Sunday, June 28, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen / ** (PG-13)

Sam Witwicky: Shia Labeouf
Mikaela Banes: Megan Fox
Captain Lennox: Josh Duhamel
USAF Tech Sergeant Epps: Tyrese Gibson
Leo: Ramon Rodriguez
Alice: Isabel Lucas
Ron Witwicky: Kevin Dunn
Judy Witwicky: Julie White
Agent Simmons: John Turturo

Featuring the voice talents of:
Optimus Prime: Peter Cullen
Megatron: Hugo Weaving
Jetfire: Mark Ryan
Wheelie/Skids: Tom Kenny
Mudflap: Reno Wilson
Soundwave/Devastator: Frank Welker
Starscream: Charles Adler
The Fallen: Tony Todd

Dreamworks and Paramount Pictures present a film directed by Michael Bay. Written by Ehren Kruger & Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman. Based on the Hasbro toy line. Running time: 150 min. Rated PG-13 (for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence, language, some crude and sexual material, and brief drug material).

I’m just a little ticked off at Michael Bay. This review required more research than I’ve ever had to put into a cast list before. It’s bad enough that even for its two and a half hour running time the cast of humans and robots is far too large for anyone to know who anyone is, but apparently DreamWorks and Paramount weren’t even able to get proper casting information out to ahead of time. You certainly can’t tell who’s who by watching the movie. But let’s back up a bit before I start nit-picking about what a hunk of CGI of metal calls himself, or not.

“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” had me. I was there, enjoying a big loud ridiculous summer blockbuster filled with more explosions than a promo DVD sent to the Coyote by the ACME Corporation. I liked it. I was enjoying myself. I was there. And then a giant robot walked out of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum—the one located at Dulles International Airport, not the one located on the Washington Mall—onto a great plain filled with hundreds of large airplanes with a picaresque mountain backdrop, and I said to myself, “that really doesn’t look like Dulles Airport to me. It doesn’t even look like the nearby historic Sully Plantation, a fairly wooded area. Where are they supposed to be? Why would an ancient alien robot that can transform itself into any airplane be disguised as a modern stealth bomber when there are such historic planes featured in the Smithsonian, like the Enola Gay, that it could much more interestingly inhabit?”

There I go, nitpicking again when I did start out liking this movie for the first hour or so. Sure I had to ignore such glaring mistakes as characters asking why the evil alien robots, the Decepticons, are still on our planet, when those same characters point out that the government still has a shard of the Allspark—the device sought by the Decepticons in the first “Transformers” for its ability to give robot life. Heck they steal the thing to bring their leader Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving, “The Matrix” trilogy) back to life from his grave at the bottom of the Pacific. Maybe that’s why they stuck around?

But in the world of Transformers, nothing is as simple as it should be. You see that’s not why the Decepticons stuck around. No, they’re still here because an ancient Decepticon, known as The Fallen (voiced by Tony Todd, “Candyman”), wants to find a device built on Earth by his alien robot species in the pre-history of man that would leach all the energy of our universe’s sun, destroying life on Earth. This was when the civil war between the two factions of this alien race began. The faction that refused to destroy an inhabited universe would eventually become the Autobots. Since all this was before the Autobots’ time, none were aware of the sun-eating device, including their leader Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen, also long-time voice for Eeyore in the “Winnie the Pooh” films). So if the Autobots didn’t exist when all that ancient gobbledygook happened then why are our heroes shocked to discover that the robot they were looking for in the Smithsonian is a Decepticon? Weren’t they paying attention to the history lesson? I was, desperately.

Now I’ve gotten away from telling you what I liked about the movie again. And, that’s just “Transformers” problem, those pesky robots just keep getting in the way. Unlike the first movie, there is an attempt in this one to let the human characters breathe a little. Sam Witciky (Shia Labeouf, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull”), the hero of the first film, is off to an Ivy League college. His father (Kevin Dunn, “Small Soldiers”) is ecstatic—aside from the $40,000 a year—and his mom (Julie White, “The Astronaut Farmer”) is hysterical. She is especially hysterical when she gets a hold of some “green” brownies on campus. Sam’s girlfriend, Mikeala (Megan Fox, “How to Loose Friends and Alienate People”) is concerned about the distance between L.A. and the East Coast. His Autobot bodyguard, Bubblebee, is saddened by the fact that Sam must leave him home because freshmen can’t have cars.

That paragraph contains more character development than the first movie had in its entire running length. Mostly what appealed to me about these opening passages was that the screenwriters, Ehren Kruger, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, found ways to squeeze some comic relief in between the explosions and special effects. There’re even a few good comic moments coming from some of the transformers. Wheelie (voiced by Tom “SpongeBob Squarepants” Kenny) is a Decepticon who switches to the good guys once he develops a crush on Megan Fox. There are twin Autobots, Mudflap (Reno Wilson, “Crank: High Voltage”) and Skids (also Kenny), who are pretty funny, although their characterizations skate on the edge of offensive stereotyping.

So, I was having fun, but as the movie ventured into its second and then on its way into a third hour, I found myself distracted from all the explosions with questions like, Why do all the Decepticons look alike? It sure makes it hard to distinguish who is who, especially in the battle scenes. Why did they have to build their sun destroyer on Earth? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to build it on Mars or some other planet that wouldn’t have provided some form of resistance against it? What’s that planet the Decepticons escape to? Why don’t they just stay there? Does The Fallen despise humans because they stopped him from using his sun destroyer, or did he build his sun destroyer on Earth because he despises humans? And if Transformers are an alien species of their own background and lineage, why would they all look like Earthly beings and human-made devices in their disguise forms? Shouldn’t they look like alien objects?

I’m sure many Transformers enthusiasts will explain all this to me. What I’m not sure about is why I gave “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” two stars. I suppose that whole summer blockbuster experience thing was good for something here. I hope that Michael Bay learns how to edit a movie one day so it isn’t just a jumbled mass of explosions and metal. It would be nice if these Transformers could get some sort of sensible movie treatment. Heck, it would be nice to be able to write a coherent review of one of his movies.

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