Theatrical review: Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen

Read SciFiNow’s verdict on the biggest blockbuster of 2009

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Released: 19 June 2009
Certificate: 12A (TBC)
Director: Michael Bay
Screenwriters: Ehren Kruger, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Peter Cullen
Distributor: Paramount Pictures
Running Time: 147 mins

This movie will do very well indeed. Sequel to 2007’s smash hit, Transformers, Michael Bay’s Revenge Of The Fallen is as big and burly as fans of loud, frenetic blockbusters will want it to be. It shouts, it screams, it explodes, it screams some more and then it explodes again; it is more than simple cinematic fodder for the preteen Saturday mobs, it is the next stage in the evolution of cinematic fodder, stripped down and streamlined to feature only marketable, trailer-friendly, toy shelf-conscious moments. Junk, then.

It’s perhaps important to establish early on that the many, many, many devout fans of the first film will most likely get more than enough out of the sequel, but surely even they will concede there was significantly more to the 2007 box-office behemoth. With LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky, audiences had a character they could root for, while the central premise of ‘boy buys car, cars turns out to be alien robot, boy saves world’ had more than a touch of Spielberg about it. There were, too, moments of genuine awe as heroes from yesteryear stomped back onto present day screens and gave us a CG-heavy high five. But most of these elements have been banished from Revenge Of The Fallen, leaving something mechanical, uninteresting and soulless. 

Two years on from the events of the first film, Revenge Of The Fallen sees our young hero Sam, still with Mikaela (Megan Fox) and about to start college, find a sliver of the all-powerful All-Spark in his hoody. The alien device then uploads secret co-ordinates into his brain which subsequently puts him and the Autobots at the centre of another race against time to stop the Decepticons having their way with the world. Giving you much more detail on what precisely happens next would be less than fair; suffice to say it involves the Decepticon overlord, The Fallen, and a hunt for an ancient object that nods heavily in the direction of the original series. Labelling the proceedings a story, however, would be misleading, as there really is little besides people shouting and robots shooting, be it in a top secret military base, a college campus or Egypt. Indeed, the only thing that ever seems to change from scene to scene is the backdrop.

Rather appropriately, although almost certainly not through design, the film plays out like a three-hour Saturday morning cartoon (it’s about 147 minutes long, but it feels longer). It’s paper-thin all the way through, with nothing in the way of characterisation or invention, just misjudged joke after misjudged joke (don’t be surprised to see a Constructicon’s testicles or a Decepticon humping Megan Fox’s leg), danger-less explosion after danger-less explosion and the sort of expositional exchanges that would make a ten-year-old wince. There are arguably one or two surprises but immediately these are followed up with the most formulaic, predictable plot-points, sucking the life out of any drama or tension there might be like a 200 foot vacuum-cleaner Decepticon, which, incidentally, does feature, as does a regular-size vacuum cleaner Decepticon. Troublingly, like so many other recent blockbusters (Terminator Salvation to name but one) there is so little that feels like a real threat: explosions are nothing more than decoration; all Transformers, both Autobot and Decepticon, are in dire need of an intensive training course in how to shoot; the much talked about Fallen comes across as little more than a computer-generated slouch; even Sam and Mikaela appear to be made of an indestructible, alien rubber alloy. How is an audience supposed to care when it doesn’t ever believe that anything bad will happen? Ultimately, for all its obvious expense (with Bay at least, the money is always on the screen), the action is tediously unengaging and totally sterile, and nowhere near enough of a reward for the 40 minute bout of nothingness that precedes the final act.

In a curious move, Bay has also seen fit to relegate Bumblebee and Optimus Prime to bit-part players with seemingly more film reel devoted to some unfathomably annoying, and frankly offensive Transformers. But this is only one in a longline of poor decisions, with the return of John Turturro’s Agent Simmons, the pointless introduction of Ramon Rodriguez as tech-head Leo, the equally pointless re-introduction of Josh Handsome and Tyrese Gibson’s super soldiers, and the handling of the nauseatingly cheesy romance also ranking highly. Disconcertingly, there is also more than a tinge of xenophobia about the film, with every non-American treated with a blatant contempt.

Of course, there are highlights, with two or three titanic battles between Transformers doing their best to set the screen ablaze. Sadly, though, these moments don’t add up to a great deal of screentime and without the sense of wonder that the first film occasionally evoked, even the cutting-edge effects feel stale and tiresome. What we’re left with is an ugly beast of a movie as robotic as its main attractions that could justifiably become the symbol of all that is wrong with modern day summer spectaculars.

Unlike the summer’s other big robot movie, Revenge Of The Fallen does have a personality, but it’s a frightfully detestable one. It celebrates all the wrong things with ferocious gusto, marking a new type of low for blockbusters.

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