The biggest movie of the summer is finally here, but that’s the problem with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen – it’s just too bloody big. Epic, spectacular but unfortunately far, far too long; the film proves that when it comes to Michael Bay blockbuster movies, you can have too much of a good thing.
The first instalment of the sure-to-be-long-running franchise was a perfectly formed slice of funny, explosive, slo-mo mayhem that found a massive worldwide audience. For the sequel, it was clearly the director’s intention to paint Revenge of the Fallen on an epic canvas. It’s more of the same – a lot more.
Two years on from Transformers, the Autobots are still on earth, now allied with the US military, working together to protect the earth from further Decepticon attacks.
Meanwhile, the boy at the centre of events last time around – Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky – is trying to forget that he discovered a robot alien race, and is instead worried about starting college, and holding onto his ridiculously hot girlfriend Mikaela – (played by a hotpant-clad Megan Fox).Unfortunately, as Optimus Prime solemnly intones, “Fate never calls on us at the moment of our choosing.” The Decepticons are on the move again, with the very ancient and very evil Transformer – The Fallen – masterminding a diabolical plan to destroy the Autobots and the Earth itself and secure the future of his race. Soon our planet is once more a battleground for these ancient robotic foes to wage war.
It’s a fine set-up that is forcefully established in the movie’s superb opening hour. Bay masterfully zips between events at Cybertron (the Transformers’ homeworld), Sam’s opening day at college, the drama on a variety of military bases, and throws in several robot-on-robot battles for good measure, all at a breakneck pace that leaves you breathless.
We have Sam’s fantastically funny relationship with his barmy parents, now trying to cope with their darling son leaving home. One hilarious set-piece that sees his mother accidently eat a chunk of marijuana on Sam’s first day at college had the audience in stitches, and confirms Mr. and Mrs. Witwicky as the two most likable characters in the franchise.
The Beef himself is also obviously born for the role as their son. He has less to do this time around, but still manages to convey the kind of awkward, geeky charm that makes us (just about) believe that Megan Fox might be into him. He’s the latest in a long line of little heroes who ends up excelling in the face of epic and dangerous circumstances.
It is also clear that Bay has refined and improved his technique when it comes to directing action since the first Transformers. Many found the robot-on-robot fighting in T1 over-edited and made even more confusing because they took place in unclear backgrounds (i.e. a smashed-up downtown LA) – often you couldn’t even tell which Transformer was fighting which.
Bay has – to an extent anyway – cleared this up in ROTF, with more lingering tracking shots, cleaner environments and establishing framing. He’s undoubtedly helped by what we’re sure is a truly astronomical special effects budget, which sees the denizens of Cybertron – at the request of fans – given far more screen time than before. He can simply afford to show more ‘bots this time around.
Indeed the film reaches its pinnacle with one such action set-piece that takes place in a forest – a brilliantly crafted sequence that is kinetic, emotional and genuinely thrilling. Unfortunately however, it is a climax that comes only an hour or so into the movie – the remaining 80 or so minutes just never quite scale the same heights.
That’s the one BIG problem with ROTF; the movie stops dead halfway through, and then spends the rest of its overlong run-time building up a head of steam again, painstakingly setting up the eventual climax.
Bay takes an age meticulously manoeuvring all the film’s protagonists into place for a vast, epic confrontation in the middle of the Egyptian desert. But by the time this all-in royal rumble between the Autobots, Decepticons and US Army finally arrives, you are too numbed, exhausted and inured to actually give a damn about the outcome.
Don’t get us wrong, we love Michael Bay and the particular grab-bag of delights only he can bring to blockbuster movies; huge explosions; quick, intense dialogue; lingering , pornographic shots of both girls’ asses and military hardware. 90 minutes of Bay-ness makes for a thrilling flick, but if the clock starts ticking past the two hour mark and beyond, it all becomes just too much; your mind and senses need a rest.
Bay could have cut 40 minutes from the bowels of Transformers 2, and it would have been a far more effective movie. Unfortunately, the director fell into the same trap with Pearl Harbour and Bad Boys II – each filled with spectacular moments, but both becoming bloated, arduous cinematic experiences that ultimately outstay their welcome.
Is this issue going to place the franchise in any kind of trouble? Of course not; ROTF will make gazillions, and it still deserves to. The team behind the Transformers movies have hit upon a formula that mixes E-number-fuelled Saturday morning cartoons with ’90s-style military action movies, and it works in a spectacularly un-ironic, gloriously juvenile way.
It is just kind of inexcusable that with such a ridiculously enjoyable formula, viewers of ROTF still spend the movie’s final half hour nursing a numb head and arse, and willing the noise to stop. Transformers 2 proves that sometimes less is more.