Read our preview of the film here.
Giant transforming robots have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. The “Transformers” animated TV series began when I was but two years old. The animated film, when I was four, elicited tears when I witnessed the death of Optimus Prime. I had so many metallic and plastic vehicle/robot hybrids, I became adept at calling them out even as they remained behind my preschool teacher’s back. I was even apparently known for yelling, “Transformers,” when released for kindergarten recess. My long forgotten childhood came rushing back to me in 2007 with the release of Michael Bay’s live-action Transformers and it was the one film that year I just knew would live up to the hype. Sadly, it turned out only about half-true. Apathetic was more the applicable word than disappointed and my view remained that way regarding the impending release of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. With expectations tempered, could the sequel to my boyhood dreams make up for the first installment?
Ever since Sam Witwicky shoved the all-spark cube into Megatron’s chest, rendering him lifeless and having the U.S. military drop the leader of the Decepticons into the ocean, Optimus Prime and the Autobots have remained alongside the human race as protectors against any future enemy attack. A new national security advisor to the president isn’t the biggest fan of the new militaristic advisors and accuses them of withholding weapons technology secrets and increasing the chances of Decepticon attack merely by their presence. His aim is to rid the Transformers from Earth, if only to maintain his developed ego.
Meanwhile, Sam is now in a committed relationship with Mikaela, but he’s attempting to retain a normal life after discovery of an alien race, by moving on to college. Mikaela can’t afford the college life and thus remains in their hometown working at a motorcycle shop and keeping an eye on her recently-out-of-prison father. Sam discovers a sliver of the all-spark didn’t make it all the way into Megatron’s chest and instead causes some trouble at home. He hands the sliver to Mikaela for safe-keeping, but while at school he suffers a mental breakdown, seeing and drawing foreign symbols as a result of previously touching the all-spark.
Hidden deep inside the ocean alongside Megatron’s remains lies the title character, The Fallen. He’s one of the earliest Transformers, encountering Earth back in 17,000 B.C. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, he’s a Decepticon and ever since being banished to the seas, he’s been awaiting his revenge on the human race. When the Decepticons get word of Sam seeing alien images and still possessing a piece of the all-spark, they make it their mission to hunt him down and strip him of the information trapped inside his mind. Such a result will give The Fallen a chance to rise and Decepticons another chance at taking control of Earth.
One of the massive problems I had with Bay’s first venture into the world of Autobots and Decepticons was the cheesy humor. Bumblebee pees on John Turturro, Autobots try to hide in suburbia and Wheelie attempts to inconspicuously shield his face from anybody who might recognize him. It seemed out of place in a giant robot movie and put a damper on all of the “Bayhem” released. Sadly, Revenge of the Fallen is an even worse offender. Dogs hump legs, mothers go on pot benders and two new Autobots make Dopey from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves look like Stephen Hawking. Frankly, it was embarrassing to sit there and watch how these things play out onscreen. The sad thing is that it’s all completely unnecessary, because during tense, action-oriented moments the film sustains itself perfectly well.
While the “humor” weighed this film down more than the original, Bay managed to improve his directorial style this time around. He’s always been known for the ADD-style editing with no shot ever lasting longer than a beat or two, but he didn’t help his cutting technique when the majority of his robotic in-fighting shots were obscured by other pieces of the set. This could very well have been done to make the job easier on special effects house ILM, but it made it difficult for the viewer to follow the action and make out just who was who. Thankfully, the intrusive objects have been removed and the audience now has a better semblance of the action taking place. Although why the choice to make Decepticon leaders Megatron and Starscream both gun-metal gray fighter planes, I’ve no idea.
The film is complete spectacle, only compounded when projected on the IMAX format. Bay shot two action scenes, one in a lush green forest and the other near the pyramids of Egypt with IMAX cameras, and the scenes have a magnificent pop to them. The detail is startling and works as a perfect device for which to display meta-Transformer, Devastator, made up five individual Decepticons. The film works at a massive volume, both visually and aurally, which is perfect for intensity in the action, but only makes the transition to scenes of pure human interaction more jarring.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen delivers in its promise of giant fighting robots, but sadly believes more is needed for which to draw the viewer into the world. The human relationships are canned at best and attempts draw in the child crowd like Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace works just about as well as that film. IMAX is certainly the only format for which to see the film, as the visuals provided are glorious. The film is the latest case in style over substance and its only hope for a redemptive inevitable third outing is to drop the “funny” business and remember the robots are what we’re here for. A boy can still dream, can’t he?