As Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen lumbered towards its 147th (and thankfully final) minute, I could barely move from my regulation cinema seat. My legs were weak, my ears were shot, and my eyes were just shy of bleeding. I felt as if I had been pummeled to submission by a fleet of the film’s skyscraper-sized robots; punished for my gluttonous fanboy wish to see more fighting robots than those featured in Michael Bay’s 2007 blockbuster Transformers. Now we get what must be approximately 130 minutes of robots punching on. Only 20 minutes or so are bearable. I can imagine post-traumatic stress wards being setup just outside screenings of the film; audience members rushed out on gurneys, screaming out from the strewn tears across their face: “Why won’t they stop fighting! They just won’t stop fighting!”
So, you may have noticed by now that this won’t be the most positive review of Transformers 2 that you’ll ever read. I’m sure many of you are wondering what I’m complaining about. “130 minutes of fighting robots? That’s incredible!” Hey, normally, I’d be right with you. But you know that cliché about your father finding you with a cigarette in your mouth, and then forcing you to smoke the whole packet? Bay’s latest is like that punishment, but instead of a whole packet of cigarettes, your father sets up a tobacco plantation in your lungs.
Describing the plot of Revenge of the Fallen pretty much equates to making “boom, crash, kablooey” noises, but I’ll attempt to distill all the boring, non-explodey elements into this bite-sized paragraph. Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is headed to college, hoping to leave behind his ties to the Transformers and become a normal kid. Well, as normal a kid can be while still dating Megan Fox (who is all sex and no heart as Sam’s girlfriend Mikaela). However, his brain has been implanted with a map to a dangerous location, and the evil Decepticons, led by their fallen leader named, um, The Fallen, want it. Enter Optimus Prime and the Autobots to save Sam, and the world.
Now the plot of the first Transformers wasn’t exactly Chinatown by comparison, but the mood was kept light and the action fairly well paced. It was over soon enough, and delivered exactly what it promised: a fun, exciting film based around a line of Hasbro toys. Bay earned a gold star in everyone’s book, and we all awaited the inevitable sequel excitedly. Revenge of the Fallen however plays more like Pearl Harbor 2, from the heavy-handed seriousness to the clumsy racial stereotypes (a couple of ‘ethnic’ robots seem to have walked straight out of the Kirk Lazarus School of Racial Sensitivity). Bay does know how to put an action sequence together. The set-pieces in the flick are consistently satisfying, and yes, feature plenty of robots punching each other. But by the 2hour 20 mark, even the most hardcore action fan would be eying the exit.
Bay contrasts the ‘very serious face’ moments of the film with so-called ‘funny smile face’ moments (by the way, judging by the performances, I can only assume the above notes were the extent of the acting direction from the auteur). Applying his trademark sledgehammer sense of humour, Bay fills the film with ‘jokes’ and ‘one-liners’ that are the visual equivalent of the “stop-hitting-yourself” gag that was always pulled by the meanest and dumbest students of your high school class. I suppose some of the blame should fall on screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, but I cannot accept that the screenwriters of the wonderful Star Trek could stoop so low.
The original Transformers had two wild cards in its pocket. The first was charismatic star Shia LaBeouf, and the second was executive producer Steven Spielberg. This time around, LaBeouf plays second fiddle to all the robot-fighting, yet we’re still expected to connect to him as the film’s emotional core. While The Beouf tries valiantly, not even he can salvage this mess. As for Spielberg, he must have been skiing while the script was being pieced together, because there is virtually no heart in the whole beast. Bay is not the man you hire for subtle characterisation; he is the man you hire for extravagant excess. In that respect, he delivers. However, this film sorely needed a couple of rewrites (the script was rushed due to the WGA strike) and a hefty edit. Then again, where would all the robot-fighting go? Be careful what you wish for I guess.