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Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Fallen, Can't Get Up

Like just about every adult reviewer who saw the first Transformers movie in 2007, I was astonished at how good it was. It wasn’t simply that it was better than anyone expected from a movie made for an audience of 8 to 25 year old males: Director Michael Bay smartly balanced his digital effects with several interweaving storylines and multiple characters who held your attention through the film’s two and one-half hours. And you never lost a sense of awe at the size of the giant robots, culminating in a spectacular finale set on the streets of I forget which major American city.

The paradigm of the filmmaker who works with techniques honed in commercials and music videos, Bay has a reputation for overkill. But often as not he delivers solidly entertaining movies like Armageddon, The Rock or the underrated The Island.

So it’s a disappointment to have to report how lousy the sequel is. I won’t attempt to recount the plot, which essentially brings more giant robots both good and evil to Earth to duke it out. Someone apparently decided that the success of the first movie (which grossed $700 million worldwide) was entirely due to the sight of giant robot battles, and so this sequel eliminates most any other story concerns to concentrate on that. (It’s like the current remake of The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3, which is inferior to the original because it cut out all the ancillary stories and characters that made the 1974 movie so engrossing.)

The opening sequence, a battle in a European city, gives you so much in terms of special effects that there’s nothing left for the rest of the movie to do: there’s no sense of anticipation. It’s like a monster movie where you see the monster at the beginning. And maybe it’s just me, but I find it frustrating that the giant robots are never still long enough to get a good look at their details. Optimus Prime appears to be comprised of a scrap heap that somehow holds together—is there a design there? If so, let us see!

Even the gag central to the line of toys from which the franchise originated years ago—that these robots can be folded into cars, trucks, and other common vehicles—is treated perfunctorily. Watching them digitally change shape is substantially less fun than a young child might have at doing the same thing with a cleverly designed toy he can hold in his hands.

As for the humans, Shia LaBeouf is back, well on his way to becoming the Corey Feldman of his generation. The story ships him off to an Eastern university whose student population seems to consist entirely of technonerds and Maxim models. Megan Fox is also back as his girlfriend, in which role she is photographed slightly less pornographically than she was last time, but not by much. Bay, whose first directing credit was for a Playboy Centerfold video, so often photographs her running in slow motion that you start to wonder if she got paid by the mile. (Or by the bounce.)

John Turturro is also back to play comic relief, though he’s reduced to buffoon status. An actor of this caliber shouldn’t have to expose his ass on camera for the sake of a cheap joke, though I’m sure his salary for this was enough to fund another independent film he might want to direct.

The whole film is pretty much a matter of killing time until we get to a dull climax set in an Egyptian desert. Suffice to say that giant robots fighting amid sand dunes is much less interesting to look at that giant robots fighting amid skyscrapers. Along the way we get leg-humping robots, farting robots, and street-talking robots who are this films’ equivalent of Jar Jar Binks.

The first Transformers proved that you could make a special effects blockbuster that appealed to all audiences. This sequel only proves that lightening doesn’t strike twice.

Watch the trailer for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

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