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A scene from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Photo Credit: Jaimie Trueblood/Copyright © 2009 Dreamworks LLC & Paramount Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

2 out of 4 stars


Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

  • Directed by Michael Bay
  • Written by Roberto Orci
  • Alex Kurtzman and Ehren Kruger
  • Starring; Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox and John Turturro
  • Classification: PG

The big question about Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is, which of your favourite household machines you should take as a date? Your electric toothbrush would surely enjoy the speed and the flying debris but might whine at the scary parts. Your blender would get a kick out of the editing, but if it's still under warranty and impressionable, the experience might be a bit overwhelming.

There's no question the new Transformers film from director Michael Bay feels as though it were directed for, and perhaps by, robots. Bay fills the screen with a hurricane of scrap metal and military hardware, in sequences that are almost avant-garde in their repetitive incoherence. Yet this sense-pounding exercise is not without some design. Bay has taken certain tendencies of Alfred Hitchcock and Steven Spielberg - the love of monumentality and flurried editing - and pushed them to new extremes, perhaps as a way of proving there are still big-screen experiences that you really can't duplicate at home.

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For those late to the party, Transformers is derived from an early 1980s series of toy cars that could be twisted into little robots. In the mythology of the characters (developed as a Saturday-morning cartoon), all the robots come from another planet and there are good ones called Autobots and bad ones called Decepticons. The biggest machines typically speak in growly voices and say things like: "Fate rarely calls upon us at a moment of our choosing," while the humans yell things like "Look out!" as they fly across the screen. Bay's first Transformers movie in 2007 made more than $700-million (U.S.) worldwide. This time, the director has pushed the bigger-is-better formula even further, with more robots, more fights and a 2-hour running time.

Though the Decepticons appeared to be defeated in his first movie, they're back (and will return for the projected third film in the franchise). In an early scene, they destroy a good chunk of Shanghai. Afterwards, the Autobot leader, Optimus Prime, appears on a video screen to a bunch of Pentagon soldiers to warn that the Decepticons have issued a sort of biblical warning that "the Fallen" shall rise again.

There's a strand of a human story on which the massive action scenes are hung. Near the film's beginning, Sam (Shia LaBeouf), the hero of the first Transformers movie, has to say goodbye to his favourite machine, a big yellow guardian robot, Bumblebee, before heading off to college. While going through his old clothes, Sam gets some of the robot's magic mineral, called Autospark, in his system. By the time he reaches college, he's turned like Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind , twitching and babbling, writing notes all over the walls and drawing strange symbols.

Crazy or not, Sam's still alluring to the movie's two women, both of whom are lit to look as if they were dipped in Vaseline. There's his sultry mechanic girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox), who is first seen straddling a motorcycle like a garage-wall pin-up girl, and a blond college seductress (Isabel Lucas) with some surprising anatomical features.

As LaBeouf has accurately said at a recent premiere, the movie is "about big explosions, beautiful women, fast cars and insanity." The "insanity" part is what's most striking, as the movie occasionally feels like an attempt to simulate a manic, paranoid, altered state. There are conspiracies within conspiracies. The script, cobbled together by Star Trek writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (along with Ehren Kruger), involves a lot of globe-hopping (New York, New Jersey, Washington, Shanghai, Paris, Egypt, Jordan, the Indian Ocean) in an ancient-treasure-hunt plot derived from Raiders of the Lost Ark .

True, there are token touches of would-be humour, including a jive-talking, black-sounding robot and some comic scenes with Sam's terrified nerdy roommate, Leo ( The Wire 's Ramon Rodriguez) and, returning from the first film, John Turturro, as a good-hearted wacko former CIA agent. Fox also adds the occasional sexy image to the montage of carnage, turning to show her tightly clad derrière, running in a flesh-coloured top and typically keeping her lips perpetually parted.

Of course, nobody goes to a Transformers movie for the jokes or the love interest - you go to see big robots and to watch stuff get blown up - but without dynamic contrasts, even the destruction of internationally famous landmarks begins to feel like staring at wallpaper after a couple of hours. Because Bay bombards you with so much, it's easy to forget that he can be a gifted technician. There's a scene, for example, when an animal-like Decepticon disgorges ball bearings into a rooftop steam pipe, and a moment later, the steel balls spread out inside the building before transforming into geometric figures and then a full robot. Taken on its own, this is a masterful little slice of computer-generated animation, but it gets lost here in the visual racket.

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About the Author
Film critic

Liam Lacey is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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