Michael Bay, what went wrong?
"Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" suffers from sequelitis big time. It almost seems as though Bay decided that whatever worked in the first "Transformers" film had to be bigger, louder, more frantic, more hectic and less human in this new sequel. And more of it. A lot more.
The first "Transformers" was a surprising film. Infused with a significant amount of character and story, the film used newfound star Shia LaBeouf and made him the center of the film. Because he was so good, the loud, frantic whirling special effects seemed better somehow. They made sense. And the relationship between LaBeouf's character and Megan Fox's character seemed sweet somehow, something we can all relate to. Bay layered in the usual special effects, allowing him to play with his toy box, but they actually contributed to the story and were cool to watch.
All of this helped the first "Transformers" become a huge hit. When a sequel became inevitable, Bay apparently decided to just add more and more and more to the new film. Bigger is better, right?
But all of these additional elements only serve to make the new film everything the first film wasn't. Loud, obnoxious, confusing, repetitious and filled with two-dimensional characters.
Picking up a few months after the first film ended, Sam (LaBeouf) is headed to college and his parents (Julie White and Kevin Dunn) are ready for a trip to Europe. Sam is distraught at the prospect of leaving Mikaela (Megan Fox) behind and they have an argument about who will say "I Love You" first. Before he leaves for school, he spots a piece of the All Spark, the object the Transformers were fighting over in the first film, causing him to see symbols everywhere. The All Spark fragment also wakes up some Transformers who soon start to attack Mikaela before she quickly subdues them. When Sam arrives at school, the symbols continue to distract him. Before you can say "Optimus Prime", we learn that a new leader of the Decepticons (or old depending on how you look at it) the Fallen has come back and taken control. He leads the Decepticons in an all out battle to find Sam and Mikaela and learn what he knows. They think the symbols will lead them to an ancient resting place for their ancestors, an ancient resting place hiding a power that will allow them to take over the Earth. Naturally, Optimus Prime, Bumble Bee and the other Transformers have something to say about that. The US Government has set up a special ops unit led by Captain Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and Sergeant Epps (Tyrese Gibson) to work with Optimus Prime and his team to hunt down Decepticons hiding across the globe. As we watch a lengthy prologue, it becomes apparent they have been around for a long time. After a destructive chase through Shanghai, a US Senator manages to convince the President to let him take over the unit. And all he wants to do is shut them down. So Lennox and Epps have to work to keep him at arms length. Eventually, as Sam and Mikaela try to figure out what the symbols mean and how to avoid the Decepticons, they run across an old friend (John Turturro) who now works in a deli. Soon, everyone is headed to Egypt.
Does this synopsis sound as confusing to you as it does to me? And I've seen the film. This is a big part of the problem with "Fallen". There is too much going on and little of it makes sense.
There is a lengthy prologue showing the Fallen leading a group of Decepticons to Earth and battling with cavemen. This is kind of a neat idea and helps to set up the rest of the film. I guess Bay was bored by this sequence, as it is ostensibly just narrative, because this is immediately followed by a lengthy action sequence set in Shanghai. Lennox, Epps, Optimus Prime and the other Transformers are hunting a Decepticon. When they find the bad Transformer, all hell breaks loose and they chase the renegade through the busy, crowded streets. During the chase, many buildings and a freeway are destroyed. This sequence is fun to watch, but later, you begin to wonder what role it plays in the overall film. It doesn't seem to have a lot of connection, except to introduce us to new Transformers, and to reintroduce us to the robots we have already met. More on this later. The sequence, while fun to watch, ultimately just seems like a waste of time. And when a film like this runs two hours and thirty minutes, time isn't something you want to waste. More on that later.
Perhaps the worst thing about "Fallen" is the waste of the actors. No one shows any emotion and everyone seems to be simply walking through the story. We have seen this from Bay before, he has never been very interested in character development or story, preferring to make things blow up, but after the first "Transformers" film, I held out some hope that he would continue to learn and continue to improve his storytelling technique. At one point, Mikaela cries and Bay lingers his camera on her face to capture the teardrop, almost as though he is trying to prove he can capture emotion.
I'm not entirely sure "Fallen" is appropriate for young children. The first time we see Mikaela (Fox) she is literally draped across the top of a motorcycle, her butt barely covered in denim short shorts, her blousy shirt revealing a tight t-shirt inside. The composition almost seems like a parody of a Maxim cover. Apparently, she now works at a motorcycle shop detailing the top of the chassis. This apparently requires her to get real close, forcing her to lay on top of the motorcycle, the big engine between her bent legs. Later, after Sam arrives at college, another beautiful young lady, Alice (Isabel Lucas), starts to throw herself at Sam. As soon as this storyline began to play out, I could just see the filmmakers looking at her audition tape. "She is HOT". Later, when a twist occurs, the story makes some lewd references and she makes some strange gestures. Not exactly appropriate for little kids.
I defy just about anyone to remember what most of the Transformer's names are. Beyond the few central characters (Optimus Prime, Bumble Bee, Megatron), there are simply too many of them and they don't look or act differently enough to make it easy to recognize them. Given the level of cacophony, it is near impossible to hear them address each other. So this limits the number of characters we can follow to about half the number on screen. Of those, again another half are distinct enough to make us care about them. What is the point of adding so many characters when it is all but impossible to follow them, to make any sense of them?
Of the new additions, two seem particularly problematic. During the Shanghai sequence, we see a beaten up ice cream truck participating in the action. When the truck breaks apart into two transformers (I think), they begin talking in a highly characterized 'jive' talk. Later, these robots get an upgrade and transform into two different 'Scion' like cars. I have heard these characters referred to as Bay's Jar Jar Binks. It is a pretty good analogy. They are insulting characters and only serve to bring the quality of the rest of the film down.
Later in the film, they meet an old British Decepticon (I'm not kidding) who served in World War II as a bomber but has now switched sides. They find him in the Smithsonian and… oh, well, do you really want to read about story points that make little or no sense?
With the two beginning sequences and an extremely long sequence set in Egypt to close the film, "Transformers Revenge of the Fallen" seems long. As soon as the Egypt plotline began, and we begin to watch LaBeouf and Fox running through the desert sand, my companion turned to me and said "Doesn't this seem familiar?" An accurate assessment as much of the beginning of the first film concerns Lennox and Epps fighting the Decepticons in another desert. Repetition is not a good thing in film and only serves to make this film seem longer.
Worse yet, Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving) is nowhere to be found which leads Bay and his writers to come up with a new villain. They look back, you might say way back, and come up with the Fallen. He resembles a cross between a transformer and Alien. This is a little ironic as Bay recently feuded with director McG over "Terminator Salvation", claiming some of his new Terminators resembled Transformers. Michael, It appears that he is not the only director to receive inspiration from others.
"Transformers Revenge of the Fallen" is the second most disappointing film of the summer. "Terminator Salvation" is the first.