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"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"

Directed by Michael Bay.
Written by Ehren Kruger, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman.
Starring Shia LeBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel and John Turturro.
Release Year:  2009

Review Date:  6/25/09


Bigger, longer, louder...check, check and check for the new sequel "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen."  And, thankfully, there is no middle portion where nothing really happens.  But, why is the new movie not quite as good as the last one?

Even now, a full 24 hours after leaving a midnight showing of the film on opening night, I'm not sure.  I know this much--Michael Bay is the pre-eminent director of overblown, big-budget action films.

Our friends Sam (Shia LaBeouf) and Mikaela (Megan Fox) are back; two years after the first film, Sam's at a college on the East Coast and Mikaela is still working in an auto repair shop on the West Coast.  Meanwhile, the Autobots and their leader, Optimus Prime (still voiced by Peter Cullen), are cooperating with the U.S. military to eradicate the planet of the lingering Decepticons now that their leader, Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving), is buried at the bottom of an ocean.  But, a small shard of the "Allspark"--the magical cube everyone was fighting over in the first movie--was in some of Sam's trash at home, and coming into contact with it leads Sam to have a vision of where some other robot artifacts are found, launching an adventure that leads Sam, Mikaela, the military and the Autobots all over the world searching for the location of another artifact.

The story of "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is bad, and even two hours after leaving the theater, you can pick out a number of holes that make it even worse.  My favorite is that even though Sam carried the Allspark cube around with his bare hands in the first film, he never had these the sequel, he rubs a sliver of that same cube and he instantly becomes Einstein.  Strangely, a movie this long has a story this barren...which, brings us to problem #2: there IS such a thing as action sequences that run on too long.  The film's end sequence, where the two Army guys from the first film (Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson) lead a squad against Decepticons somewhere in the Egyptian desert, is a series of explosions, gunfire, and general violence that lasts more than 20 minutes.  Sure, it's cool to watch shit get blow'd up, but even I have my limits.  The movie runs a cool 150 minutes; the first one was 144 minutes, also too long, but the new movie felt longer in part because 1) it really is, and 2) I saw it at midnight on a Tuesday.  At 2:30 AM, I had seen enough, and we still had about 15 minutes to go.

Problem #3: robot profanity.  As one of the most profane people you or I know, I feel that I am well versed in profanity and I enjoy employing it at key moments in my life.  However, I don't like when robots say "pussy" or generally watching robots spew "shit" throughout their conversation with humans.  For some reason, watching these characters (known to me as toys, then cartoons growing up) curse really set me off.  Problem #4: like the first film, I didn't feel like the writers did a good job of rewarding fans of the toys and TV cartoon.  There are no real familiar characters here that are new (thanks to Chuck for pointing out that Sideswipe has an early cameo in this sequel); also, the new characters introduced here mainly go the way of Jar-Jar Binks in terms of "ugh, that character is REALLY annoying"-ness.  Save for the cool-yet-Voltron-ripoff contruction vehicle Decepticon introduced late in this sequel, I wasn't all that hyped about any of the new creations.  The movie had a chance to make me happy by introducing the idea that everyone is chasing Energon--the fuel that gives life to these robots, hilariously imagined as empty cubes that could be filled with things like gasoline or electricity to be converted to Energon back on the TV show--but after introducing it, never revisits it.  Sigh.

My final major issue came with the inconsistencies created by robot & human weapons and the damage they wreak on their targets.  Here's an example--early in the film, the Allspark shard gets loose in Sam's house and creates new Decepticons out of household objects like a toaster and a microwave.  These objects then have weapons like machine guns and missile launchers, which they use on Sam.  Now, if the toaster is firing a machine gun, why don't the bullets hit Sam like real bullets do?  So what if the toaster is small...why are the bullets not lethal?  I'll give you another example.  It appears throughout this film that guided missiles, rockets, machine guns, laser guns, etc. all seem to hurt the Transformers.  But, occasionally, a laser gun takes a robot's chest off.  Sometimes, Optimus Prime breaks out a sword that hurts Decepticons...sometimes, it instantly kills similar-sized Decepticons.  ???  Humans are carrying machine guns that sometimes appear to have no damage effect on Decepticons.  Sometimes, those machine guns appear to be able to kill Decepticons.  ???  Humans have access to railguns on some of their destroyers.  However, a former government agent has to REMIND a destroyer captain that he has access to A FUCKING RAILGUN, which is used to quickly, and with one shot, take out a Decepticon the size of a baseball stadium.

If we have access to railguns that can be fired like an airstrike on a coordinated location, why don't we do that...ALL THE FUCKING TIME????

There are many moments like this in the sequel, and my thoughts didn't come over the course of the last 24 hours...some of them occurred to me in the moment, like this railgun example.  "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" seems to have been plotted backwards, i.e. figure out four blowout action sequences, and build a story around the movie that way.  Sprinkle some laughs and Megan Fox on top, and voila!  Instant blockbuster.

In that respect, then, the movie is often entertaining.  There are some decent laughs, Fox is hot (and, for the ladies, I get the impression that Gibson and Duhamel are easy on the eyes), and Bay blows up so much of his set that the movie almost never lets up in terms of its explosivility.  (Not a word, but play along here.)  Bay blows up dorms, libraries, vehicles, villages, forests, and aircraft carrier models.  The guy blows up everything, and I like watching things get blown up.  The robot fight scenes are better this time around thanks to drawing the camera out farther--no more close-up robot wrestling matches--and slowing down the kill animations.  And, no one can argue with the film's special effects...they will contend for the Oscar next spring.

So, a thinking man's action film, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is not.  But, it does play to a man's animal action movie tendencies, and maybe that's all you could hope for in this day and age.  But, in the wake of films like "The Dark Knight", wouldn't it be nice to have strong acting and writing matched up with a blowout action film?

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 06/25/09