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Monday, June 29, 2009

Movie Review: Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen

TF2I've seen it. I'm pissed. Here we go:

I love transformers. LOVE transformers. As far as I'm concerned it's what made my childhood special. It used to share it's place with the Star Wars saga, like the Pillars of Hercules they held aloft my nostalgia with unending strength. George Lucas destroyed one of those pillars with the prequels. Bay took several chunks out of the other with the first live action Transformers movie. This sequel rips out some new holes but the pillar still stands. I can still separate this piece of... work from my precious childhood memories... but even so it ain't easy to sit through.

Watching this movie is like putting your brain in a vice grip made of stupidity. Every time you think you can get free something happens and the crank turns again, squeezing you tighter, increasing your agony. I'll try to give as complete a review as possible but the aforementioned brain damage is quite extensive, so I'm going to go through things in a categorical manner and see which demons I can exorcise. Get comfy and grab a drink because this might take a while.

Let's begin.

THE AUTOBOTS

Everyone from the first movie is back. Mostly. Optimus and Bumblebee get the lion's share of the screen time of course. Between the two of them they also kick more ass than the rest of the cast combined. Optimus is a bit vicious for my liking and his personality seems off. He's got a thing for mutilating his opponents heads/faces. Frankly it's a little creepy. Bumblebee is continuing to have vocalizer problems and so the "talks with soundbites" gimmick returns. Interestingly, almost all of B's "spoken" dialogue seems to come from clips of Tom Hanks in other Dreamworks movies. This makes sense on two levels, 1) You don't have to pay licensing fees for work your studio owns and 2) Tom Hanks is a big transformers fan. Add to that the fact that Spielberg and Hanks are old buddies (and that Hanks still pulls major box office draw) and I'd be frankly amazed if Bumbles gets to actually speak in movie 3 and Tom Hanks is NOT providing his voice.

Ironhide gets a couple lines. Ratchet shows up once in the middle and again at the end and gets one line. The rest of the cast are all newbies. Sideswipe, a red sports car in the original toys is a silver sports car here. He has wheels for feet and swords on his arms. He thinks he's a badass... and he kinda is. Along with him comes Arcee, a trio of motorcycles that act as a unit. These are the first female transformers we ever meet, even though no explicit mention is made of it on screen. She's pink, she has a high voice, you do the math.

Oh and then there's Jolt. Jolt? When did you get here? Yes, apparently sometime between the beginning and the end of the movie a blue hybrid named Jolt shows up. Good thing too because without him Ratchet wouldn't have been able to save Optimus! Autobot: Jolt, function: plot device- buy him now, kids!

Lastly there's "the Twins"... Sigh... Do I even need to talk about Skids and Mudflap? About how over-the-top ghetto stereo-typical they are? About how annoying and intentionally goofy they are? Now I'll admit they did have the some of the funniest lines in the movie but that's not hard because they had about 70% of the transformer's on-screen dialogue! I was happy, HAPPY when Devestator ate Mudflap and oh so disappointed when he managed to survive. Others have called these two the Jar-Jar Binks of transformers. I'm not going to disagree. Everything you hated about Jar-jar you'll hate about these two. Maybe a little less but not much.

THE DECEPTICONS

The principle villain of this film is "The Fallen". Who the fuck is the Fallen? I actually didn't know. ME! Matt Lyon, transformers nerd par-excellence! Turns out there's a reason for that: he's new... like 2005 new. He was a character created by IDW for their War Within comic series. Don't bother reading up on him though because this guy isn't really him. Much like the rest of the movie-verse characters he bears a vague resemblance to his comic counter-part but that's all. That's great Mike, take a character who's barely even got an established history and then change that history. Seriously, why even keep the name? Megatron is evidently the Fallen's bitch, which is so very, very not cool. Megatron should bow to no one, yet he literally falls on bended-knee for this clown. You can tell they're trying for a Vader/Emperor dynamic here. "Trying" being the operative term, as opposed to "succeeding". The actual feeling you get is that Megatron is just a high-ranking lackey and man, that ain't right.

One of the decepticons is disguised as a human this time around, literally a smokin' hot blonde who tries to seduce Sam. The precedent for this is a latter-day line of transformers toys called "Pretenders" in which the robot is hidden inside an outer shell that appears organic. There's a wink-wink/nudge-nudge bit of dialogue where she says to Sam "Why don't I PRETEND to be your girlfriend and you PRETEND to be my boyfriend?" Unfortunately, Bay gets this wrong too. Instead of a hologram (or a synthetic shell) like in the TV show (or comic, respectively) this girl's human form IS her other mode. At BEST this is closer to the alt-modes in Beast Wars but in reality she's just a TX rip-off from Terminator 3 (right down to the blue eyes) combined with a Species rip-off in the form of a lacerating tongue-probe. Like Frenzy in the first film she inexplicably has autobot blue eyes instead of the usual decepticon red in robot mode. Consistency? What's that?

Remember the Constructicons? A team of robots who can combine to form the super robot Devestator? They're supposed to be special, right? Why then are there multiple Constructicons? And why so many? It seems like there are two or more of each of them. Rather than being a specific group of robots, Devestator seems to have been assembled from all the Constructicons available at the moment. If that's how it works, then why not have 20 Constructicons form into super-duper-Devesator? And would it have killed them to make new texture maps for the duplicates? I'm not asking for the moon here, just a simple palette swap would do. For a $200 million movie, that's just lazy.

And then there are the generic decepticons. Now I don't mind that concept per se, certainly there have been drone and soldier type decepticons going all the way back to the lavender coloured Starscream clones in the original series but these guys are TOTALLY generic. They have no discernible features, no obvious alt-mode elements and are generally all the same dark gunmetal colours. Their job is literally to show up and get shot.

Here's a fun fact: apparently, the decepticons have a base on one of Saturn's moons. Don't bother wondering how, when or why it's there, it just is. And it's jam-packed with gestating decepticons who are all dying. Starscream calls these "hatchlings". Now there's already an established term in transformers lore for a robot that's without a consciousness-"protoform". But that's apparently too technical for this film, so instead why don't we just talk about them as if they were fucking chickens? After all we wouldn't want to confuse the audience with this base we've never seen until now, talking to a character we know almost nothing about, regarding something we don't understand now would we? Things might start making sense!

Something else that makes no sense and is another carry-over from the previous film I'd hoped they would fix; the decepticons speak cybertronian to one another through radio but speak English to one another aloud. Consistency, people. Fucking PICK ONE!

It was good to hear Frank Welker reprise his role as Soundwave but it sucks that they seemingly forgot to process his voice through a vocoder. The end result is more like "Dr. Claw-wave". It's cool too that he deploys Ravage to infiltrate the NEST base and Ravage himself is great, really well animated and retains his classic hip-guns, unfortunately it then starts (hah! STARTS!) to get a little silly. Soundwave deploys Ravage and then he in turn pukes up a bunch of nano-transformers that combine into a super thin insecticon of sorts. Later on Ravage also deploys Scalpel (aka "the doctor") when he revives Megatron and again when he captures Sam. Makes you wonder what the hell else Ravage is carrying. And nano-transformers? Why not just use THEM to attack the autobots? They'd be fucked. Oh right but then so would the "story"...

THE HUMANS

I don't have a whole lot to say about Sam. Shia Lebeouf has to read the lines he's given after all and he continues to do an excellent job of screaming at things that aren't really there. It does kind of piss me off that Sam keeps doing the same stupid things though. Like when he tells Bumblebee he doesn't need him anymore mere MINUTES after B saves his ass from a hoard of rampaging appliances. Or like when he's basically telling Optimus to fuck off. Or when B's trying to warn him about the Pretender chick by playing "Super Freak" and Sam thinks he's just being a douche. You'd think he'd smarten up. Decisions like that tend to shorten your lifespan when there are psychotic alien robots trying to kill you.

Also I want Sam's parents to die. Is that wrong of me? They certainly have ample opportunity to get themselves killed throughout the movie. If only they'd finish the job...

Megan Fox's hotness is never under-used in this film. In case you'd forgotten how hot she is, the first time we see her she's folded over herself in the most ridiculous pin-up poster girl pose you'll ever see just to drive home the point. Supposedly she's detailing a motorcycle. Sure she is. That's not how you airbrush a Motorcycle, Megan. Or anything else for that matter. I suppose I should be grateful that she's at least HOLDING the airbrush the right way around. Later on in the desert scene we get a good thirty seconds of slow-motion boob-jostling. Classy! You know Mike's tugging it between takes. Honestly, I can't say I blame him.

Speaking of genitals, Bay continues to swallow the US Military's cock right down to the pubes. You can all that patriotic if you like, I call it pandering. If Bay wanted to prove he was really a patriot he'd be IN the military instead of just filming it. Basically he's just found a way to play with toy soldiers as an adult. I do like the soldiers better in this movie, though. Too bad any opportunities we may have had to get to know them better are overrun with stupid jokes, explosions and inane dialogue from other characters.

I got nothing to say about the supporting cast. They're all disposable comic relief add-ons, each more odious and childish than the last. At least the dumb blonde and fat hacker form the first movie didn't return.

THE "PLOT"

Here's the story in a nutshell: Sam finds an Allspark fragment in his jacket and handling it causes him to start seeing cybertronian glyphs. The glyphs are co-ordinates to ancient transformer super weapon hidden somewhere on Earth that creates energon by draining stars. The decepticons learn of this and want to extract it from his brain. Also they want to resurrect Megatron because... well, Hasbro has toys to sell, people! The autobots naturally want to stop this. Everybody up to speed? Good. You wouldn't think it takes TWO AND A HALF HOURS to tell that story but apparently it does. What's scary to think about is that that's the theatrical run time. That means some poor bastard edited it DOWN to that. Stay tuned for the four hour special edition director's cut DVD! You know it's coming.

Let's skip past the "boy goes to college" crap and get to the meat of the film. The decepticons need Sam alive so naturally they chase him, shoot at him, drop him from a helicopter and toss his ass on a slab of concrete because you know, that's obviously how you treat easily damaged, utterly indispensable cargo. For all of Megatron's oddly-lascivious discussion of Sam's flesh he sure seems bizarrely ignorant to the fact that it's very fragile. This sets up for a not-at-all-subtle matrix rip-off where Scalpel inserts a millipede-like drone into Sam. Well hey, we've ripped off Aliens, Terminator and Species so far, so why not?

This leads to the fight in the forest, basically the highlight of the movie. Optimus goes to town on Megatron, Starscream and Grindor. Yes, Grindor. No, not Blackout from the first movie. Yes, I know they look the same...not that it matters, Prime kills him too. Unfortunately, Prime simply cannot take down three decepticons AND baby-sit Sam, so Megatron takes Prime down HARD.

Backing up for a moment, one scene I did like was the resurrection of Megatron. Okay, one part of that scene. Not how Ravage gets there almost INSTANTLY. Not how they dive down and survive crushing depths against all logic. Not how the NAVY, which is supposed to be guarding this grave site 24/7 just floats there and goes "dur". No, what I liked was how Scalpel aka "The Doctor" examined Megatron's corpse and said "I'll need parts..." and the remaining decepticons immediately turned on their weakest member and ripped him to pieces without a second thought. That was utterly ruthless, exactly how decepticons should behave. That was AWESOME. Unfortunately it does raise the rather sticky issue of just how powerful Allspark fragments really are because at this point there are two and Sam still has one THAT HE COULD USE TO REPAIR OPTIMUS. But why do that? That'd be simple and easy and make SENSE. Nah, let's waste it on Jetfire who isn't even technically dead, just in stasis.

Jetfire by the way is a cranky old bastard who's been on Earth for quite a while... or so we're told. But if Jetfire's been offline for nearly 100 years, why is he an SR-71 Blackbird? And on display at the fucking Smithsonian!? And if he switched sides before coming to Earth, why is he still sporting decepticon insignias? Jetfire can generate his own space bridge, an action that must be pretty tiring because after he teleports to Egypt using Sam's co-ordinates he just sorta fucks off for the next hour of the film. Seriously, he's just not there anymore. The better to deus ex machina his ass into the finale I suppose. Also how does he even know the stupid prophecy? Oh, did I forget to mention the "prophecy"? And how Sam's the chosen one? Ow.. my brain...

Here's the deal: there's a prophecy that tells where the ancient Primes hid the Matrix of Leadership, which is not only the key to the sun harvester but also the gateway to the transformers afterlife. As such is offers the potential to bring Optimus back to life because hey it's not transformers if Optimus doesn't die and return to save the day at some point, right? But Jetfire doesn't really have a reason to know this. Yet he does. Huh? Ow...

Now the Fallen is supposedly the strongest of the ancient brotherhood of Primes. So strong apparently, that the other seven decided to kill themselves rather than attempt to take him down. How dumb is THAT concept you ask? Well, first off the Fallen is there when the Primes sacrifice themselves, essentially NOTHING is stopping him from commanding his minions to dig out the Matrix the second the dust clears. Second, in spite of the in-movie hype the Fallen doesn't seem all THAT powerful. Sure he can do the space bridge thing, he's super strong and he's constantly on fire just to show how eeeevil he is but super jet-pack Prime still seems to be able to dispatch him in short order at the end of the film, so why was he such a tough nut for the SEVEN ancient Primes? And third, if Optimus is a "descendant" of the ancient Primes and the Fallen is the only surviving ancient Prime then doesn't that make him the son of the Fallen? This movie is already confusing enough without trying to make me mentally fill in the gaps about transformer reproduction.

So Sam retrieves the Matrix but it crumbles to dust in his hands, only to magically reassemble itself after he communes with the dead Primes and they deem him worthy of carrying it. But if Sam must prove he is "worthy" (read: of noble spirit) to possess the Matrix in the first place, then how can someone as eeevil as the Fallen use it? And if the Matrix is the key to the sun destroyer and it's already crumbled to dust, then why not just scatter the dust and render the sun destroyer useless? Sure you'd lose Optimus Prime but you'd save the planet... don't you think that's the sort of action a true hero might approve of? You know, like say... OPTIMUS FUCKING PRIME?! I know, I know... toys to sell...

And while I'm on the subject, why destroy Earth's sun? The transformers achieved space travel eons ago, so I'm guessing their knowledge of the universe is a wee bit better than ours. Now ask yourself: how many stars are in the universe? Does it really matter WHICH star they harvest? And what about this "We don't set the harvesters up on planets with life" shtick? You can see lifeforms on Earth from orbit, they're called PLANTS!! There is not ONE good reason given in the story for the machine being on Earth. I'd take ANYTHING at this point (certain age and type of star, certain distance from sun, etc) but they give me nothing.

The conceptual flow of this movie is a mess. Bay seems to direct it in the same way a magpie makes it's nest: he grabs bits and pieces from wherever he finds them and just folds them in. Doesn't matter if they fit or if they seem out of place or are even totally random, if he likes it then it's in the movie. As a result, keeping track of who and what and when in this movie is a chore, especially when trying to establish continuity with the first movie. The Fallen arrives 17,000 years ago to set up the sun harvester, Megatron crashed here 1000 years ago in the first movie, yet Jetfire's considered an ancient transformer but he's only been here for a century? The Fallen is seen as legendary and yet he's clearly been around the whole time somewhere despite being completely omitted from the first film. And where the fuck did that moon base come from? I get the feeling these gaps are made like this on purpose so the audience will be required to buy the prequel comics and video games just to understand what the hell happened. Shrewd business move but lousy film making.

POTTY HUMOUR

It's clear to me now that Michael Bay doesn't understand the difference between child-oriented and childish because the jokes in this movie (both visual and verbal) clearly fall into the latter category.

Devestator for instance has testicles. Okay not really, two of the crane components that form Devestator have wrecking ball arms and the balls just so happen to end up between his legs. It would perhaps be funny if only Bay didn't feel the need to have one of the characters comment on it, as if we somehow couldn't figure it out for ourselves.

Then there's Wheelie, the diminutive, foul-mouthed "pet" Mikaila acquires early in the film that looks like Johnny 5 on meth. In one scene, Wheelie decides (on a whim) to become an autobot and to celebrate his new found allegiance he begins humping Megan Fox's leg like a horny dog. I guess Bay thinks dog fucking is the funniest damned thing EVER and any excuse to get it on screen is worth it, even when it's a ROBOT. This following on from two other actual dog-fucking scenes earlier in the movie. Third time's the charm, right? Ugh...

There's tons of goo in this movie too. Not so much gore but goo. Many of the transformers drool or slobber or spit. Bumblebee shreds Ravage at one point, revealing a spinal column dripping with fluorescent jello. The protoforms (I'm not calling them "hatchlings", fuck you Bay) are encased in translucent blue gel. It's all very Giger-esque and thoroughly out of place. Oh don't get me wrong, I'm perfectly fine with transformers having internal fluids. Oil, lubricants, even energon itself are all common liquids transformers are seen to consume or excrete in every version of the franchise. But this is excessive, they seem more like cyborgs and that shit has no place in transformers... that's what the Gobots was about!

ODDS AND ENDS

Once again I can't make out a fucking thing in the fight scenes and that's pretty fucking bad considering every single fight sequence is about 50% slow-mo. Everything is still mostly generic, shiny metallic grey and any fragments of colour are completely lost in the mish-mash of plates, pistons and gears. Sometimes it's so bad that you're basically reduced to tracking eye colour to figure out who's who. It's curious too how the transformers paint jobs get all scraped up during the fights and yet when they change into their vehicle modes their paint jobs are pristine again. Why is that do you suppose? Oh right... because the studio has to insure the cars because they're real. And I guess because people have gotten used to that whole "scraped metal texture" thing. Personally, I'm getting a little tired of it.

Now, I'm no geography expert but if the main fight in this movie is supposed to be in Egypt, then why is all the sand this bright, white coral sand? Shouldn't it be that dark, ruddy sand? You know, like they have in EGYPT? Just a thought.

Bay certainly has a hard on for meteors destroying buildings though, doesn't he? He also seems to have fallen in love with the orbital panning shot. Early on in the film during the scene where Sam gets ready to go to college I actually began to feel nausea, he just kept going around and around and around and a... oh god... I'll be right back...

FINAL THOUGHTS

So there we are, dear reader. Kudos to you if you made it this far! Let me assure you, watching the actual movie is just as much an ordeal as reading this, cathartic as it was for me to write it. But before you think I've run out of rage, let me share with you one more thought, something with which I can pass on some of that rage to you: Bay is making 8% on merchandise. That's right. On top of what he got paid to direct the film, in addition to whatever his share of the box office gross is, Michael Bay is retaining 8% of all sales of TF2:ROTF merchandise. And transformers is Hasbro's #1 selling property.

Angry yet? Good.

Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen gets a rating of:

1½ out of 4 STARS AND MY SINCEREST HOPE MICHAEL BAY IS SERIOUS ABOUT NOT DIRECTING PART THREE. AT LEAST THAT WAY ONE OF THEM MIGHT BE GOOD.

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