Go, ‘Bots

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Posted June 24, 2009 by COLE WILLIAMS in Film

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a sequel to a movie based on a cartoon based on a toyline. Dubious source material to some folks. Yet despite what some critics may say, source material has only so much to do with how good an adaptation is. Look at how many crappy movies have been made out of classic literature. In the end, it’s the filmmakers’ creativity and intelligence that determine a movie’s success, not the source material.

Unfortunately, the filmmaker in question is Michael Bay, and he’s the directorial equivalent of a 15-year-old boy fumbling with a bra strap. All the blood is in his groin, not his head. Of course, a boy mentality can lead to some great summer-blockbuster fare. More likely, however, is that it can get distracted, wander into juvenilia, and only tease at sci-fi greatness, as is the case here.transformers

Fallen picks up two years after the last movie, with the heroic Autobots at war with the evil Decepticons, hell-bent on Earth’s destruction for reasons not entirely clear at first. For the first hour or so, the movie is pretty amazing, beginning with an ominous flashback and then diving headfirst into a stellar action sequence in Shanghai. Shia LaBeouf has shown up as the Autobots’ friend Sam, and, despite such ridiculous Bay-isms as dogs humping each other (really?!), the gratuitous man-thrust-into-destiny story works, thanks to LaBeouf’s never-too-nerdy/never-too-heroic performance. The action really gets going once more Decepticons start arriving, assumed-dead evil leader Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving) is revived, a larger threat is revealed, and the plot actually starts to click. Everything culminates with the movie’s best fight scene: between heroic Autobot leader Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen), who’s defending Sam, and three Decepticons. At this point, you may start to feel that Bay is improving on the franchise.

You would be wrong.

The movie begins to slow and then crawl and then practically stop dead for about an hour, mainly to let Sam and a small crew — including girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox), Autobot Bumblebee, and a few other annoying people and ‘bots – unravel the mystery of the new threat. The Bay-isms increase, and there’s just not enough action to erase them from your memory.

Fans will be pleased that some of the robots are voiced by the same actors from the cartoon series and that some of the ‘bots are more fully, um, fleshed out. (Starscream finally gets to be the sniveling backstabber he is.) Most of the ancillary ‘bots, though, are just there for comic relief or to fill the screen — twins Skids and Mudflap border on offensive African-American stereotypes — and the final battle just feels like a more chaotic, less engaging version of the climax from the first movie. The most frustrating thing about the film is that the seeds of a splendid summer blockbuster are there, making Bay’s mishandling of them all the more aggravating. Still, a fantastic first hour and OK finale help make Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen a decent summer blockbuster.


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