Review: Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen
Boom! Smash! Plot! Smash! Boom!
Firstly, a little tip:
Never, ever sit in the front row of the cinema when watching a Transformers movie.
That was yours truly last year. And it was awful. You constantly have to move your gaze, heck, your head, all the time to see everything rather than being sat back far enough so that you can absorb everything.
Admittedly it was our own fault. We arrived late. At night. The cinema was packed.
So, cleverly, we planned it this time around so that we could watch it from a much better position. The opening day, the first showing, during work hours when most people wonâ€™t be able to see it. We arrive half-hour early to buy tickets. We get in there 10 minutes before the film startsâ€¦ and we end up sat in the third row from the front.
Soâ€¦ letâ€™s transform and roll outâ€¦
Transformers movie. The world still knows nothing of the alien robots, Sector 7 has been disbanded, and Sam Witwicky is preparing for the next big phase of his lifeâ€¦ college.
It doesnâ€™t take long though for us to be thrown into the action. Within the first 10 minutes, weâ€™re thrust into a situation where a large Decepticon is hiding out in Shanghai. The Autobots and their human allies then move in to take it down, which they do within reasonably short order, but the standout moment simply has to go to Optimusâ€™ arrival on the battle scene. Cue full on grin on my face I tell you!!
But why exactly ARE the Decepticons still on Earth? Heck. Still coming to Earth? This guy was a brand new Transformer. Bigger, though not necessarily better than what had come beforeâ€¦
â€œThe Fallen is comingâ€¦â€
Itâ€™s back to young Sam though as we drop in as he prepares for college life. Dadâ€™s changing his room into a games room. Funny. Mom is already missing him terribly when she finds his old baby shoes. Funny.
These are, initially, caricatures figures. Theyâ€™re to lighten the moments! And they do work to a certain degreeâ€¦ Itâ€™s just then you have the odd dog humping the other. The Autobot twinsâ€¦ who I swear have a joke every other line.
Actually I take that back. Every single line.
I personally think itâ€™s too much overblown. Joke layered on joke layered on joke. As if itâ€™s trying to remind us not to take this seriously. These are giant robots from out space, man! Donâ€™t for one second take it seriously!
Doesnâ€™t take long though for trouble to wind its way back into Samâ€™s life though. He picks up his phone, dials his girlfriend Michaelaâ€™s number, and while packing some stuff for college, including a battered top from his last adventure with the Autobots, from which a shard of the almighty Allspark falls to the ground at his feet.
Sam, of course, being the curious lad he is, bends down and picks it up, where we are then treated to a quick CGI flash, some strange symbols flicker onto the screen (evidentially in Samâ€™s mind), and then the piece burns so that he drops it, it falls to the floor, burns through the floor to the kitchen below, where it then somehow transforms ordinary appliances into mini-Transformersâ€¦ which then promptly go after Samâ€¦
So, with all that taking in place in the first 15 minutes or soâ€¦ make no mistake â€“ Transformers 2 is a big summer blockbuster movie.
And in that, it bloody well succeeds.
The action roams from Shanghai, to small-town America, big city America, Egypt, the depths of the Laurentian Abyss, and even the Transformers dead home planet of Cybertron.
Director Michael Bay has a film that sticks to formula. I think in some respects itâ€™s a bit of a shame. Linking back into my point earlier about not taking these films too seriously, well, how am I supposed to get caught up in the plight of the characters if jokes are being cracked left, right and centre? Thereâ€™s having humour in the dangerous situations, and thereâ€™s having humour just because we need to appeal to the masses.
There are explosions, massive robots, explosions, some talking, and more explosionsâ€¦ It did feel like an awful lot of explosions were happening here.
The key is to keep the ball rolling but also know when to pull back and just have a few moments to themselves. I think the film suffered from a little too much comedy at the wrong moments, as the film tries to straddle appealing to fanboys and the main film going crowd by offering fart jokes (from a robot), getting high jokes (from a parent) and the likeâ€¦
I canâ€™t fault the CGI. There are some truly awesome spectacles on display here. From the bare-knuckled steeled fistfights and the energy cannons blasting each otherâ€¦ there is a real attention to detail and design. Each robot, at least the Autobots, are unique in their look and design.
Itâ€™s a little harder to ascribe those to the Decepticons, mainly because there are a couple of sequences where we are given a feasted sight of the evildoers, less time is spent on individual characterisation. They are there to represent the enemy and this is apparently all.
But who exactly is the enemy?
Halfway through the film, we are introduced to the idea that Megatron (yes, heâ€™s alive. We all knew heâ€™d come back somehow. It isnâ€™t a spoiler!) has a master. I can buy this, but when it came time for Megatron to denounce his master and claim the uber-superweapon near the heart of this film for himself, I was surprised that it didnâ€™t happen. From the first film I was under the impression Megatron serves one agenda, his ownâ€¦
With the return of Megatron comes one doozy of a rematch with Optimus Prime. There is just something extremely enticing watching Optimus, set upon by numerous Decepticons, refusing to back down.
â€œIâ€™ll take you all on!â€
The plot that exists in this filmâ€¦ there were some good ideas.
The idea of ancient Transformers coming to Earth beforehand? I like it.
Knowledge from the Allspark downloading itself into Samâ€™s mind thus bringing him back into the game? I like it.
The armed forces and Autobots working together? I like it.
Thereâ€™s a definite sense of grounding this film in our reality.
But why oh why am I walking away trying to work out what this plot told us aboutâ€¦ anything. The battles stand out vividly. The action is memorable. But the storyâ€¦ if only as much care on the design of these robots had gone into the crafting of the storyâ€¦ As it stands, it feels like an attempt to make the Transformers world bigger just because they canâ€¦ to string a series of robot battles together in a reasonably coherent mannerâ€¦
And thinking about it, really, this is a film about huge freaking robots, good and evil battling each other whilst transforming into ordinary, everyday vehicles.
How can I get hung up on the plot?
Well, because they tried to give us one. Thatâ€™s why. And it felt like a rushed, extension of the original film and than a true, fully-fledged sequel in itâ€™s own right. Justâ€¦ more of the same.
So. Ok. Tip number two!
Donâ€™t go in expecting exhilarating truths about the human condition in the face of unspeakable odds.
Thatâ€™s not in here.
But, crucially, importantly, shockingly, amazinglyâ€¦ is this movie fun?
Thatâ€™s a definite yes.
At a total running time of 2 and half hours, I can honestly say I was entertained on the visceral level and it wasnâ€™t until that final half hour that I really began to find it uncomfortable in my cinema seat, simply because the film was just that little bit too long.
And there are a couple of nice human touches. So full thumbs up to Shia LeBeouf as Sam and Kevin Dunn and Julie White as his parents, and their reunion in the desert of Egypt. Itâ€™s a nice turn around scene to parallel the opening 15 minutes where Samâ€™s dad was kind of in a hurry to see the back of him, and yet here, itâ€™s the last thing he wantsâ€¦
So all in allâ€¦ itâ€™s going to be a summer smash. In the final 10 minutes, the breadcrumbs are left for another sequel, and the film does wrap up damn fast. Indeed the final battle occurs, and then thereâ€™s a short denouement and we cut to credits. Perhaps a little less time devoted to explosions and more to the story? Perhaps telling us something about ourselves in a more honest wayâ€¦
Samâ€™s sudden revelation near the end of the film came very close to that moment (and I have to admit, that line was nicely written, even if the circumstances about itâ€™s happening were never properly explainedâ€¦ itâ€™s something about leadershipâ€¦ youâ€™ll know itâ€¦), but it just slipped away because of what had come before. There was no build up. Not enough story to get behind. The drama kept slipping awayâ€¦
It was there though. Peeking through the cracks. And so cripplingly close to being fully realised but it was held back by this need to appeal to a massive neutral crowd baseâ€¦.
A fantastic cinematic experience has to tick all of these boxes for me. So it works if you want to have a blasting, fun time. If youâ€™re nostalgic about the old cartoonsâ€¦ you can certainly find something to enjoy here. But if youâ€™re looking for a film that expands on the original in terms of character, epic story, and emotional truthâ€¦ youâ€™ll get lip service here.
Kind of like how Megan Foxâ€™s lips, no matter what happened to the rest of her body, stayed constantly perky.
How does one do that?!
Iâ€™m giving this one 2 and a half Transformers forming up to build a massive new Transformer out of five.
Roll out, guys.
About Joss Gateway
Sci-Fi Heaven's resident Stargate and Doctor Who columnist. He's lovely too.