Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (United States, 2009)

June 23, 2009
A movie review by James Berardinelli
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Poster

Call me old fashioned, but I like a little side story and character to go along with my order of big, loud special effects. Apparently, I'm in the minority, though, because the original Transformers made more money than I'd see in 300 lifetimes. So kick back, dig into your jumbo faux butter-drenched popcorn, and slurp your gargantuan soda while experiencing the kind of supersized mayhem that only Michael Bay can deliver. It's a question of whether the cholesterol in the "butter" will harden your arteries before what's on the celluloid can cause brain death.

The robots are all back: Optimus Prime, Megatron, Bumblebee, Megan Fox. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen takes one part inspiration from the Godzilla movies, one part inspiration from Star Wars, and one part inspiration from all the commas in the number associated with the budget. In a nutshell, my problems with the second Transformers are largely the same ones I had with the 2007 edition: the story doesn't make any sense, the characters are annoying, the action is dull and repetitive, and during machine-on-machine throwdowns, it's impossible to figure out who the good guys are. The biggest difference: 15 more minutes. Talk about self-indulgent. This movie would be too long at 1.5 hours. It never wants to end. Forget merely wandering out to the concession stand in the middle of the proceedings to refill that oil drum-sized bucket of popcorn. You can get in your car, drive to the nearest supermarket, do your week's shopping, and return and you'll be no less confused than those who stayed for the whole thing. Sad but true.

Going into detail about the plot will make me sound like I'm recapping the backstory for a children's coloring book, but here are the basics. It seems that, around 17,000 B.C. (early enough that it predates last year's Roland Emmerich prehistoric disaster), the Transformers came to Earth for the first time. There was some kind of big war and a giant weapon and the key to use it were hidden. Cut to today. There are more Decepticons (bad guys) headed for Earth, led by The Fallen (voice of Tony Todd). He has sent his minions ahead to resurrect Megatron (voice of Hugo Weaving) and kill Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen). Once those things are accomplished, he can invade, get the key and the weapon, and destroy Earth's sun. Unfortunately, in his way stands a puny human named Sam (Shia LeBeouf) and his gorgeous android-like girlfriend, Mikaela (Megan Fox). Having accidentally taken home a shard of the Allspark doesn't dissuade Sam from attending the University of Pennsylvania, so that's where he is when Megatron's underlings find him. Much chaos ensues.

There is a famous term in theater and film called "deus ex machina." It means, literally, "God by machine," and is frequently used to describe an event when unbelievable coincidences or contrivances are needed to move the plot in a certain direction. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen takes this term to heart. There is a scene late in the movie when we come face to face with machine gods who tweak events so everything will turn out right. There's a temptation to argue that, with something this blunt, it has to be satire. Unfortunately, Michael Bay has not built his reputation upon sophisticated satire and he doesn't seem to be winking at the audience.

The "action" is relentless in its monotony. Robots pounding on robots. Humans launching rockets and missiles at robots. Robots wiping out troops of humans. Other robots destroying the great pyramids or climbing to the top of the Empire State Building and aping King Kong. There's some unpleasantness in Paris, as well. For a moment, I want to say the Eiffel Tower is destroyed, but that doesn't occur here; it's in the preview for G.I. Joe, which was shown just before Transformers 2. See how all these films run together? At any rate, this stuff goes on and on and on, far beyond what's necessary for a brain dead motion picture that has nothing to recommend it except its technical prowess. We certainly get the point before the 150-minute mark.

Shia LeBeouf is back, injured hand and all, bravely trying to bring some humanity to a role that requires little except that he not stumble over dialogue that could have been written by a sixth-grader. Megan Fox returns as eye candy. There's no point to her being in the movie except that, well, she's hot. But, as they say, it's not the heat, it's the humidity. Ramon Rodriguez plays Leo, Sam's Penn dorm mate. He's half the comedy relief. The other half is John Turturro, reprising his role from the first film, although this time he's not an annoying government agent - he has joined the good guys. Someone else is brought in to fill that role of designated asshole. As was true in the first film, the Transformers are more colorful than the humans. A fan of the toys could probably catalog what's what and what's missing, but they all look pretty much the same to me, and the only way to tell the Decepticons from the Autobots is that the former have red eyes while the latter have blue eyes. Pretty tough to differentiate in the heat of battle with a shaky cam. The most touching relationship in the film, to the extent that anything can be considered "touching," is the one between Sam and his car. It's more heartfelt than the relationship between Sam and his girlfriend, who exhibits less personality than the car.

Now is probably not the time to heap scorn on the writing team of Orci and Kurtzman (abetted by Ehren Kruger), who are responsible for this screenplay. At the moment, the pair are enjoying praise for their Star Trek reboot. Let's be honest, though - that's not exactly an airtight story, but compared to this one, it's a masterpiece of coherence and ingenuity. Pundits have pointed out similarities in Star Trek to Star Wars, but they're even more obvious here, with Megatron playing Darth Vader to The Fallen's Emperor. And Orci and Kurtzman out-menace The Phantom Menace by providing not one, but two, imitation Jar Jar Binks.

In the long run, this review will be worth even less than what John Nance Garner called the Vice Presidency of the United States. Transformers fans, salivating for two years awaiting this sequel, will queue up to see it, then leave the theater and get back in line again. The storyline is so infantile that it will appeal to young kids (or at least to those with XY sex chromosomes), although one has to wonder whether the length will be something of an impediment. The target viewer for this movie is not noted for a long attention span. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen will make a ton of money, Michael Bay will be lauded as the greatest director of our generation, and the accountants at Paramount will have their second collective orgasm in as many months. As for me, I will try desperately not to weep - not so much for what the success of a movie like this means to motion pictures but for the simple fact that I'm going to have to do this all over again in two or three years for Transformers 3.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (United States, 2009)

Run Time: 2:30
U.S. Release Date: 2009-06-24
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2:35:1