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Friday, June 26, 2009
  Review: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
It’s part two of Transformers week on the blog. On Wednesday I reviewed the new DVD collection of the first season of the original Transformers cartoon, and today I’m reviewing the sequel to the 2007 blockbuster adaptation, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Like most people who thoroughly enjoyed Michael Bay’s original Transformers movie, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the sequel, Revenge of the Fallen, for the better part of a year. And while it’s getting savaged pretty seriously by critics from what I’ve seen – as I type this it has a 22% Freshness rating on RottenTomatoes – I certainly didn’t hate it. It doesn’t fire on all cylinders the way the original did (I still consider it a near-perfect summer blockbuster), but the action is a lot of fun, and on a scale that appropriately tops the first movie. But where the first Transformers surprised me by keeping me interested during the parts with the talking humans, that’s precisely the problem Revenge of the Fallen runs into.

There’s more action in Revenge of the Fallen than the original, and it’s mostly pretty awesome, but the film itself is sloppier and not paced nearly as well. There’s a chunk in the middle that felt like it lasted over an hour where not much happens other than Sam (Shia LeBeouf) and his crew (Megan Fox as his girlfriend and three to four comedy relief characters) bounce around from place to place chasing some expository
MacGuffin (instead of the cube from the previous film, it’s the Matrix of Leadership, a nice reference to the 1986 Transformers animated movie, but it ultimately means nothing). Way too much of the screen time is devoted to what is clearly filler and time-wasting, and for a movie that clocks in at around two-and-a-half hours, it’s just weird. A fun summer blockbuster shouldn’t be a slog to sit through; there’s easily 40 minutes or so (and possibly entire characters) that could have been cut from this film and it wouldn’t have affected the flow of the story one bit. That story is also overly complicated, dwelling a bit too much on the mythology and history of the Transformers universe. I love giant robots more than most, but even I found that stuff tiresome after a while. I don’t care about which Autobot begat which, I just want to see them fight.

Thankfully, when they do, it’s pretty spectacular. I’ve read a few complaints that the action is hard to follow – most of the robots look similar enough to each other that it can be tough to discern who’s doing what to whom when they fight – but I didn’t really find it to be much of a problem. There are also a ton of new robots, most of whom go unnamed and don’t get much to do, but they make the final battle scene feel more epic compared to the first movie, which ended with a skirmish between a handful of Autobots and Decepticons. Some of the new characters are awesome, like the Autobot Corvette, Sideswipe (a personal fave from childhood), and the massive Decepticon, Devastator.

My other big problem with Revenge of the Fallen is that there are way too many comedy relief characters. There are at least five characters in this movie, human and Transformer, that serve no purpose other than to act goofy and try to elicit laughs. I realize this is a movie aimed largely at younger audiences, so I understand the need for that sort of thing (I appreciated LeBeouf’s comic talents in the first movie; sadly he gets very little of that this time around), but FIVE is simply too many for one movie (especially considering they spend most of their screen time together). Worst of all, the filmmakers – the jury appears to be out on whether the responsibility for this lies with the screenwriters, Michael Bay or the voice actors; everyone’s passing the buck it seems – have an unfortunate tendency to rely on cringe-inducing ethnic stereotypes for the comic relief Transformers. The two getting the most attention are Skids and Mudflap, a pair of twin Autobots who seem to have adopted hip-hop style. They have gold teeth, goofy features, and can’t read.
A mini-controversy seems to be brewing over them, and while I didn’t like them much either, for me it was more because they were just unfunny and annoying rather than my being offended.

Overall I still had fun for the most part while watching Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. In terms of story it’s an unfortunate step backwards from the first, but the action is more plentiful than the first Transformers, and considering that’s what I was there to see, I’m more able than most to forgive an overlong, occasionally plodding plot. I’m not going to say I wasn’t a little disappointed that Revenge of the Fallen isn’t as tight and efficient as the first film, but it’s still a pretty good time at the movies.

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