11.21.2010

REVIEW: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (Michael Bay, 2009)

A film set's unique energy can inspire bold spontaneity. In spite of premeditated shot lists and painstaking schedules a director might suggest, "Wouldn't it be cool if we did it this new way I just thought of instead!?" Sometimes these changes become highlights through representation of what it meant to be part of the film's creation - the raw aura of the production. Watching Revenge of the Fallen, it feels as though director Michael Bay - who here wears acclaimed sci-fi influences from 2001: A Space Odyssey to The Empire Strikes Back on his sleeve - was making these spur-of-the-moment decisions every day. Is that a positive or a negatron? That, of course, depends on the viewer, but it would be difficult denying this beefed-up Transformer experiences power overload and becomes way more than we want to meet the eye.

I'll confess, I was pleasantly surprised with the first half of this overlong beast. The characters may be skeletal and pacing's been thrown out the window, but the action is memorably ballsy. Aptly filmed, testosterone-fueled scenes feature appealing compositions that strongly utilize shadow, existing backlight and the fog of war. It's just a pity, as it is in far too many films anymore, we aren't allowed to appreciate the compositions for longer than 0.25 seconds. This is about as backhandedly beautiful and relentlessly frenetic it gets before you move on to a Neveldine/Taylor film.

Bay - for the most part - has traded in the practical, in-camera dynamo of films like The Rock and Bad Boys II for CGI, but at least - again, for the most part - the CGI is top-notch. One disaster sequence almost out-Emmerichs Roland Emmerich (who about out-Emmeriched himself with 2012). Considering the trappings, this action is all that counts, and it certainly stands to be counted.

The problem is the sprawl. Paper-thin characters prancing through a Saturday morning cartoon's plot are only tolerable for so long, and they wear out their welcome about an hour before the credits roll. For much of this Giza-set hour, the film becomes "The Lord of the Ringbots: The Return of the Prime" - a giant battle around the Great Pyramids that causes human brains to default to auto-pilot. The grand yet relatively reigned-in robo-a-robo brawl between Optimus and Megatron earlier on greatly outweighs this sandy stretch. Heck, even the transforming university bimbo with a mechanical whip-tongue puts this desert finale to shame.

Revenge of the Fallen is surely one of the coolest things a 10-year-old boy will ever see this side of George Lucas' Star Wars prequels, but as it pushes on longer and longer it just becomes a tiring downward spiral. Though suffering from some of the same issues as in the first movie, the action is surprisingly coherent, but all else has been sacrificed in favor of that accomplishment.

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