Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (dir: Michael Bay)
Think of exposition as the lubricant between the mechanical action pieces of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the bigger, longer, more expensive and completely unnecessary sequel to the amusing 2007 blockbuster about giant alien robots that transform into cars and trucks while causing epic amounts of property damage. These robots are full of it.
Between such comic book-balloon lines as “Revenge is mine,” “You picked the wrong planet” and that old standby, “This isn’t over,” the mecha-aliens stop to explain that a) alien Autobots visited Earth a few thousand years before; b) a rogue Autobot known as The Fallen tried to destroy the Earth and was foiled by his robot buddies; and c) now he wants to destroy the Earth out of revenge for … not being allowed to destroy the Earth the first time. Or something like that. The Fallen and his signature henchman (henchbot?) Megatron (yes, he’s resurrected or recharged or whatever for this film) despise the human race, but it’s hard to make anything out of such circular logic, and the film just assumes the audience will go with it. When a fleet of military-grade giant robots is determined to destroy the planet Earth, who needs motivation? They could be doing it just because they can. Which I think is the same motivation Michael Bay has for spending a couple of hundred million dollars on a film based on a line of toys.
Revenge of the Fallen picks up a few years after the first Transformers movie. The Autobots (they’re the good guys) have teamed up with the American military on a strike team hunting down the last of the Decepticons (they’re the bad guys determined to kill the planet, out of spite, apparently) still lurking on Earth. The opening scene, in which all the mecha-aliens transform back and forth between giant robots and various makes of automobiles and heavy trucks, becomes so abstract it looks like a Jackson Pollock canvas in motion screeching through the middle of a Hollywood action movie.
The human cast is represented in large part by Sam Witwicky (a buffed-up Shia LaBeouf, no longer the skinny nerd of the first film), who is now heading off to college, and his super-hot girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox), stuck in her dad’s garage where she works in cutoffs and halter tops and strikes poses that would look right at home on a pinup calendar. Soldier boys Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson have even less character development than the supporting cast of computer-generated machines, and sniveling meddler John Benjamin Hickey is little more than a stand-in for bureaucratic incompetence.
You can pay attention to all that exposition, which for a time turns the film into a heavy-metal version of “The Da Vinci Code” that sends Sam, Mikaela and former Agent Simmons (John Turturro), who now works at a deli counter and runs a conspiracy Web site, to Egypt on the trail of obscure clues and ancient ruins. But mostly the film is about big, loud and increasingly incomprehensible action scenes of massive mechanical creations pummeling the living grit out of one another and destroying the ancient ruins of Egypt while in the grip of an ancient blood feud (or would that be a transmission fluid and engine grease feud?). The digital effects aren’t limited to careening metal and exploding pyramids, however. They surely enhanced Megan Fox, making her skin duskier, her lips a brighter red, her eyes more piercing blue and her teeth all but glow in the dark while roughing it in the Egyptian desert, apparently enhancing everything except her cleavage, which by virtue of its central supporting role deserves its own screen credit.
Bay plays about half the film for goofball humor and half for melodramatic excess. The preview audience with which I saw the film seemed amused by most of it, but even they were moved to titters when Bay started to take it all too seriously, slowing the film down to let us worry over whether some central character was about to die. As if the film had the nerve to actually surprise anyone. Without any real stake in the story or the characters, it’s just a lot of vague noise and action distraction, an Erector Set Apocalypse that tries to dazzle audiences but merely pummels them into submission. At 150 minutes, that’s a long assault on the senses without so much as a story, a surprise or a convincing emotional response to show for it.
Directed by Michael Bay; screenwriters: Ehren Kruger, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman; featuring Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Turturro, John Benjamin Hickey. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, language, some crude and sexual material, and brief drug material. 150 minutes of digitally created robot action.
I also review the film for the Seattle PostGlobe here.