Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

2009 #80
Michael Bay | 150 mins | Blu-ray | 12 / PG-13

Transformers: Revenge of the FallenIf Transformers was “from the director of The Rock and Bad Boys”, then Revenge of the Fallen is “from the director of Pearl Harbor and Bad Boys II”. If you don’t get what I mean by that… well, let me explain…

The most striking thing about Transformers 2, as it inconveniently isn’t called, is that it’s over-long and indulgent. Has Bay never heard of an edit suite? The writers of a delete key? Anyone of quality control? There are too many ideas, when some should’ve been dropped for clarity and speed; the film could — nay, should — have been seriously trimmed down at every stage of production. By my reckoning, as much as an hour could be lost while still retaining all the best bits of action, humour and plot. Consequently, it’s simply not as much fun as the first film, exacerbating rather than fixing all its flaws and losing most of its charm (it didn’t have the last in spades, but it had enough).

There are good bits though. The humourous scenes highlight this contrast the most: some are genuinely amusing, others simply not, and typically go on too long. All the stuff with Sam at college — why? Especially his mum accidentally eating drugs. Or the jive-talking twins, who’d be this decade’s Jar Jar Binks if only they were as memorable. There are countless other examples — if you’ve read almost any other review you won’t need me to mention the robot balls. When the writers don’t try so hard, however, there are pleasurably funny scenes.

This applies to the action too. Some of it is exciting, but Bay has no genuine concept of rest or pause — sequence after sequence is thrown at the viewer with mind-numbing intensity. There are good beats liberally scattered throughout, but so many sequences means no stand-outs are left because there’s no time to properly process any of them. As in the first film, robot-on-robot fighting is hard to decipher. These Transformers are too realistic (as it were) — they’re all made up of thousands of gunmetal-grey parts; as soon as they come into contact you can’t tell which bit belongs to who and what exactly is hitting where. Even with the extended slow-mo shots — of which there are a lot more than in the first film — by the time you’ve actually worked out what you’re looking at, Bay cuts to the next confusing ShakyCam moment.

When things do slow it’s for brazen ‘character development’ or clunky plot exposition, both coming in great big tell-don’t-show info-dumps. At one point, one character literally urges another to “explain the plot”. The character scenes are equally forced, the dialogue functioning at a level of state-the-obvious inanity. Bay treats women with a similar absence of subtlety — every scene featuring a female is shot like a moving version of FHM, all skimpy clothes and slow-mo jiggling. The only exception is Sam’s mother.

Technically, the CGI is almost flawless, only the occasional brief shot failing to achieve little less than photo-real perfection. Bay’s typical tech fetish is also in evidence, suggesting he looked at a couple of car and military mags when he picked up that inspirational FHM. Bizarrely, however, the sound mix strikes me as a flawed technical element. I found it so odd that I had to download the digital copy and listen in plain old stereo to check there wasn’t something haywire in my surround setup. By the end it’s sounding as you’d expect (largely), but throughout there are unusually spartan patches, lacking in the music or hard-hitting explosive sound effects one expects. Perhaps we should be grateful that it’s less bombastic and wall-of-noise than you normally find in such action films, but it renders the soundtrack disconcerting at times.

On its cinema release, Revenge of the Fallen unsurprisingly jumped on the recent bandwagon of having an IMAX release, although at least some parts of the film were shot for the format — just like The Dark Knight, although with nothing like the same level of attention lavished on this in press coverage. According to the BBFC, the IMAX-exclusive version ran 91 seconds longer — 151:16 as opposed to 149:45. According to my player, the Blu-ray runs 149:53. It seems that, despite Bay’s promise of releasing the slightly-extended IMAX cut, complete with Dark Knight-style shifting aspect ratios, Paramount have been less faithful than Warner. Perhaps they considered the typical Transformers 2 fan incapable of grasping such a concept. Not that it really matters — if there’s one thing this film doesn’t need it’s to be any longer.

At times it’s like an uncomfortable amalgamation of Saturday morning cartoon and more adult-orientated action-comedy. On the one hand you’ve got a top-secret organisation with a semi-plausible acronym for a name (NEST) that sees soldiers and good giant robots travelling the world fighting bad giant robots, all without the public noticing. On the other, you’ve got whole sequences about drug use, almost brutal fight scenes, and lad’s mag-level slow-mo shots of girls running, changing and having their short dresses hiked up by robotic tails. (To be fair, there’s only one robotic tail.) In other words: if you’re an average 13-year-old boy, this is the Best. Movie. Ever.

For the rest of us, Revenge of the Fallen is, at best, the kind of blockbuster that might benefit from a second viewing, though probably after some time has passed. It’s not likely to create a better impression of the character development or comedy, but perhaps the MacGuffin-packed plot (there are at least three) would be easier to comprehend, the mythology-dumps easier to stomach, and the massive fights easier to follow. At worst, it’s a hurried production that would have benefitted greatly from some judicious editing from script level upwards. This is what happens when a studio allows someone like Bay an essentially limitless budget and less than two years to turn a blockbuster around.

3 out of 5

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is released on DVD and Blu-ray in the UK tomorrow.

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