Musings from Jim Sorenson and a few guest bloggers about Transformers, character models, science-fiction, comic books, and whatever else is on our minds.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Bishbot's impressions of Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen (SPOILERS)
Yesterday I went to see the latest Transformers film “Revenge Of The Fallen.” It wasn’t a special premiere or event or anything: I just happen to live in the UK. What follows is a short but very probably SPOILER LADEN set of thoughts and impressions masquerading as a proper review.
YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
YOU ONLY HAVE YOURSELF TO BLAME IF YOU KEEP READING
First of all, I think it is important to make clear that I really liked Michael Bay’s first Transformers film without thinking it was the greatest film ever or indeed even close to the greatest Transformers story ever. “Revenge Of The Fallen” pretty much continues in that vein, although I do not think that I will end up liking it quite as much.
First of all: it’s long. It’s really really long. That normally doesn’t bother me in films, but they do need a sufficiently interesting plot to sustain them and I’m not entirely sure “Revenge” completely justified it’s running time. Don’t get me wrong, it’s never boring, but the plot becomes increasingly convoluted for the arbitrary reason of including bigger and bigger set-pieces. The set pieces themselves are, of course, excellent, but definitely give the impression of being conceived first, with the plot twisted to fit them in. At times, towards the end, the brief dialogue scenes begin to resemble the cutscenes from videogames - a little bit of context before you get back to shooting bad guys in the face. Nonetheless, since I wasn’t exactly expecting a Bergman-style exploration of the human (or even the robot) psyche, I don’t want to emphasise this criticism too much.
So there’s your basic chase action storyline. Sam Witwicky is once again the bearer of “precious cargo”, at first, knowledge imparted by a fragment of the All-Spark and after that the “matrix of leadership” which is actually a key that unlocks a pyramid that will destroy the sun in order to harvest the explosion for energon. Because of this, he gets chased by increasingly larger and meaner Decepticons, including the most logical use for Pretender technology yet seen, and even Megatron and Starscream themselves, who capture Sam and try to retrieve the knowledge from his brain. I really liked this scene because it reminded me of the stories where the Decepticons were actual characters and had plans of their own. Prime gets killed (imagine that!) rescuing Sam, and it turns out that he can probably be revived by “the matrix of leadership”, which is in Egypt, and which the ancient Transformer, Jetfire, can find. They need Optimus back on his feet, because “only a Prime can kill The Fallen” who is a big scary Decepticon hanging out on Saturn’s moon of Titan who even Megatron kowtows to. It turns out that “The Primes” (how Optimus is related to these ancient Primes is not explored) used to charge about the galaxy destroying stars for their precious energon, but wouldn’t do it to inhabited star systems, and The Fallen is “fallen” because he wanted to do it to ours, despite primitive humans existing. It all seems like a silly thing to fall out over. The galaxy has quite a lot of stars left, and most of them probably don’t support life, but there you have it. Anyway - huge battle - Devastator, pyramids destroyed, lots of generic Decepticons and United States military assets going at it, Prime comes back, wins, everyone’s happy.
So, the action. There is, as noted, a lot of it. This film is bigger, longer, flashier, more expensive and possibly even louder than the first one. There are a number of absolutely stellar sequences from the battle in Shanghai at the beginning to the colossal Decepticon/United States throwdown in the Egyptian desert and, frankly, no matter what you think of the plot, if you like Transformers at all (and you do, since you’re reading this) you owe it to yourself to see them. He’s a bit of an internet joke, but nobody does action like Michael Bay and he is on top form here.
There are Autobots too... they just don’t do all that much. Bumblebee gets some nice action, as does Prime (of course) but most of the time the Autobot presence in battles is very much in support of the human military one. I really liked the idea of a joint Autobot/human strike force hunting out Decepticon infiltrators, but, you know, I’m a Transformers fan, I wanted to see the Autobots a little more. This was especially frustrating because they introduced some new ones, with minimal explanation. Sideswipe gets a couple of cool moments, and Arcee seems largely forgotten before two-thirds of her are destroyed in the desert. The newcomers that get the most time are “The Twins” a pair of wisecracking would be “gangster” Autobots who seem to have annoyed a lot of people. Personally my tolerance for this sort of comic-relief character is pretty high, and there have been many Autobots over the years who have been, well, a bit “special” but they are on screen a lot, and never do very much other than fool about. The Autobots left over from the last film do have a few lines but not all that many and don’t really have any time to shine. Also there seems to be a blue chap called Jolt. He’s there in a couple of scenes... no idea why.
Most of the humans from the first film reappear. Shia LeBoeuf continues to be pretty good, but doesn’t have to carry the film quite as much as he did last time. Megan Fox’s role as sex appeal, while it was never exactly in doubt in movie one, is heavily emphasised here with a lot of slow-motion running and loving camera shots down her top after she has fallen over (again and again). Can she act? A bit, I suppose. I actually gave a sort of mental cheer when John Turturro appeared, which is surprising, since I found his appearance as Simmons in the first film very very strange indeed. Apparently repeated watching has given me a sort of Stockholm Syndrome regarding the character. The military types are decent enough and “bring the rain” in a competent fashion. Sam’s parents have a slightly bigger role in the plot and are consistently amusing, although an early joke where his mother accidentally eats cannabis goes on for a bit too long.
Look. I’ve done my best, but memory is fading fast. Suffice it to say that it’s the same ingredients as the first one. Robot on robot action, rather over the top comedy and ultra-competent American military porn are all present and mixed in much the same awkward fashion. There’s just a lot more of each and the whole thing doesn’t feel quite as new. There is no scene, for example, to rival the initial appearance of Bumblebee, or the other Autobots, from the first film. It’s not really “Revenge Of The Fallen’s” fault. The genie was already out of the bottle. We’d seen the Transformers in live action, and all that was left was to give us more of them. A bigger, more intricate and better crafted story wouldn't have gone amiss, but the tone had been set by the first movie, so anyone expecting a revelation in Transformers story-telling is, unfortunately, way off-beam.
I had done my homework: rewatched the first film, reread "War Within: The Dark Ages" and I could be a relentlessly picky fan and go into depth about every little character and scene and once the DVD comes out, I probably will, but I enjoyed “Revenge Of The Fallen” for what it was: a fun action-fest set in this new movie-continuity. It wasn’t perfect, but I enjoyed it, and after the first movie, I wasn't really expecting anything more.