Sunday 24 January 2010

Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen (2009)

Sunday 24 January 2010
DIRECTOR: Michael Bay
WRITERS: Ehren Kruger, Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman
CAST: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel & Tyrese Gibson
RUNNING TIME: 150 mins. BUDGET: $200m
Michael Bay returns to helm Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen (hereafter Transformers 2), having started production almost immediately after the 2007 original hit multiplexes. The script wasn't the strongest element of the first movie (to put it mildly), but rather than face months of delay when the Writers' Guild Of America went on strike, Bay focused on storyboarding action sequences with ILM that he believed could be linked by creative storytelling afterwards. Boy, was he wrong. To say Transformers 2 is a confusing mess is underselling its ludicrous, excessive, repellent, illogical and dreadful smorgasbord of half-baked ideas, bad characterizations, and feeble plotting.

Sam (Shia LaBeouf) is leaving home for university, inspiring "comedy" sequences with his pernickety parents that are designed to be endearing and thus make us care about the Witwicky family, but they've ironically been designed by an emotional automaton. There's a lack of humanity in this film, which I guess is to be expected when CGI characters outnumber real people 5-1. Attempts at humour are best exemplified by a tiny dog humping Megan Fox's shin.

Speaking of whom, while Mikaela's (Fox) role in the first film was thinner than her legs (she was the uberbabe who eventually fell in love with the "nerd"), she's entirely redundant in the sequel because there's no such arc. Instead, she just tags along for the ride, forced to straddle motorcycles in poses that mean Bay can film her ass in tight jeans, or otherwise stand around looking like a super-advanced sex-doll. Ironically enough, Bay actually gives us as a "sexbot" (Isabel Lucas) with a killer tongue at one point, which suggests weird crosspollination with last summer's other robot movie, Terminator Salvation, which in turn featured a Transformers-esque villain. Did pages of script get mixed up at some point?

The plot of Transformers 2 is unfathomable and poorly explained, which means you're never sure what's going on at any point. I'm still struggling to remember why the climax takes place around an Egyptian pyramid (beyond the fact it, well, looks "cool"), what new villain The Fallen was, and why the stakes suddenly became about the destruction of the sun. All that's clear initially is that the good Transformers (the "Autobots") are now helping the US military destroy remaining bad Transformers (the "Decepticons"), in a manner that results in huge destruction of foreign cities.

Good robots vs. bad robots is about all you can comprehend through the noise and gobbledygook; a premise that provides Bay with opportunities for two hours worth of mechanical mayhem and metal-on-metal punch-ups. Once again, robot combatants are indistinguishable from each other, by virtue of the fact the robots are near-identical. This was a complaint leveled at the original, too, which Bay counters by occasionally employing slow-motion so audiences can get some kind of handle on what's going on. Nice try, but full comprehension still rests on frame-by-frame analysis.

What ultimately sinks Transformers 2 is the fact Bay has no affection, understanding, or childhood memories of Transformers to inform his judgement. For him, it's just a dumb property that allows him to blow shit up with giant robots that turn into some of his favourite vehicles and military hardware. There's absolutely no sympathy or love of the characters behind the CGI, beyond what ILM manage to bring to the table in body language. Indeed, "The Twins" (two of Bay's own creations the credited writers publically disowned) are a pair of crass, jabbering, racist stereotypes with gold teeth, who in one scene admit they "don't read too good." Other robots are revealed to have giant wrecking balls for "testicles"(!), or get cheap laughs by vomiting and pissing oil. I think the point is made clear when [spoiler alert] Optimus Prime is killed after a three-way in a forest (I mean a fight, it's the viewer getting fucked), and his death carries no emotional resonance whatsoever. And, of course, when death fails to provoke any reaction, the deceased's subsequent "resurrection" proves equally as flat.

Overall, Transformers 2 is, frankly, heinous filmmaking of mind-boggling extravagance that unfortunately lured enough 14-year-old boys to warrant another sequel. The only positive is the fantastic work by ILM to bring these digital robots to life, but their actions are unfortunately being orchestrated by a man-child with ADD, in a script that struggles to make any kind of logical or emotional connection. The truly galling thing is that many people will sit with their ears ringing and their eyes stinging, agog at the sheer magnitude of special effects on display... and mistake those sensations for an enjoyable "experience". More fool them. []