SPOILERS ARE CONTAINED IN THIS REVIEW.
So my co-reviewer Meg Vick really liked “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” Like, really, really liked it. To the point that she told me there were tears of joy streaming out of her eyes during it.
Maybe it was because she saw the film in its theatrical release, and I saw it in IMAX. But if there were any tears streaming out of my eyes, it was from pain and eye exhaustion.
Michael Bay likes big, blockbuster action movies, that much is clear. Headlining hotty Megan Fox has said in numerous interviews that, in Michael Bay films, it’s not about the acting; it’s about the running and screaming. Problem is, that’s all “Revenge of the Fallen” is.
In Bay’s 2007 “Transformers” the robots were secondary to the stories of the people. Through Shia LaBeouf’s charisma and the eyes of the wide array of humans, it was easy for audiences unfamiliar with the idea of “Transformers” to become acquainted with the premise.
Written by: Ehren Kruger and Roberto Orci
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Tyrese Gibson
Running time: 150 mins
Seen at: Jordan’s Furniture Verizon IMAX Theater in Reading
With “Revenge of the Fallen” which picks up a bit after the events of “Transformers” not only are two main (and fun) characters from the first film (played by Rachel Taylor and Anthony Anderson) inexplicably nowhere to be seen, but military studs Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson only begin to play a major role in the film at its end.
To replace them is Sam Witwicky’s (Shia LaBeouf) conspiracy-theory happy roommate Leo, played by Ramon Rodriguez. The returning cast members respond to “Revenge of the Fallen” like returning fans of the first film; they have the basic premise, but are still a bit confused. Newcomers to the franchise can relate more to Leo: clueless and running around screaming, “What is going on!”
If “Revenge of the Fallen” skimped on the humans, it can be said it made up for it with the robots. The first film featured about 10 to 20 robots, most named during the course of the film. “Revenge of the Fallen” by comparison, introduces over 40 robots with only 5 carryovers from the first film: Bumblebee, Optimus Prime, Ironhide, Megatron and Starscream.
Among these new robots, only three are at all memorable: Jetfire, Devastator and the Fallen himself. This is enough to put lifetime Transformers fans into a coma of joy, but for those who can’t recognize and name a Transformer by sight, it is unfortunately overwhelming.
What worked for the first “Transformers” was its great combination of snark and action. In “Revenge of the Fallen” Michael Bay has said he has upped everything. But instead of upping everything, he overcompensates. Instead of gradually continuing to introduce film-goers to the idea of “Transformers” like he did in the first, he assumes everyone is familiar and sacrifices plot development for brief interchanges of dialogue to connect massive action scenes. It doesn’t work.
Michael Bay knows how to make a good action scene, that’s a fact. He knows how to make things explode and keep everything high octane. What he doesn’t know is how to edit these great action scenes together. The camera flies back and forth across the screen, splicing between normal widescreen and IMAX shots all the while, which isn’t exciting but dizzying. Tears streaming out of your eyes? It’s because you’re trying too hard to figure out what the hell is going on on screen.
The problem is that the camera work was dizzying throughout the entire film, not just the action shots. Michael Bay’s favorite camera movement is the counter-clockwise 180 degree spin. Sam and Mikaela (Fox) making out? Let’s spin around them. Drama going on in a military hangar? Let’s spin around it. Never is the camera in one place; it’s always moving “" and fast.
What’s worse is that Bay hides his problems editing with the quick camera movement. One of the best scene from “Transformers” is when Optimus Prime transforms for the first time. The camera is steady on him, and if you slow down the rate of the frames when watching it, every little piece can be seen moving to transform the leading Transformer from truck to robot. Don’t expect that in this. Transformations either happen too quickly to be followed or occur behind objects while the camera is once again swooping around.
Despite all this, the movie could still have been salvaged if we cared. Not everyone was a fan of the first “Transformers” but at least it made you care about the characters. With the focus primarily on the robots this time around, it’s hard to care about Sam and Mikaela’s difficulties saying “I love you” to the other while you’re too busy being annoyed by the obnoxious new Autobot twins that have arrived (you don’t want your robots to look like idiots, you want them to look like badasses; come on) or Wheelie, a Decepticon Mikaela caught and has trained as her pet (and humps her leg just like a dog).
Too much was sacrificed in “Revenge of the Fallen” to make the Transformers seem closer to humans (a concept Optimus emphasizes in his opening dialogue) but instead makes them off-key (Bumblebee crying oil is uncomfortable and corny to watch) and too cartoony. Yes, “Transformers” is based off a cartoon, but the films are not meant to be cartoony themselves. They are meant to be big blockbuster action films.
“Revenge of the Fallen” felt carelessly done, and that is its downfall. The continuity was off, the beginning too drawn-out and the plot took too long to kick into gear. Bay seemed too distracted cramming as many explosions and Transformers as he could into the film to be bothered in the editing room. And if anyone can tell me where Wheelie went after Devastator started kicking ass, I’ll pay you $5, because it seemed to me he disappeared right off the face of this movie “" just like my interest.