Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen first published by EyeforFilm, 15 June, 2009
A title baldly declares that the film we are about to see has its origins in Hasbro toys. Over images of a one-sided battle between men and mechas in a rocky landscape, a booming voice-over declares: “Earth – birthplace of the human race – a species much like our own, capable of great compassion – and great violence,” while a caption appears indicating that the time is in fact 17,000 BC. “Our worlds,” states the voice-over, “have met before”.They have, indeed – for it was only two years ago that an army of little boys and an even bigger army of male Eighties nostalgists united to savour the man-on-machine shenanigans of Michael Bay’s live-action Transformers (2007). And if this introduction reveals in no uncertain terms the epic scale of sequel Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, it also shows a director who is entirely comfortable with the inherent preposterousness of his material. Some two and a half hours later, as the final credits roll (and roll and roll), viewers may feel distinctly less comfortable.
Of course, there is more to epic than mere length, and so Bay crams his big film with references to other big films. Cavemen fighting a big cat? It’s a nod to 10,000 BC (2008). Extra-terrestrials pouring from pyramids and slaughtering the locals? That’s Alien Vs Predator (2004). An apparent human revealing her mechanical interior and relentlessly stalking her prey? Ah, the Terminator franchise. Meteorites ravaging cityscapes? Gotta be Bay’s own Armageddon (1998). Giant behemoths scaling the New York skyline? Er, King Kong. The spectacle of sinking battleships? It’s the disaster of Pearl Harbour (2001, also Bay’s) all over again. An aeronautic museum exhibit coming to life? Night At The Museum 2 (2009). Archaeological secrets stored at Petra and an ancient ziggurat housing a dormant alien ‘device’ (in every sense)? Just like the last two Indiana Jones films!
The fact, though, that with its ancient Egyptian opening, its alien robot invasion, and its quest for origins, Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen most closely resembles madcap animated blockbuster piss-take Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film For Theatres (2007), speaks volumes. There is nothing – nothing – in Bay’s film that can be taken seriously – although that becomes something of a problem in itself, given Bay’s relentless exploitation of imagery from 9/11 and the Second Gulf War, and the film’s ‘comic’ scenes in which one character is shown ‘wackily’ winning over a captured (and later externally rendered) enemy through judicious application of a blowtorch to the face. Some things really just should not have a lighter side – but then again, so absurdly jingoistic is Bay’s whole approach to filmmaking that one suspects he may be one of those who genuinely sees no problem in the torture of America’s perceived foes.
Once again the main (human) character is Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), now old enough to be starting college, if not yet a full-fledged adult. Just witness the way he does not hesitate to declare his love for his car (admittedly, a car that is ‘more than meets the eye’), but still struggles to utter the same words to his now long-term girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox) – not that there is so much difference between the two objects of his affection, at least in the way that the camera accentuates and leeringly objectifies the sleek, curved bodywork of both.
In other words, despite the intervening years, neither Sam nor the franchise that features him has exactly matured. This sequel is essentially a recap of all the bludgeoning biffo from the first film, only with more characters, and more Transformers on both sides of the (good) Autobot/(bad) Decepticon spectrum. It is bigger and longer than the original – but certainly no better, and this time round lacking even a novelty factor.
The action revolves around a(nother) long-buried machine capable of destroying all life on Earth, and an ancient Transformer known as The Fallen (in case anyone misses his Luciferian identity) who returns to set those old cogs a-whirring and take vengeance on the humans he so inexplicably hates. The Fallen orchestrates the resurrection of mega-bad-robot Megatron to help him find the hidden ‘Matrix’ ignition key for the machine – and so Sam finds himself once again drawn into helping the Christ-like Autobot leader Optimus Prime (cue solemn stirring music whenever he appears) to save humankind.
Both Prime (again voiced by Peter Cullen) and Sam must make some messianic sacrifices (again) in order to beat the Decepticons to the Matrix and then beat The Fallen to kingdom come – but since their martyrdoms are not permanent (there’s the franchise’s future to consider), they lack all substance. Here, as in a video game, all the players can call on more than one life, which serves to reduce considerably any sense of real peril.
Much-needed (if very hit-and-miss) comic relief is provided by Sam’s embarrassingly all-American parents (Kevin Dunn, Julie White), by former agent Simmons (John Turturro), by new roommate-cum-geek Leo (Ramon Rodriguez), and by a perky pair of rap-speaking Autobots named Mudflap and Skids (who have been constructed from the spare parts of various racial stereotypes). Beyond that, it’s a series of mindless, pounding, effects-heavy set-pieces, no doubt all technically brilliant, but still numbing on the attention, and cut so fast and furious that it is often, as in the first film, difficult to divine (let alone care) who exactly is doing what to whom.
In this respect, though, Bay has truly outdone himself – for while it is perhaps understandable that non-aficionados of the Transformer universe should struggle to tell gargantuan, shape-shifting automata apart when they are all head-to-head in an almighty clinch, this film also manages to cast as Mikaela’s erotic rival Alice an actress (Isabel Lucas) so indistinguishable from Megan Fox that viewers will only share Sam’s confusion.
Towards the end of Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, Captain Lennox (Josh Duhamel) must get his pesky new Autobot-averse commander Galloway (John Benjamin Hickey) out of the way before he can go help old friend Sam fight the Decepticons, and so he tricks Galloway into parachuting out of their plane to the sandy middle of nowhere below. By this point in what is an unduly long and hardly rewarding film, many viewers may be wishing that they could join the hapless presidential aide in bailing out. For all the Transformers’ powers of recombinant metal exchange, this film is so much less than the sum of its parts.
strap: The daft spectacle of Michael Bay’s Hasbro sequel is less than meets the eye – and less than the sum of its many spare parts