Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen has the feel of a cross between Revenge Of The Nerds, Top Gun and Iron Man, with explosions. Lots of explosions. Director Michael Bay likes his bangs big and he likes them regular.
The plot revolves around the attempts of the Decepticon hordes to resurrect an ancient Transformer, the Fallen. The human hero of Transformers, Sam Witwicky played by Shia LaBeouf, is attempting to lead a normal life, carrying on a long distance relationship with Mikaela Banes played by Megan Fox whilst going to college (Revenge Of The Nerds).
Meanwhile, the Autobots, lead by Optimus Prime, have joined forces with an internationalish (one SAS, the rest American) secret organisation of soldiers to fight the remaining robot nasties left behind after the defeat of Megatron.
Prime is ‘killed’, the pyramids in Egypt are blown up, Sam saves the day.
As in the first film, the use of CGI is exceptional. The production team are helped by the fact that, as in Iron Man, mechanical rather than organic effects are generally more believable. In this respect the Transformers are the ultimate CGI dream, each with an individual personality, but each rendered lovingly into a mechanical amalgam of bits of vehicle and satisfying, clunky metal.
The wide range of different Transformer models introduced in the film is creative, but probably over-egging the pudding. Instead of the simple pleasure of seeing solely vehicles transform into robots, we now have mechanised animals, humans, miniature ball-bearing robots, and domestic appliances.
While all of these are inventive, any of them could constitute a film by themselves, but instead they are lost in the melee of Bay-carnage. That being said, I loved the updating of Soundwave into a satellite surveillance robot and the Brobdingnagian compound robot reminiscent of a giant, deadly Dyson vacuum cleaner.
The human performances were better than I was expecting. John Turturro and LaBeouf stand out., with LaBeouf almost likable after his slightly annoying performance in Indy 4. The dialogue is snappy and, when it is audible over the frequent whizzes, bangs and techno-clinking, is very funny. I did find myself turning the volume down towards the climax, but then I’m a pansy. That being said, I don’t think I missed any vital plot developments.
I did find some of the less subtle political subtexts running through the movie to be uncomfortable. Returning to a toy which exemplified 1980s excess (encouraging the need to collect) and combining it with a similarly 1980s depiction of American military hardware (see Top Gun), the film feels oddly old-fashioned, and by staging the climax as an Iraq-style combat melee, Bay occasionally steers too close to Top Gun-style American military indoctrination as opposed to action entertainment.
Similarly, Bay has a slightly unhealthy approach to sexual politics, allowing the camera to move from long loving shots of engineering and metal to long loving shots of Megan Fox’s backside, juxtaposition reminiscent of old-fashioned, inappropriate 1970s and 1980s car advertisements.
There is something in the way Bay mixes a fetishism of technology with a fetishism of the female human form that, while it is not necessarily invalid, does seem a little outmoded. But then, his clear mastery of filming on the big scale, perhaps matched only by Spielberg, does go some distance to excusing his indiscretions on the small, human level.
As a sequel it certainly ratchets up the action, but it’s overly long. Bay flits between the different settings – the military, the college, Egypt – without pausing for breath, so the movement jars and feel awkward.
Watching it I was suddenly aware of how little I remember the first film even though it was in the cinema only two years ago. I can’t help feeling the details of Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen dripping away even as I write this. Perhaps that’s the mark of a successful Michael Bay movie: the feeling that you’ve just sat through one long explosion with the sound turned down, but with no real desire to watch it again.
As well as the ubiquitous commentary, the discs impressive array of extras includes a long and detailed making of documentary examining the different stages of production, especially interesting when it discusses the difficulties of writing the film either side of the screen writers strike.
There’s an interesting documentary focussing on the relationship between the film and the brand that serves to remind the viewer of the consumer origins of the Transformers. This also includes an interview with a very serious Hasbro executive talking earnestly and hilariously about the Transformers mythology like it was a religion.
A video diary following pyromaniac Michael Bay for a day and a Top Trump style image gallery with design sketches for a range of the Transformers is among the choices as well as a Linkin Park video that I didn’t watch.
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