Device A into so that the bad guys can be defeated. And Bumblebee, the second most prominent robot, is there primarily to drive the characters around. Megatron slapping Starscream around may echo the '80s cartoon, but it's neither amusing nor consequential - and he shares villain duties with this Fallen dude, which means both have their roles diminished. Every other robot is basically a background special effect. Even the way their faces are designed bear this out - none of them are capable of displaying any emotion.
More proof of the above? At least three robots, whom we've gotten to know during the movie, disappear ignominously. It's literally now-you-see-them, now-you-don't. And maybe you'll wonder what happened to them, and maybe you'll just forget they existed. If the movie doesn't care about them, why should you?
This movie is 2-1/2 hours long, and it is long. Michael Bay may think himself an action virtuoso, but the more films he makes, the less he knows about pacing. I honestly started to get bored around the halfway mark - the whole bit about Jetfire is blatant padding, and the climactic action scene in Egypt just goes on and on. There's some stabs at character development for Sam and Mikaela, some guff about her getting him to say "I love you", and it is laughably bad. The thing about Sam telling his dad to "let me go" is even more inept. This stuff almost made me knock a half-star off my rating. Sigh... Bay is not an unskilled director; he has a signature style, and he obviously puts a lot of effort into every scene and setpiece - even every shot. But he really needs to leave the script alone.
Oh, and a note on Megan Fox: I'm as red-blooded as the next male, but she honestly doesn't do much for me. Her hotness is too artificial, like a walking brunette Barbie doll complete with bee-stung lips perpetually coated in garish lip-gloss. Neither can she act very well, although in her defence, her character has virtually nothing to do anyway.
But yes, I enjoyed it. There are no moronic plot holes (well, none that pissed me off this time), and since we are not expected to feel anything for these giant robots, there are no embarrassingly "emotional" scenes like Bumblebee getting captured in the first movie. So I have to say I enjoyed it despite itself; I only liked it because, by pure chance, it's not as dumb as the first.
NEXT REVIEW: gee, I dunno. Nothing looks good... but I'll think of something. Watch this space.