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Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
By Andy Senyszyn
The Transformers are exploding back on to our screens in a summer blockbuster of gargantuan proportions, but is there more than meets the eye to director Michael Bay’s second outing with the robots in disguise?
Despite being about shape-shifting robots, it’s fair to say that in terms of structure Revenge of The Fallen has not transformed significantly compared to its predecessor. The scene is set as we discover that the aliens from planet Cybertron have been here on Earth longer than the events of Transformers let on, then we’re swiftly in to action with armed forces versus giant robots, before being reunited with the lovable, wacky Witwicky clan and the amazing adventures of Sam (Shia Lebeouf), the only college student with a cybernetic Camaro hiding in his dad’s garage!
RoTF feels reassuringly familiar and in truth, veers in to the realms of the formulaic, but if the formula works then do the math – take one epic mythology, multiply the number, quality and scope of FX shots from Transformers by at least a factor of three, add in dozens of battling robots and a sprinkling of human eye-candy (Megan Fox returns as Sam’s love interest Mikaela, newcomer Isabel Lucas provides some competition for her in the good-looking girl stakes, while Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson return to the battlefield) and it all adds up to a fun filled couple of hours.
And we’ve plenty to get through in that time; the malevolent Decepticons might have lost their leader Megatron in the battle for the all-powerful All-Spark Cube last time out, but they continue to cause trouble for the Autobots and their new human allies right across the Earth in their quest for… ah well, that’d be telling! Meanwhile the Autobot’s young ally is on a quest for knowledge – Sam Witwicky’s stepping out on his own now, off to college, making his own mistakes and learning things the hard way.
Shia Lebeouf has been making mistakes and learning the hard way too since he hit the Hollywood stratosphere off the back of Transformers, but despite his off-screen shenanigans, he’s still incredibly likable and with RoTF an even more fantastical romp than the first movie, he’s required to keep proceedings grounded in reality (as much as a fantasy-adventure blockbuster allows) and he succeeds.
Sam and Bumblebee’s relationship is still key to the film; it was very much at the heart of the first flick. The duo share a particularly amusing scene after the Autobot has been a ‘bit of a bad dog’ and it is as ‘real’ and as engaging as any of the scenes focusing on Sam and Mikaela’s relationship and that’s not saying anything detrimental about Megan Fox’s acting ability - it’s just quite incredible the amount that the Transformers are able to emote and express themselves. Rarely do you even consider that the bots weren’t on the set at the time the real-world cast were performing; it all feels quite natural to see Optimus Prime standing fifty feet tall in conference with the human military’s top brass.
And maybe that’s the film’s main undoing, in so much as the Transformers themselves have lost their shock value. While the sight of a transforming truck parachuting from the back of a cargo plane before battling a Decepticon excavator is an incredible one, it somehow lacks the magic the first film had; the sense of wonder the first time you saw all the Autobots arrive on Earth and reveal their true nature to Sam and Mikaela, or the playful silliness that you felt when the Autobots ‘hid’ in the Witwicky’s back yard. The action scenes in RoTF are certainly better choreographed and more action-packed and there’s more of them too, but there’s just a little less heart and soul in this sequel – it’s difficult to qualify, but I’d say while your jaw might drop just as far as before, the hairs on the back of your neck don’t stand up quite so much.
What there is more of however, is robots - a good thing in a robot movie I’m sure you’ll agree. The addition of loads more of Industrial Light & Magic’s amazing computerised creations make for ‘bigger, badder and blastier’ fight scenes that are a treat for the eyes, but it’s the greater number of character moments they’re involved in that really impress – the resurrected Megatron rollicking his treacherous lieutenant Starscream aboard their crashed starship, the Autobot twins constantly bickering like hyperactive kids, mad minibot Wheelie and his love-hate relationship with Mikaela and the standout, former Decepticon Jetfire – inexplicably he sounds like a long lost member of the Monty Python crew and also inexplicably, you can’t help but find it strangely amusing to hear an aging English robot resort to mild profanity when faced with adversity!
When the guns fall silent and the robots stop chattering, music is again provided by Steve Jablonsky. His wonderfully epic and rousing themes from the first film are developed further here, and though there’s probably a little less variety in the score as a whole, the strongest pieces from last time are even more pronounced and effective – Optimus Prime’s signature piece in particular sounds incredibly majestic, just adding to the wow factor any time he’s on screen being particularly bad-ass and heroic!
So there are more stunning effects, more fighting robots and more madcap humour, with less of the dull talky exposition type goings-on we had with the Pentagon scenes in Transformers – that adds up to 5-star flick surely? Well, no. Maybe there’s too much to cope with this time, too many ideas introduced too quickly. Just when RoTF starts to dangle the carrot of something juicy in terms of plot or mythology or concept, you get hit with Michael Bay’s shiny special effects stick and the nice healthy vegetable is replaced by a cream cake – it’s no bad thing in the short term and you’re not really going to complain, but it’s not healthy if that’s all you’re digesting.
The story touches on the Transformers’ distant past, but it’s left to your own imagination as to quite how this all ties in neatly to the present day events. Think about it all too hard and you start to lose interest in pretty pyrotechnics of the final battle while you’re still trying to suss the whys and wherefores of what went before; slightly less aggressive cutting of the story moments with tighter editing of all the military action at the end and things would feel a lot more satisfying on the whole.
Michael Bay might have gone overboard with the bangs and crashes, but in fairness he does a bang-up job of capturing them on film. The cinematography throughout is stunning, but special mention goes to the photography of the pyramids at Giza; National Geographic would surely be proud of the camera work on show, even if they would then be a little confused by all the fighter jets and teleporting villains!
Revenge of The Fallen is a dot-to-dot rather than a cryptic crossword, but you’d still have a guilty little smile on your face at the end of either puzzle, regardless of the mental exertions involved. The movie never leads you off the well-beaten action-adventure track; the destination is obvious and well sign-posted, but it’s the fun you have along the way that you’ll be talking about most at journey’s end, even though you might wonder where things could have gone had bigger risks been taken.
So it’s more of the same for Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen – it’s not likely to win over any nay-sayers, but at the same time it won’t upset any of the legions of firm fans of the first Transformers. More of the mythology is exposed this time out, but it’s merely hinted at rather than explored fully - a third feature could play with some of the concepts merely toyed with this time out, but would that make for good box office?
It’s unwise to mess with a winning formula but while Revenge of The Fallen is a capable follow-up to Transformers, you’re left feeling slightly undernourished after the sugar rush fades away. You’ll happily consume all this portion has to offer, but demand more substance from a subsequent sequel; the good news is there’s enough entertainment here to suggest that the robots in disguise will return again and you’ll want to be there to see it, but it’ll need more to it than this time out.
Verdict: 4 out of 5
They can’t say ‘you’ve never seen anything like this before’ any longer, but they can say it’s the best you’ve ever seen it executed, that is for sure. Whether style is enough to forgive some shortcomings in terms of substance (scripting and pacing in particular) is definitely open to debate, but as an out-and-out cinematic thrill ride there won’t be many better this or any other summer - Go enjoy it!