Written by Richard Brown
Now, its difficult for me to add anything to the critical lynching this movie has already experienced, but I want to try. A lot of this takes the form of comparisons to the source material, and footnotes, lots of footnotes. How much nerd rage did the movie provoke in me? Read on to find out.
The Basic Plot
Two years after the events of the first movie, the Autobots now co-operate with the American military to hunt down Decepticons, while Sam Witwicky is trying a normal life. However, the enigmatic Transformer known as “The Fallen” is about to make his presence felt. Meanwhile, Michael Bay attempts to distract the audience with explosions and lengthy close-ups of Megan Fox.
Robots with Potty-Mouth
The 2007 movie basically amounted to a superhero origin flick, along the lines of the first X Men film. Much of it was build up, establishing the basic concepts of the world, and so on. There were many things wrong with the movie, and I won’t go into them here, but most of which could be blamed on this approach. This sequel doesn’t have this limitation, and theoretically should have been improvement, after all, wasn’t Spiderman 2 a better film than the first? How about The Dark Knight when compared to Batman Begins? On some level, this is true is of Revenge’, there’s a sense that its confident in what its doing, and it is devoting the free time to crowd-pleasing special effects. It also tries to amp up the comedy aspects, and this gives us the film main and crippling weakness, as its humour is weak, tasteless, and crude.
I do not consider myself a prude; I love bad taste comedy, like Bottom and Bludgeoning Angel Dokuro-Chan. It is however an unwelcome presence in this film, going far beyond the infamous “Bumblebee Lubrication” scene from the previous movie. My problem with this is that Transformers has always been aimed at children. Would you want your five-year-old to see a film where one dog humps another? Or featured John Turturro’s underpants? Because that is the films sense of humour in a nutshell. I am realistic about this, kids tend to enjoy toilet humour far more than any other demographic, but there’s better ways of doing things. And as adult with a long-term interest in toys, I would have liked a slightly more subtle and self-aware form of humour. Just a few in-jokes would have been nice, but this is very much dumb, American humour with a lack of variety, and its actually something of downgrade from the previous movie.
A lot of the more cringe-worthy attempts at comedy sadly come from the actual Transformers themselves, namely the tiny Wheelie, and the twins Skids and Mudflap. Wheelie was initially one of the better additions to the cast, and improvement on the animated original (1). Whereas the first version of Wheelie spoke entirely in rhyme, this one talks like a certain character from the Lethal Weapon films, which I liked. Unfortunately, they ruined it by having him hump Megan Fox’s leg, and she doesn’t appear to mind. Gah. However, the Jar-Jar Binks Award For Fan Hatred goes to Skids and Mudflap, who have prompted much controversy, with accusations of racism being thrown around. Michael Bay has since claimed that the pair are parodies of white people pretending to be black, which is odd considering they are red, green, and, ya know, not human. Somebody really didn’t think that one through, and stuff like this makes me embarrassed to be a Transformers fanboy (2). Even if you don’t find them offensive, you’ve still got a pair of HUGELY IRRITATING characters who do basically nothing but bicker with each other, and take time away from people we might actually care about. The film does raise an occasional giggle, to be fair, just not when the obvious comic relief characters are on screen. Josh Duhamel gets a honourable mention for this.
Reinvent, Revision, Regurgitate
By and large, there’s more in the way of robot scenes than the previous film, the Transformer count has more than doubled, but there are issues here. Look at Optimus Prime, we remember this guy’s motto, right? “Freedom is the right of all sentient beings.” So why do we see Optimus and co. hunt down and slaughter two Decepticons in the opening sequences on the movie? Two Decepticons, who as far as I could tell, where just hiding. Then there is the rather brutal way he fights, giving us probably the first instances of face removal in the franchise. The character is meant to be the good guy, a soldier certainly, a leader that makes the hard decisions, sure, but not like this. Optimus Prime was always closer to Captain America than Wolverine, so this feels rather wrong. While missing the point somewhat, at least the writers gave him something to do, which is more than some 90% of the Cybertronian cast. Characterisation is pretty crap across the board. Admittedly they got the Megatron/Starscream dynamic working well (3), but you know, this is an action movie with 30 odd significant characters, and Michael Bay is not Peter Jackson. The basic mistake here is the same one the previous movie made, not focusing on the Cybertronians outside of an action sequence, instead focusing on the fleshies. And the fleshy bits largely suck. Whenever the action stops, you find yourself faced with a bunch of non-actors talking non-dialog and providing exposition for the films messy plot. Julie White and Kevin Dunn, a.k.a the parents, are strangely the only ones to come out of this movie with any real personality and charm. That’s a very sad sentence now I come to think about it.
In the defence of the actors involved, they don’t have much to work with. I say this because the writers seem to be grabbing stuff at random from the franchise, regardless of the consequences, or coherency. Some concepts do far better than others, notably the old and senile take on Jetfire (4). The appearance of Soundwave and Ravage are less good, but can be considered to be a solid take on the old cassette deck team. The appearance of the “Pretender” concept (5) is essentially a redundant subplot, and the term “Matrix of Leadership” is applied to an undeserving macguffin. The true disasters are the titular Fallen, and Devastator. The Fallen was an odd choice in the first place, having origins in the (now-defunct) Dreamwave comics series, and does very little other than get killed in an anti-climatic manner, and raise issues with continuity. Devastator is a crushing disappointment. As the first combining robot in the Transformers toyline, this guy should have been a showstopper. Instead, all he really does is form up, show us his crotch, and get blown up by a rail gun. Yes, you read that right, we get a groin close up, and he has two wrecking balls there. Gigantic, Robotic, TESTICLES! And I paid to see this movie!
The Actual Merit
Now, a lot of the complaints above are subjective and obscure, and won’t matter to the majority of the cinema going public. The more objective comments I can make are that Revenge of the Fallen is dumb, annoying, crappily written, often tasteless, and about an hour too long. However, it is not totally without its merits. The special effects sequences are, as expected, masterpieces. Seriously, this movie has some of the best CG I’ve seen. Combat sequences are fast paced and inventive, and quite unlike anything else Hollywood puts out, or Japan for that matter. This is the only real reason I enjoyed the movie, because whenever I started to think something was bad, the explosions started again and my eyes glazed over. Sadly, the movie is a victim of its own success in this regard. The action does get hard to follow, because of the pace they move at, but also because of the design of the Transformers themselves. With most of them tending towards gunmetal grey, black, and lots of exposed gears, its hard to tell them apart at times, especially since there seem to duplicates running around (6). Factor in the weak end to the Battle in Egypt and you may feel a little short-changed.
I will just come out as say it. This movie is awful, but it has made huge sums of money, so either the appeal of giant robots is far greater than I realised, or people fell for the advertising. While the first live action movie was okay, and could be excused its flaws due to being the first of its kind, Revenge of the Fallen is not. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a bad kebab, I enjoyed it at the time, but I really regretted it afterwards.
1) Possibly the most irritating Transformer ever, originating in the animated movie reviewed elsewhere on this website.
2) The original series had the nation of “Carbombya”, so this isn’t exactly anything new.
3) i.e. Megatron abusive, Starcream submissive, and the fangirls squee. No evidence of backstabbing on Screamer’s part though.
4) Jetfire’s previous incarnations include a Steve Erwin impression and Starscream’s pre-war buddy.
5) There’s no way to explain this one without ruining it.
6) Remember the helicopter from the first film? He’s back, for some reason.