Review: Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen, 2009, dir. Michael Bay

Incoherent visuals, shoddy editing, robot genitals, and John Turturro’s naked ass. If those reasons aren’t enough to hate a film, then just call me unreasonable.

2007’s Transformers had a lot to recommend it; as a summer release based on a toy line, it wound up being far more fun than it had any right to, an effects-laden bag of utter absurdity that remained a mostly effective and gratifying popcorn experience. Put simply, it was a stupid movie that was made intelligently. For its sequel, Revenge of the Fallen, only half of that sentence holds true; this is, in point of fact, a stupid movie that’s made really, really shoddily.

And it doesn’t even recognize how stupid it is. The aforementioned Turturro and robot testicles meet face to, er, wrecking ball during the film’s action-packed climax, and John’s disgraced black ops agent barely reacts to it. Director Michael Bay should recognize the sheer goofiness of the events that unfold in his movie, but he refuses to give his characters even a moment for comedic beats to acknowledge and accept the patently ridiculous nature of his narrative. Transformers understood that its origins lie in a line of action figures and a Saturday morning cartoon from the 80’s. Revenge of the Fallen, in kind, takes itself much, much too seriously to actually have a good time, and as a result we, the audience, suffer.

Revenge of the Fallen takes off not long after the events of the first film; Optimus Prime and his Autobot chums work with the military, coordinating with a group (headed by Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson, reprising their roles from the original) organized to weed out Decepticon threats and destroy them. Sam Witwicky (Shia Lebouf) is packing up and heading out to college, a decision that dismays both his girlfriend, Mikaela (Megan Fox), and his super-awesome transforming robot car, Bumblebee. (In a movie filled with autonomous robotic entities that can disguise themselves as muscle cars, jet planes, and helicopters, probably the single most unbelievable element is that Sam willingly swaps coasts to go to school and leave behind his totally bitching robo-Camaro and Megan Fox. Considering that the film is clearly geared towards young boys and teenagers, this decision comes across as completely contrived BS. I digress.)

All seems well but for the fact that Sam has come across a fragment of the All Spark cube, which, upon contact, uploads immense amounts of data directly into Sam’s brain. Of course, the Decepticons want this info for themselves, and they expend every effort imaginable to retrieve it– including sending a Transformers rendition of a Terminator that looks like Isabel Lucas. (Which goes back to the “Sam’s girlfriend is Megan Fox” thing.) The Autobots spring into action to help Sam, and robot-on-robot action ensues. Sort of.

Aside from the unearned gravity the film lends itself, the real problem is that Revenge of the Fallen is extremely tedious. The first picture took its time showing us Transformers beating each other up, but that was an origin story. That kind of build-up makes sense. Here, it’s unclear what Bay thinks he’s building up to by delaying the inevitable action beats with completely unwelcome fat– such as Judy White getting stoned on pot brownies. (Yes, this actually happens.) Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not point-blank opposed to fat in my films so long as that fat enhances the cornerstone of the picture. Seeing Sam’s mother stumble around campus, high as a kite, does nothing. It’s the kind of fat you cut off, not the kind of fat you happily devour, and it’s everywhere in this film. It becomes difficult to hope that there’s a delectable product beneath the layers of excess, but after what feels like four hours (and yes, at 2.5 hours, this movie is a real chore), robots finally, mercifully, begin duking it out with one another, and the real show begins.

Bad news for Revenge of the Fallen: By the time it gets there, it’s too little too late.

Even if Michael Bay understood the importance of pacing, I’m actually not even sure that an earlier start to the mayhem would have made much of a difference here. Bay, ever the maestro of quick cutting in his action, seems to have forgotten how to make something visually coherent out of practices that are inherently hectic. Figuring out what is happening, and to whom, in the middle of the fracas becomes a taxing challenge here. Especially boggling is the film’s failure to appreciably differentiate giant walking robots from one another– when your primary cast of characters is composed of machines that are based on very specific models of automobiles and military vehicles, making each one stand out should be a walk in the park, but as soon as more than three robots become present, all of that goes out the window. The rest of the film’s flaws could have existed, and maybe some solid action would have made up for those quibbles, but robots killing robots is the number one reason that anyone would ever want to see this movie. And when that’s the case, you’d better deliver.

Honestly, at the end of it all, I’m not sure which is more offensive– the negligent, completely unpolished, and woefully mishandled action sequences, or the blatant racism on display in the form of the Twins, two Autobots who not only talk street but also have big gold teeth. (Did I mention that Bay’s film employs incredibly offensive racial stereotypes? Because, uh, his film employs incredibly offensive racial stereotypes.) What Revenge of the Fallen adds up to is one giant mess from start to finish; when the sequel film in your franchise, which is based on a children’s cartoon, feels stodgy and rigid instead of enthralling and tongue-in-cheek, you’ve done something wrong.

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