Sunday, 14 June 2009

Film review: Transformers Revenge Of The Fallen (**)

Big dumb fun.

That’s Transformers Revenge Of The Fallen in a nutshell.

Featuring more robots, more explosions, more, ahem, Bayhem than before, this is less a sequel to 2007’s summer blockbuster than it is an assault on the senses, a rollercoaster ride determined to pulverise the viewer into submission and bring about much enjoyment, delight, entertainment, amusement, etc. And while in that it largely succeeds, come the end, I was so exhausted I felt I’d gone 12 rounds with Mike Tyson, the majority of them pinned to the ropes, being pummelled and pounded.

Midway through the desert climax — an extraordinary accumulation of grandiose action sequences that, all told, lasts somewhere between 30-40 minutes and involves Autobots, Decepticons, the US military, fighter planes, warships, missiles, and John Tuturro scaling a pyramid, as well as countless shots of Shia LaBeouf and his smokin’ hot babe Megan Fox running in slo-mo — I found myself riveted to my seat in awe. Not so much at the spectacle on display (undeniably impressive though it is, and shot partially in IMAX) but at the process itself, and the logistics behind it. How do you even begin to orchestrate action on this grand scale, I found myself wondering. This isn’t filmmaking, I thought, this is war.

Freed of the need to tease the transformers for the first third of the movie, this sequel places Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Megatron, Starscream and newcomer The Fallen front and centre, fighting, flying, joking (well, sort of), chatting on skyscrapers, in outer space, even taking in the view from atop the Brooklyn Bridge, as well as beating the metallic crap out of one another. It’s a shame that the movie doesn’t bother to really introduce them properly, presenting a host of new Autobots and Decepticons familiar only to those who’ve read a) the script or b) are complete fanboys.

The plot, such as it is, begins 17,000 BC before switching to modern day LA where LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky is about to head off to college when he discovers a slice of the Allspark that’s unwittingly been in his possession since the last movie, a piece of metal that contains important information regarding the whereabouts of a gigantic machine hidden that will suck out the sun and kill mankind, information that’s buried itself deep with LaBeouf’s noggin. In all honesty, the plot’s both ridiculously convoluted and incredibly simplistic, but is just an excuse for Bay to string together one delirious action sequence after another after another — from an opening street battle in Shanghai, to a rumble in the jungle (ok forest) between Optimus and a clutch of Decepticons, to the final showdown amongst the Pyramids.

This has always been Bay raison d’etre. From Bad Boys to Armageddon to Pearl Harbour (all of which are visually referenced), Bay blows stuff up better than anyone working today. No one else could have directed this movie, and for all his faults, Bay knows how to choreograph his action spectacularly and coherently, and, unlike so many of his contemporaries, doesn’t feel the need to cut it to the point of inducing epilepsy in his audience. There’s chaos and carnage, and yet Bay lays it out in front of you in a manner that’s both exhilarating and penetrable.

There are the usual Bay flourishes, including his trademark up angle hero shot and endless Steadicam swirl around two people. There’s even a Bad Boys 2 poster on the wall of LaBeouf’s Princeton dorm room — alongside one for Cloverfield — a dorm that’s filled with the hottest female students known to man, all parading up and down the corridor in the skimpiest outfits imaginable. Bay, quite clearly, likes them plastic, pneumatic and glistening. And let’s not even get started on the Princeton frat party LaBeouf attends, albeit briefly. Gratuitous? Hell yeah. Fox’s Mikaela, meanwhile, is given even less to do than before, her role amounting to straddling a motorbike wearing a pair of denim shorts and boots, running about in heels, and pouting her bee stung lips in a manner that wouldn’t be out of place in a porn film.

If I was ten years old, this would be the Greatest Movie Ever — certainly since the first Transformers. It’s never less than entertaining, although at two-and-a-half hours plus, it could do with a trim or two. That said, the CGI robot work is even more impressive than before, but would it hurt to slow the transformations themselves down a bit so we see just how cool they are.

On a side note, although Transformers Revenge Of The Fallen premiered last week in Tokyo, it wasn’t the final print. The audience at the London screening I attended on Friday night was the first to see the completed movie, and British audiences will actually get to see the film from June 19, five days before the US.


Anonymous said...

Great review.

Mark Salisbury said...

Most kind of you to say anonymous. You're not the same anonymous" who wrote Primary Colors, are you?

Gerard said...

I just saw this tonight in IMAX, and though the action was (naturally) incredible, I'm shocked by just how much I disliked the film. And I think the first one is a freaking gas.

Two films about giant robots in as many months and both are awful. Nice review (as always), however :P