Sunday, June 28, 2009


Review: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
1 star (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

If I'm not mistaken, Megan Fox's shimmery lip gloss remains perfectly applied through the entirety of “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (ROTF),” even after her damsel-in-daisy-dukes character is attacked by spider-like robots, tossed in and out of moving vehicles and whirled around an Egyptian desert like Polly Pocket in a vacuum cleaner. Such a seemingly minute detail turns out to be an apt metaphor for this totally unnecessary, stupefyingly bombastic sequel. “Transformers: ROTF” is all gloss – retina-searing, eardrum-piercing, braincell-zapping gloss – made to the tune of $200 million and hurled at you in an all-stops-pulled, all-guns-blazing onslaught by blockbuster maestro Michael Bay. Man, did I hate this movie. It is preposterously complicated, oppressively long and congested with more frantic special effects than any other action flick I can remember. This is what it must be like to be fired through a pinball machine: darting madly back and forth while lights flash and whistles howl. I walked into my screening with a mild headache. I walked out with some wicked nausea.

Since this is a franchise that's essentially based on a line of robot action figures, those gearing up for a “Transformers” movie should know what they're getting themselves into: far-fetched story elements, minimal human emotion and exorbitantly expensive, precedence-taking production values. I knew, but I never anticipated just how rabidly Bay and writers Ehren Kruger, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman would administer these substance-free shortcomings. Even if I had the uncanny ability to tune out the film's relentless noise, the nonsensical plot becomes increasingly difficult to follow and, eventually, defeats logic altogether. Though it pains me to even attempt to synopsize such a mind-melting movie experience, here's what I gathered amidst the nonstop explosions, screaming, shape-shifting, scene-jumping and near-deafening demolition:

“Transformers: ROTF” takes place two years after the events in 2007's “Transformers,” which ended with the destruction of the life-giving All Spark cube and the noble Autobots' defeat of the evil Decepticons (for those of you not down with the robots-in-disguise lingo, both groups are part of a race of alien life forms that can embody and bend to their will any Earthly machine). With Decepticon leader Megatron subdued and buried deep in the ocean, the Autobots – led by Optimus Prime, the head honcho with an 18-wheeler facade and Peter Cullen's preachy voice – have teamed up with the US military to hunt down any and all Decepticon stragglers (though given notably less screen time, Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson reprise their roles as Major Lennox and USAF Master Sergeant Epps, respectively).

Meanwhile, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), the human hero from the first film, is headed to college, leaving behind his doting parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White), his mega-hot girlfriend, Mikalea (Fox), and his trusty Camaro/Autobot best friend, Bumblebee. When Sam discovers a shard of the All Spark left over in his battle-ravaged clothing, not only does it give the remaining Decepticons the opportunity they need to revive their conquered comrades, it fills Sam's mind with hieroglyphic-like symbols that will ultimately lead to an ancient Transformers burial ground. Meanwhile, the U.S. government is at odds with the military and wants all the Transformers to leave Earth. Meanwhile, a thousand-year-old Decepticon known as The Fallen is watching from outer space. The Darth Sidious to Megatron's Darth Vader, he needs what's in Sam's head so he can activate a weapon that's hidden inside a pyramid and blow up the Sun, thus finally exacting his revenge on humanity.

There's plenty more that takes place, and plenty more that requires explanation, but that's all I can handle for the purposes of this review. Besides, Bay never sticks with one component long enough to allow it to sink in. He's far too busy ensuring that he uses every dollar of that tremendous budget. If there's one way in which his sequel is triumphant, it's that no other movie has ever more fully realized the concept of “go big or go home.” “Transformers: ROTF” will likely be remembered as the quintessential motion picture of the ADD generation. It has zero regard for coherent storytelling, cohesion, character believability or viewer sanity. It is concerned only with mile-a-minute spectacle (and, perhaps a bit with pleasing ardent “Transformers” fans, presumably the only audience members who could even begin to comprehend or appreciate the frenetic narrative). The only times it stops to breathe are during obligatory beats of stupid humor, often provided by a pair of foul-mouthed Autobots that serve as the hunk-of-junk equivalents of token black stereotypes. The closest Bay comes to conveying feeling is when he's spinning his cameras around Sam and Mikaela as they toy with the notion of professing their unconvincing puppy love. Not that we cared anyway, but these scenes, specifically, are visibly rushed. Neither Bay nor Sam have time for romance – there's yelling to do and stuff to blow up.

I'll admit, I enjoyed the first “Transformers” movie. At the very least, it had novelty on its side, what with its revolutionary special effects and highly inventive sound design. It was something we'd never seen (or heard) before and it was, for all the outward inanities of its source material, lots of fun. “Transformers: ROTF,” which basically churns out oodles more of the same, is not fun; it is a mania-inducing arcade game of grinding metal, gratuitous stylization and hopelessly redundant battle sequences (which are often strung together, back-to-back, for unendurably lengthy spans). The fights don't even possess the basic root-for-the-good-guy vitality that kept Bay's other films afloat despite their infamous flaws. The director who also gave us “Armageddon” and “Pearl Harbor” has come full-circle in his career, finally delivering a high-concept, high-priced disaster movie that is itself a disaster.

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