Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Movie review: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Interminable metal mayhem eventually comes to an end. (Did I mention eventually?)
Let's get right to it (rather than stretching the exercise out for 2 1/2 hours, like this movie does): Michael Bay's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen wields more firepower than was employed in the last two desert wars combined.
It thus comes as no surprise when the end credits reveal a screen full of nods to various members and branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, who richly deserve the mention: without their contributions (in the form of aircraft carriers, fighter jets, tanks, drones, spy satellites, and super-secret rail guns) the threshhold of metal mayhem in evidence could not have been achieved. (That is, without several additional millions allocated to Industrial Light & Magic.)
In the "under-allocated" category are two guys who somehow ended up with not a whole lot to do: Ehren Kruger and Roberto Orci, scriptwriters. Their story tries so desperately to make some sort of sense; then, like a petulant child, it surrenders (again and again and AGAIN) to high-volume, mega-dollar, special effects-driven temper tantrums. Honest to God, after the first few minutes I wished I had worn my Lee Sonic Ear Valves into the theater.
We start out with a bit of prehistory: it seems the Cybertron race had a foothold in Earth's affairs way back in 17,000 B.C. At that time, evil Decepticon types were forcing elements of the resident ape-like humanity to build a big ol' cosmic machine of some sort. They were thwarted in this endeavor in some fashion that I've forgotten thanks to the epic clashing of metallic armatures which immediately follows, taking place in ...
... modern day Shanghai, where a secret military organization known as The Nest sets up to take out a hidden Decepticon entity disguised as -- let's see -- probably the biggest piece of industrial machinery visible in the dockyard area upon which the strike team descends. (Though they seem quite surprised to discover it, once the hulking metal behemoth starts whacking around hapless soldiers.)
The Nest is a combined strike team of Autobot and human fighters under the tactical command of Captain Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and the strategic command of General Morshower (Dallas native Glenn Morshower). Things have been going just great for the Nest crew, in the sense that they are efficiently taking down one deep-cover Decepticon after another, until the NEW PRESIDENT (uh oh) decides to install a representative to administer operations in his behalf.
Following the devastation in Shanghai, cut to Sam's (Shia LaBeouf) suburban family home, where his parents (Julie White as Judy; Kevin Dunn as Ron) are experiencing a sort of pre-college, post-partum depression as they attempt to come to terms with the fact that Sam is flying the coop to join the ranks of Ivy Leaguers. Cue further devastation, this time resulting from Sam's discovery (in the tattered remains of a jacket he was wearing during our last episode) of a shard of the Allspice. (Oops. I mean Allspark.)
So basically you've got your various locations, which look really scenic when we first encounter them, but which -- without too much preliminary or malice aforethought -- end up laid to waste once Sam and his Transformer troubles arrive on the scene.
Next up on the demolition list is the college campus to which Sam's parents deliver him. This turns out to be Princeton in terms of where the actual filming occurred, though judging by the student - um - BODY, it appears to be HWOU (Hot Women Only University), with nary a plain-looking female in evidence. One mouth-watering coed in particular (Aussie newcomer Isabel Lucas as Alice) takes an immediate and completely inexplicable shine to Sam, causing him to miss his scheduled online video date with hold-over, left-behind, über-babe girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox).
Speaking of whom: when the script calls for an appearance by La Fox, the camera goes all glamour-hazed and slow-mo, leading one to believe the producers might have been shooting dual-purposed footage suitable for commercial work. Yes, for God's sake, we KNOW she's drool-worthy, Mr. Director - could we get back to the story now, please?
(Oh, I forgot. Never mind ...)
More battling bot stuff happens, with events finally coming to a titanium head amongst the ancient ruins of Egypt, which - if you've been paying attention - might as well bend over and kiss their dusty sub-basements goodbye.
I suppose that's quite enough grousing about the destructive proclivities of Cybertrons and their militaristic human counterparts. It's not as if we were expecting some sort of SFX version of My Dinner with Andre.
(Though I wouldn't put it past those overachievers over at Pixar.)
Here are some laudable and outstanding features of the movie:
* The digital effects are extremely well done. They are so seamless, in fact, that we early on become comfortable with the idea that metal monsters are striding about the landscape engaging in conversation (of a sort) with human characters.
* The reason that campus hottie Alice is attracted to Sam turns out to be just as we expect. Saving us from a killer inferiority complex.
* There are one or two episodes amidst the carnage that prove to be genuinely amusing and thus briefly take our minds off all the mindless violence (ref. Judy's "eco-friendly" brownie purchase, and Sam's roommate Leo's (Ramon Rodriguez) auto-stungunning accident).
* Megan Fox really is easy on the eyes.
* It eventually ends.
The action is accompanied by a melodramatic score by Steve Jablonsky, re-upped from the first Transformers to carry on composing as before. There's a mention of Hans Zimmer at the end of the credits, though we're not sure what it means that he "exective produced" the score.
THERE'S GOLD IN THEM THAR AUTOBOTS: "We've shed blood, sweat and precious metal together." - Sgt. Epps (Tyrese Gibson)
AND BECAUSE IT'S A FORMULA FILM: "How do you know it's going to work?" - Mikaela, re. Sam's attempt at reviving a stricken Optimus Prime (voice: Peter Cullen)
"Because I believe it." - Sam