by Mel Valentin
The sequel-, prequel-, and reboot-heavy summer season rolls on with "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," the semi-anticipated sequel to "Transformers," the 2007 blockbuster (more that $300 million at the North American box office and almost three times that amount worldwide) directed by Michael Bay ("Transformers," "The Island," "]Bad Boys 2," "Pearl Harbor," "Armageddon," "The Rock," "Bad Boys"). Quickly rushed into production week after "Transformers" became a box-office smash (two years between effects-heavy sequels is a rarity in today’s Hollywood), "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" continues the endless war between the Autobots, benevolent, super-powered, super-sized robots, and their malevolent, world-conquering, human-hating foes, the Decepticons. With more Autobots, more Decepticons, and new to the film franchise, Constructicons, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" offers more of the same, just bigger, louder, and longer, ultimately signifying nothing.Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen begins with a brief prologue to get the audience up to speed and give away one of the big reveals: the Autobots ad Decepticons’ ancestors have been here before, in 17,000 B.C.E. to be more exact. From there, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen jumps right into the action. The Optimus Prime (Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen)-led Autobots have joined a new Autobot-human organization, NEST, that includes Major Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and USAF Tech Sergeant Epps (Tyrese Gibson). NEST engages in search-and-destroy missions aimed at uncovering Decepticons around the world. When a mission in Shanghai, China results in massive infrastructure and, presumably, civilian deaths, the president (identified as Obama in one or two throwaway lines) sends in his National Security Advisor, Galloway (John Benjamin Hickey), who threatens to shut down NEST. Both Major Lennox and Optimus Prime warn Galloway of the potentially dire circumstances if the Decepticons are met without an adequate response.
"It's like "Revenge of the Sith" but with giant robots (but worse)."
In LA, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) prepares to go off to college, much to his father Ron’s (Kevin Dunn) happiness and his mother Judy’s (Julie White) unhappiness. His girlfriend, Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox), can’t afford college, so she’s staying behind, working as an auto mechanic (in Daisy Duke shorts no less) and watching over her recently paroled father. Sam promises Mikaela that he’ll remain monogamous, even setting her up with a web cam so they can talk to each other every night, but within minutes of arriving at his (unnamed) college, Sam meets an aggressive college student, Alice (Isabel Lucas), who refuses to take no for an answer. His roommate, Leo (Ramon Rodriguez), coincidentally happens to run a web-conspiracy site, in part focused on robot sightings. As difficult, if not impossible, as it is to believe in our data-driven, information-rich age, the U.S. government and its allies have managed to suppress information about the Autobots, the Decepticons, and a robot war that’s taken their conflict to American cities and foreign countries.
Since Sam wants a “normal” life, he decides to leave his Autobot protector, Bumblebee (Mark Ryan), behind, but an earlier contact with an AllSpark shard that transferred super-secret Cybertronian information into Sam’s mind makes him a target for the resurrected Megatron (Hugo Weaving), his second-in-command, Starscream (Charles Adler), and their newly revealed leader, the Fallen (Tony Todd). The Decepticons have grown to include Soundwave (Frank Welker), while the Autobots have added, among others, Mudflap and Skids (both voiced by Tom Kenny), sparring twins who seem to have picked up their mannerisms and voice inflections from watching 70s cop-dramas. The Fallen (modeled on the Emperor from the Star Wars universe crossed with the Alien Queen from Aliens) hopes to recover something called the “Matrix of Leadership” (every Transformers film apparently requires a MacGuffin) that will power Sun Harvesters, giant, ancient machines that can convert suns into the Energon the robots need to survive and multiply.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen ups the robot-on-robot battles, surprisingly heavy on violence for a film rated PG-13 (and light on acknowledgement of same), while treating its human characters primarily as comic relief (with the exception of Sam and Mikaela, who get to make doe eyes at each other and spar about who will use the “L” word first in their relationship) or as collateral damage to the robot war (CG human characters die onscreen and offscreen by the thousands, including an American aircraft carrier). For Transformers, Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) used 15 terabytes (one terabyte equals 1,000 gigabytes) for the robot-on-robot action. For the sequel’s seemingly endless robot battles, including the 50-minute climactic battle set in Egypt, ILM used 140 terabytes, all of which becomes mind-numbingly repetitive after the fifteen- or twenty-minute mark, but then go on (and on) for another thirty minutes, all of them unnecessary.
Bay’s decade-and-a-half career as an action director has been defined by excess and bloat. Bay has ridden his narrow talent (if “talent” is the right word) for helming effects-heavy action sequences to the Hollywood A-list for directors. Enough is never enough in Bay’s techno-fetishistic world. The Transformers franchise seems perfectly suited to Michael Bay’s techno-fetishism for cars, guns, jet fighters, battleships, aircraft carriers, tanks, and other shiny metallic objects. For Bay, the human element is, of course, a distant second, necessary to bridge the gap between overblown, over-edited, incoherent set pieces. Bay’s also never been interested in social, cultural, or political commentary. Whatever commentary or themes come out of his films tend to be script-based or unintentional (until now, that is).
As with Transformers, Bay and his screenwriters, Ehren Kruger (The Brothers Grimm, The Ring Two, The Skeleton Key, The Ring, Arlington Road), Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman (Star Trek, Fringe, Transformers, Mission Impossible III) tried to lighten the tone by slipping in jokes and sight gags between the robot-on-robot battles. Their sense of humor, however, never extends beyond the the juvenile (and even that's insulting juveniles). Jokes and gags turn on, among others, dog- and robot-humping, robot testicles, and Sam's horny dim mother who inadvertently eats a hash-filled brownie and loses all social inhibitions. While inaccurate (hash creates a mellow mood, not an excitable one, plus it has to be digested, so its effects occur slowly), it's also one of the least funny sequences in the entire film.
Even more egregiously, Bay apparently didn't think twice before adding crude "ethnic" humor to the mix. One minor Decepticon, Wheelie, speaks with a heavily stereotypical New York Italian-accent. Bay saves the worst stereotypes for Twin Autobots Mudflap and Skids, giving them simian features and having them speak in “urban” slang. One Twin even has a gold tooth. Although Bay included an urban-accented, break-dancing Autobot, Jazz, in Transformers, at least Bay limited his appearance to only a few scenes (Mudflap and Skids are on screen much more frequently). It’s a mystery how no one, including Bay’s producing partner, Steven Spielberg, objected to these racist caricatures. Sam’s Latino roommate, Leo, fairs only slightly better (he’s a fast-talking, angle-working, libidinous college freshman), if only because the role was originally written for a Caucasian actor (Jonah Hill was originally slotted for the role).When it comes to product placement, few directors match Bay for sheer brazenness. Products aren’t placed in the background for the semi-discerning moviegoers. Products are lovingly given pride-of-place in individual shots, regardless of their relative importance to the narrative or their impact on pacing. At least here, Bay has an excuse: the Autobots conveniently turn into GM-manufactured cars. Unfortunately, Bay treats his female characters like he treats product placement: as commodified objects to be photographed with minimal clothing, the better to highlight their natural (and, presumably, unnatural in some cases) assets. Bay repeatedly lingers over Megan Fox and Isabel Lucas, but the problem goes further to the depiction of women in "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" as redundant, predatory, or worthy of ridicule. Ultimately, the phrase “worthy of ridicule” sums up the best response to [i]Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen[/i].
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originally posted: 06/24/09 15:25:01