"Boys With Toys"
"We Just Dropped Ten Tons of Dead Robot in the Middle of Nowhere."
As I recall, my three biggest beefs with the first "Transformers" movie was a) it was your basic racial bait-and-switch movie where the story of a repressed class is sublimated by having the story told through the eyes of a bankable star not of that class, b) the action sequences were ultimately boring and c) Michael Bay made every woman look like a hooker.
Other than that, I didn't mind it as some things were done quite well, indicating that Bay might actually become a filmmaker some day, as opposed to being a well-organized ring-leader and money evaporator.
But "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"* shows no such progression, and is quite a deal worse than the original. The problems with the first film have not been resolved, and the filmmakers have moved on to ignore more weighty problems like coherent writing, clear visual story-telling, or having a point besides making money and providing jobs for friends.
By now, the five-story high Auto-bots have become known to the military (thanks for noticing) if not the public at large, and should be working arm in cog to ward off alien attack, become an early, early warning system, vaporize garbage or at least become part of the motor pool. But it appears their job is to sit in one those ubiquitous governmental underground bunkers, stay out of the way of lucrative weapons manufacturers and kvetch about the government in charge. In other words, they've become part of the legislative branch with the major difference being that they actually go into battle themselves.**
And their nemeses, the evil Decepticons? They're doing much the same thing, except oiling their wounds, going back to the drawing board and plotting revenge. It would appear they have a long-standing grudge against Earth and its inhabitants, which is why this pan-galactic epic battle seems to be centered here, rather than some other arm of the Milky Way. Maybe we really are the Center of the Universe...and it attracts trouble.***
Speaking of self-absorbed monomania, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is off to college, with more beating of breast and patting of wallet by his braying parents (Julie White, Kevin Dunn) who were a welcome relief last time, but are now just wacky walking punch-lines. Then there's the only reason fathers are taking their children—Megan Fox who's achieved a reputation as a Hollywood hottie and probably did a lot of practicing having a cold trying to get out of her contract-mandated participation, and might have done if she were a better actress. Fortunately, she's not required to do much outside of your typical Almay or shampoo commercial, until the latter part of the film where she's required to run in front of large gasoline explosions. I'd be worried for her as her mascara doesn't appear to run at all, but she doesn't lose so much as a false eye-lash.
The movie is built of the spare parts of a lot of past Studio franchises, and as with most out-sourcing a lot of the pieces don't fit. The Decepticons have a tier-structure (the Decepticon Overlord at one point even says "And you will, my apprentice"), a magic bling must save the day, Sam has trouble saying the "L" word, and there are magic scribblings that they have to go to an expert (John Turturro returning to good comic effect), in order to stop the evil erector sets from setting off a device hidden in the Pyramids that will stop the sun (I'm not sure what that would be but I suspect it's some triangular Maytag ice-maker). Take "Transformers," strap on "Indiana Jones," plug in "National Treasure," screw on a pneumatic "Star Wars," some "Gremlins," program in some "DaVinci Code," stir a few thousand times to make it incomprehensible and drop it with a huge clank on "Independence Day."
Ultimately, it's a big mess with Bay setting up a swooping crane shot for every line of dialog, and the screenwriters setting up their expositions over explosions so you can't hear all their mumbo-jumbo. The only time the movie comes to life is an extended sequence on campus when Sam, possessed by a piece of the evil Decepticon-maker freaks out in a classroom and goes all "Beautiful Mind" scrawling encryption's on his dorm-room wall, while also avoiding the predatory come-on's of a sorority sister, who's actually a Decepticon in drag. At that point, the movie becomes giddy and fun with complication piled on complication and LaBoeuf displaying some of the manic energy that makes him interesting to watch.
But that's ten minutes out of two and a half hours of a loud, obnoxious version of "Rock'em, Sock'em Robots." And that's the bottom line of this mess. It was made for the necessities of the Studio making it, not for any artistic need to tell a story. Just as the Studios plan a few years ahead to make "tent-pole" franchises to strategically shore up dividends in the Summer and Christmas, this movie was constructed of sequences dictated by locations cheap enough to shoot in. That, unfortunately, is how the Bond producers have been manufacturing movies for the past two decades: having run out of Ian Fleming titles, they check to see where they can save the most money and set their movies there, and write the script around the location (Hitchcock would utilize locations for material as well). The problem is there's more to a screenplay than "location, location, location." The Bond series perked up only when they had Fleming's "Casino Royale" to provide that film its spine and heart. But there's no point and no inspiration to "Tranformers: Revenge of the Fallen," there is only contrivance, and the makers were scraping the bottom of the scrap-heap to do that. The old "Transformers" series used to kill off characters to encourage kids to buy their new lines of toys. One can imagine the day when "Revenge of the Fallen" will overcrowd the dumpsters of America, as well.
"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is a Waste of Time.
* Jim Emerson had the foresight to alphabetize it as "Transformers: ROTFL"
** Hey kids! There are new Auto-bots based on Smart-cars, but instead of speaking French, they're street-cred hipsters and are as annoying as a weekend with Jar-Jar Binks. In fact, these characters aren't only annoying they're vaguely racist (!!??), but then there's a major disconnect with this movie about its audience. It's aimed at kids, but amid all the cussing and humping dog jokes, I could see more than a few parents putting their heads in their hands at the questioning upturned faces of their kids. It's also aimed at the kids who played with "Transformers" in the 70's and...haven't evolved. They were the ones "huh-huh-huhing" at off-color humor. Hollywood has yet to learn that the AICN crowd are a fickle bunch and won't necessarily open a movie for you. But then, a goodly number of current directors are fan-boys themselves.
*** At one point at an attempt at depth one of the characters says of the robots: "If God made us in his image, who made them?" Hasbro, Einstein! And probably in China.