** 1/2 (out of 5)
Director: Michael Bay
Stars: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, John Turturro, Josh Duhamel
LESS THAN MEETS THE EYE
Probably the most anticipated blockbuster of the summer, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is Michael Bay’s sequel to his big budget, action-packed, effects laden sci fi adaptation of one of the most famous toy franchises of all time. This one’s bigger, more bombastic, operatic and strives to cram as much battling bot action as is possible into a 2 1/2-hour movie, and on a huge IMAX screen it looks fantastic. The new installment also references Indiana Jones’ Mideast adventures and the Star Wars mythos, with an ancient Decepticon called The Fallen playing Emperor to Megatron’s Darth Vader. (No, he’s not Sam’s father.) But what TF2 possesses in digital effects shock and awe, it lacks in heart.
In the original Transformers, nerdly protagonist Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) helped the good Autobots stop the evil Decepticons from getting a shard of the powerful talisman the AllSpark, which he possessed. The Autobots wanted it to rebuild their dying homeworld of Cybertron, while their nemeses sought to produce more of their treacherous kind on Earth and then conquer the universe. Along the way, Sam hooked up with luscious grease monkey Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox) and tussled with mean Agent Simmons (John Turturro) from the secret Sector Seven government agency, who harassed them to get to the Autobots. This time out, Sam’s headed off to college to study astronomy, leaving Mikaela and his bot buddy Bumblebee behind. But when Megatron and the Decepticons re-emerge seeking the shard (which Sam still possesses) in order to activate a ginormous machine that will suck our Sun dry of Energon to power the AllSpark (again, universal conquest), he’s pulled right back in to the conflict. This time he brings Mikaela and his conspiracy theorist roomate Leo Spitz along for the ride.
If you’re looking for high octane action and dazzling special effects, TF2 delivers them in spades, especially when you watch it in the IMAX format. The first half of the film is a delirious, non stop assault on the senses that should keep action fans happy, with the villains in particular rendered with magnificent malevolence. But the constant action and lack of characterization gets irksome pretty fast — let’s face it, Megan was hired to be a fox but little more — and it’s not until a lull at the start of the second act, with the re-emergence of the wonderfully kooky and now humbled Turturro character (very Men In Black here) and the introduction of a cantankerous, geriatric Decepticon named Jetfire, that the movie gets engaging. The original movie had a better sense of humor and didn’t take itself as seriously. Beyond these issues, where Revenge of the Fallen stumbles is in Bay’s typically disjointed editing, constantly moving camerawork and bot characters that are so detailed that it feels like sensory overload to watch them duke it out. Even the climactic battle falls flat.
There’s also a not-so-subtle jab at President Obama here, whose name is actually invoked in a news report. While Bush’s off-camera, unnamed but implied presence in the last film was that of a Ding Dong craving doofus, Obama gets hit harder here. The fictional national security advisor in this sequel demands that the military cease working with the Autobots as our current President reportedly believes they are the reason that the Decepticons are ravaging the Earth. That’s sound logic: Kick out the powerful good bots when facing up to the big bad ones. It’s a clear conservative stereotype that liberals are clueless when it come to military issues. Of course, the army eventually goes against this request. Seriously, who needs such simplistic politicizing in an allegedly kid-friendly movie? Additionally, the “comic relief” of the obviously black bot duo of Skids and Mudflap sounds like J.J. from Good Times, and not in a good way.
If you want supercharged sci fi action that keeps rolling along and doesn’t require a ton of thought, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen should satisfy the kids in your life. But for adults, the confusing climax, lack of fully developed characters and various stereotypes will probably not be enough to appease their inner child, especially since their adult side will likely be cringing.