Friday, June 26, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (**1/2)

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. 147 mins. PG-13. Directed by Michael Bay. Written by Ehren Krueger & Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci. Starring Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, and John Turturro.

Michael Bay's sequel has been pummeled by critics and with fairly good reason. It runs an hour too long, the humor is cheap and, in the case of two robots - Skids and Mudflap, racially insensitive, and the story is an incomprehensible mess. That's not to say that the new Transformers is entirely worthless. The technical stuff is spectacular. The special effects are top notch, letting you see things on screen that your eyes can't even believe sometimes. Matching the visuals spar for spar are the sound effects and editing - all the robot noises and transforming and explosions are brilliantly rendered and add a lot to the viewing experience.

The first hour of the movie is probably the best. It replicates the look and feel of the first film, and does what all sequels should do - amp up the action, develop the characters and their relationships a little more, introduce new characters, etc. The opening action sequence is particularly impressive, though it sets the bar too high for everything else that follows. Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox are back, though you'd barely know it. LaBeouf does a fine job, and Fox improves slightly over her performance in the first film - that's not saying much though. I still have issues with the robots talking - it takes away from the cool visuals and gives the movie a corny, kiddie vibe - but that's probably the point.

About an hour in, however, the story relocates to Egypt, and remains there. For another hour and a half! Most of that running time is spent tracking the characters through the desert as they fight and complain, wasting time until the big finish. The final fight on and around a giant pyramid is sometimes awesome, but mostly exhausting. By the end, you can't get out of the theater fast enough.

Michael Bay's approach to sequels (Bad Boys 2 is his only other one) seems to be this: "You want more? I'll give you more...." He's a talented guy, but he's saddled with a worthless script. With Steven Spielberg on board as Executive Producer, you'd think they would have caught the story inadequacies beforehand. Nope. This one's all about the robots, and based on early box office figures, audiences could care less about story and subtlety. I'm reminded of Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest - another bloated sequel that wipes away the modest charms of the first film and makes you never want to see another Pirates movie again. I feel the same way about Transformers now.



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