Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen *****
In 2007 director Michael Bay unleashed the Transformers in all their CGI glory onto the big screen for the first time. Finding its inspiration in the toy line (and other subsequent spin-offs, e.g. comics and an animated TV series) of the same name, it hardly seemed like the kind of film that would really stand out for moviegoers, after all, a film based on a range of toys doesn’t necessarily sound like a recipe for success. This critic in particular was extremely apprehensive about it when the project was first announced. How wrong I was. Combining some of the most impressive visual effects ever seen with rip-roaring action sequences, witty humour and an impressive cast consisting of both established actors and up-and-coming stars, Transformers proved to be the perfect embodiment of everything you could hope for from a popcorn blockbuster and, consequently, it became one of 2007’s most successful movies at the box office, paving the way for the inevitable sequel. Now, two years later, it is upon us in the form of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which has become one of 2009’s most eagerly anticipated blockbusters. Bay has promised a movie packed with even more robots, lots more action and more eye candy courtesy of Megan Fox and, judging by the trailers it appears to fully deliver on this promise. But does the film itself deliver on the promise of these trailers and, in the grand tradition of second movies is it an improvement upon its predecessor or just more of the same name?
Several years have passed since the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons first found its way to Earth. Since then the organisation known as Sector 7 has been disbanded, forcing Agent Simmons (John Turturro) to go underground, and a new organisation known as NEST has been created, uniting the Autobots with the US military, including Captain Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and Sergeant Epps (Tyrese Gibson), in hunting down Decepticons who are still hiding out on Earth. Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving) is lying dormant at the bottom of the ocean under permanent guard and the last piece of the Allspark, the source the gives the Transformers life, is under safeguard. Meanwhile, Sam Witwicky (Shia Labeouf) is trying to live a normal life and is heading off to college. Despite the distance between them Sam is determined to keep his relationship with Mikaela Barnes (Megan Fox) going, as their relationship seems to be going to a whole new level. Sam’s attempts to lead a normal life seem in vain, however, as he once again becomes the centre of the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons when he accidentally learns the ancient origins of the Transformer race. Becoming the target of the Decepticons, who want the knowledge he now possesses, Sam must follow the clues as he tries to unlock the secrets buried within his mind. And time is of the essence as the Decepticons revive Megatron, who in turn sets about bringing forth the revival of The Fallen (voiced by Tony Todd), the most powerful Decepticon in existence who is determined to wipe out the entire planet. All that stands between the Decepticons and Sam is the Autobots, under the leadership of Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) and tragic circumstances in store threaten their very existence, with the future of the entire of the human race left in the hands of Sam. With the help of Mikaela, Simmons, Lennox and Epps Sam must follow the clues before all hope is lost.
As you would expect from a Transformers movie (or any movie directed by Michael Bay for that matter) Revenge of the Fallen is hardly a masterpiece of filmmaking. But, it doesn’t try to be nor does it pretend to be. This is a film that isn’t ashamed to be just pure entertainment that doesn’t require much work on the part of the audience to appreciate it and this is why the film works so well as a popcorn blockbuster. Rather than trying to add subtext to create a film that is thought provoking as well as entertaining Bay just delivers what viewers want from a film such as this and the film delivers on everything that he promises. There are loads more robots than the first film. There is much more action and even more explosions. And there is lots more Megan Fox too. And, of course, there is also the humour that helped to make the first film such a crowd pleaser. This film also has a darker streak, however, something that helps to distinguish it somewhat from its predecessor. As with the first film the biggest triumph is of course the visual effects. Once again the effects are amazing with the film showcasing some of the most photo realistic CGI even seen on the big screen. Not only that but the interaction between real actors and environments and the virtual creations are virtually seamless, which serves to heighten the realism further. Frankly, we have come to expect nothing less from the visual effects wizards at Industrial Light & Magic. The spectacle that this film offers doesn’t just come courtesy of the effects though but also the locations. Whereas the first film was set predominantly in the vicinity of Los Angeles, this time around there is a much more global feel with a genuine sense that the world as a whole is under threat. As well as numerous locations in America, Shanghai and Egypt both feature prominently and the apparent use of real locations, as opposed to digitally created recreations, also serves to heighten the realism of everything that happens. The action sequences that are created against these backdrops are breathtaking and in line with the seamless real-virtual interaction it really seems as if Shanghai and the Pyramids are being decimated by the Transformers. The action delivers all the thrills you could want, many of the sequences completely outdoing those from the first film. The only gripe is that the final battle between Optimus Prime and The Fallen does feel a tad anticlimactic considering the build up but this doesn’t diminish the sheer entertainment value of the film as a whole. Another element from the first film that is carried over is, of course, the humour and, for the most part, it is witty and well executed. There are a few gags which some may consider in slightly bad taste but these are few and far between. With a few exceptions most of the gags don’t get in the way of the film’s darker, more serious elements, with the light and dark working together quite well for the most part. Much of this can be attributed to the script by Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman (both of whom scripted the recent Star Trek movie) and Ehren Kruger, which blends together all the elements pretty well.
As far as the cast are concerned, while the film hardly offers a master-class in acting, all the returning principal cast members are still very good in their roles, delivering performances that may not win them any awards but are still very good on their own terms. Since appearing in the first Transformers movie Shia Labeouf has become a big name in his own right and here he shows why he deserves his success. His performance of a teenager turning into adulthood who wants to live a normal life but constantly finds himself thrust into the middle of the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons is convincing and likable and he proves adept at all sides of his character’s personality, being witty at times but deadly serious at others. He also shares a believable and likable romantic chemistry with co-star Megan Fox (who has also become a big name since appearing in the first film) and their somewhat strained and troubled relationship rings true and works well against the backdrop of everything that is going on around them. Much has been made of Megan Fox’s presence serving as eye candy and while this is certainly prominent her role in the film is far more than just for her looks. She is actually pretty good as the heroine and romantic lead role and while much talk will be made of her with regard to her eye candy role she deserves far more recognition than that. Also returning from the first film is John Turturro, who once again delivers an amusing performance as the (now unemployed) agent from Sector 7, as well as Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson, both of whom don’t get a lot of screen time this time round with the younger actors getting a lot of the attention. The vocal cast behind the Transformers is also of a good standard with the principal actors from the first film being joined by a range of different actors who really help to give the different Transformers distinct personalities, helped slightly, of course, by terrific work from the digital animators who created the characters. All in all, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen follows in the footsteps of its predecessor in being a (near) perfect popcorn movie. It features all the crucial elements that made up a crowd pleasing blockbuster and, at 2 hours and 30 minutes long (clearly the idea of a short movie is an alien concept to Michael Bay) you get real value for the price of your cinema ticket. Sure, it isn’t a masterpiece and it won’t transform your life but if all you want from a movie is to be entertained this is a film that will do just that. Is it better than the first film? Not quite but it does deliver more of the same, essentially matching its predecessor for quality, and this is all that is necessary from it.
Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)
© BRWC 2010.
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