Go, ‘Bot, Go
The director of Armageddon and Pearl Harbor ratchets up the effects
By Jared Peterson
With his second film based on the line of Transformers toys, action director Michael Bay is getting audiences back in touch with two key experiences of childhood: playing with really cool stuff, and needing a nap afterwards.
Revenge of the Fallen picks up two years after the shenanigans of the first film, in which Sam Witwicky (action it-boy Shia LeBeouf) was caught up in a war between the user-friendly Autobots and the fearsome Decepticons over a giant energy cube called the Allspark. The good guys won, but the cube was destroyed and remnants of the evil forces remain a threat. Sam made out okay, though, walking away with an almost unmanageably hot girlfriend (the almost unmanageably hot Megan Fox) and a stalwart robot protector called Bumblebee who handily doubles as a tricked-out Camaro. (This is the point where every other teenage boy in the universe hears his alarm clock and wakes up.) The remaining Autobots patrol the world with a secret squad of soldiers, looking for malicious hardware. Though they’re robots in disguise, their battles regularly reduce city streets around the world to rubble (and the world, apparently, barely notices). Sam heads to college, but a leftover shard of the Allspark triggers visions of alien symbols that lead to the deepest secrets of the robots’ origins. This once again makes him the target of the Decepticons and their increasingly elaborate mechanical monsters.
It’s this elaboration that makes Transformers such an exhausting experience. Early on, I knew what we were in for when our robot leading man, Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) descends into battle. As a gleaming tractor trailer, he rolls out of the back of a military transport plane, deploying parachutes to slow the fall. Midair, he morphs loudly into his armored robot self, tucks and rolls onto a highway, rumbles back into truck form and screeches off. It’s awesome, and fans will flip their lids. But not a scene goes by where we aren’t treated to that kind of whiz-bang lavishness. Everything Bay and his team could possibly think of made it into this nearly two-and-a-half hour film. He loves his hardware and wouldn’t have us miss a second of its machinations, even if it plum tuckers us out.
Speaking of hardware, throughout his career Bay has displayed a special talent for bringing to light the most stunning actresses and exposing them, somewhat literally, for the world. These women have all had one thing in common: they all look like they were drawn up by a production team. Megan Fox may be the pinnacle of this process—she appears to have been engineered from the ground up to make boys from eight to eighty go slack-jawed. Bay can’t hide his fascination with her mechanics as well, dressing her in slender tank tops and theoretical shorts, spraying her with PAM and having her arch and saunter just so. Fox may be a capable actress, but who could say? Bay doesn’t care—he just wants us to have multiple angles on her thighs. Like so much here, it may be too much of a good thing.
Humanity takes a beating at the hands of robotkind. Transformers both good and bad leave spectacular destruction in their wakes. (In the disorienting visual frenzy its often hard to isolate the bad guys—I found it helpful to listen for the growling.) Buildings topple or disintegrate; a naval carrier group is decimated (with lingering shots of lifeless bodies sinking with the wreckage); and military personnel and non-transforming vehicles are shot up, flung about, and crushed underfoot. One soldier is cut in half by a sword blade—it happens fast, with no blood—and there are other close calls with blades of various kinds. Slimy robot tentacles are deployed on a couple of occasions to invade characters’ personal spaces. Oddly, robot carnage makes its mark, too—Transformers look almost human when they’re ripping one another’s spines out or being drained of their jiffy lubricants. The action is relentless and chaotic; what passes for a breather is “slapstick” involving multiple Taser incidents (bro-on-bro violence) and a girl smashing her noggin on a dashboard.
At the college, Sam’s mom (Julie White) accepts a brownie from a passing student; it makes her feel funny and act silly. A frat party is depicted with booze and barely dressed coeds on offer. As mentioned, Megan Fox is the film’s candy center, but another barely-clothed temptress (Isabel Lucas) arrives to create trouble. When she corners Sam in a compromising position, her dress inches up to reveal her panties and her true nature as a robot—a slithering metal tentacle with which she tries to dispatch him. Elsewhere, evil robot interrogators use worm-like appendages to dig around in Sam’s brain through his mouth and nose. There’s also some fearsome snarling and stalking by a robot panther. Oh, and front and rear views of John Turturro in an unsettling jock strap. There’s a lot of swearing, including the odd “frick” and “flip”; gross, juvenile references to body parts; and some uncomfortably stereotypical banter between twin robot brothers with hip, urban sass.
The next big toy story due in theaters is G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra; its preview contains a lot of property damage, to include a toppling Eiffel Tower, and a few gymnastic martial arts moves.
Jared Peterson will just have to wait for the release of Weebles: The Wobble of Egghead. He last reviewed Land of the Lost.