Michael Bay claims he’d prefer a smaller project to follow up Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Like what, exploding a Schwin? Invading Latvia? Funding a coup?
It’s little wonder that Bay routinely receives the blessing of the American military. His movies are eye-candy incursions on your brain – 150-minute shock-and-awe campaigns where professional pyrotechnics level insurgent idiotic scenarios.
Bay is the rare filmmaker who can be as loved as he is hated — rarely boring with his brute-force filmmaking, even for critics eagerly lining up with knives to carve him.
That said, Bay’s lost his damn mind with Fallen – in ways impressive and distressing.
Like its predecessor, the best moments fill the Hasbro hierarchy of needs — bringing to life all the crazed action sequences conjured up by children with toys. Who cares if that Transformer didn’t come with wings? If he needed to fly, he flew. That simple. On that level, Bay’s wish fulfillment is bigger and better than before.
He thunderously reintroduces the Autobot-Decepticon in Shanghai, with sage leader Optimus Prime bringing down what is, essentially, an evil wheel with arms. Bay and his effects team isolate the robot smackdowns more cleanly without diminishing intensity. Just as dazzling are a turning-point forest fight and, however wearying it gets, a climax where Bay turns Egypt into a sandbox of big-boy toys.
For better or worse, Bay goes as macro with emotions and character motivation.
As love themes go, Green Day’s “21 Guns” is an odd, overused choice, and lyrics like “Lay down your arms, give up the fight” hardly seem apropos. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson’s returning soldiers serve only as deliverymen for a crucial third-act development. And Megan Fox’s plasticized delivery is so unintentionally comic that, during what should be her spotlight, there’s a helicopter in a corner to distract us.
Thankfully, the wit and woes of the Witwicky family — entwined with the Transformers’ destiny through several generations — come through with strength.
Reluctant hero Sam (Shia LaBeouf) is eager to become a college man and put his ’bot destiny behind him. Yes, LaBeouf trots out the most repetitively motor-mouth stammer since Jeff Goldblum. But when beset by visions of ancient Transformer language, he humorously resembles a Looney Tunes chipmunk. Later, LaBeouf sells a brief moment when the true burdens and obligations of heroism sink in.
As his mother, Julie White gets even bigger neurotic laughs, and Kevin Dunn delivers a palpable moment of paternal concern and solidarity amid the third-act bluster.
After 70 minutes, though, Bay napalms the nimbleness right out of the movie.
From a technical standpoint, the editing turns noticeably sloppy; at one point LaBeouf and Fox carom off a building and, in the next shot, are running. And there’s a laughably fake LaBeouf stuntman at a particularly crucial moment.
Woe the special effects technician who slaved for months to render a giant pair of Decepticon testicles — referred to here as “enemy scrotum,” which, horribly, is not the worst thing co-star John Turturro has to do in this movie. Jetfire, an otherwise-endearing elderly Transformer, farts fire, as well as, at one point, a parachute.
And whether it’s dog-on-dog or robot-on-Megan-Fox, there’s so much humping — enough that you half-expect the plot to be Megatron and Decepticon lackey Starscream double-teaming the Earth’s core to destroy it. Coincidentally, that would be a more straightforward story.
Revenge of the Fallen collapses into exposition so loudly shouted and flagrantly incoherent that it makes the Pirates of the Caribbean sequel plots seem like standardized test questions.
Essentially, it boils down to Decepticons, led by the resurrected Megatron, again seeking to enslave Earth’s people, this time with the help of the Fallen — an exiled evil elder. By the time the story makes its turn toward low-rent Indiana Jones archaeology, it’s become hopelessly convoluted.
Plus, its politics (if you can call them that) are strangely conservative, as Barack Obama is blamed by name for inaction, compared to the original’s light George W. Bush caricature.
Worst yet, there’s no charm afforded whatsoever to its “black” Autobots. Mudflap and Skids are twins with buggy eyes, gold grills, dirty mouths, and, most offensively, a seeming pride in their illiteracy. No matter how you slice it, that’s reprehensible.
“Beginning! Middle! End! Condense! Details! Plot!,” yells Turturro’s flustered G-man at a gasbag robot somewhere in the middle of the morass Revenge of the Fallen becomes. Forget more than meets the eye. Bay should have more than heeded that cry.