Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) Review – Ultimate Excess

In my review of the first Transformers movie I noted that, while it was what surrounded the movie that made it interesting, I could see why people liked it as a relatively solid action blockbuster. I also said I didn’t understand how people could like the cynical sequels for anything but their context. And… I think I now see.

Revenge of the Fallen is the ultimate guilty movie. I find it near impossible to praise any part of this film without first acknowledging there’s a guilty pleasure tag associated with those things. Because, in truth, there is no denying this film is pretty awful. The most objective review I can give of it, with it’s context aside, would be to simply call it noise. It is trash. Ture, unadulterated trash that is horny, full of gay jokes, racial stereotypes, and boasts the biggest hard-on for the US military any film in the history of mankind has ever, or will ever, have. The type of trash you can’t look away from and that, if you look at for too long, will diminish your sense of judgement to the point where you might think ‘ooo, I kind of like this‘. But if you look away from it… Well, we’ll get to that. But I didn’t look away from it, and that’s why I did enjoy it to an extent, hence the guilty pleasure tag.

This movie has the infamous curse of being victim to the writer’s strike, meaning the writing in this film B A D. Albiet, one only has to look at the writing credits to realise it wouldn’t have been that setellar anyway, even if the strike wasn’t happening. The writing’s not exactly brilliant in the first film either, but in that one a solid forty minutes or so is devoted to set-up and character establishment so that the exciting things that happened later pack more of a punch. By contrast, Revenge of the Fallen assumes you’ve sat through the first one by offering us nothing to hold on to except the promise of the robots and army fighting the baddie robots. The returning characters from the first film don’t matter. You could smack anyone in their place and the plot would still happen. Forget about them. Everyone in this film is written the same – every civilian human in a witty, confrontational and sexually frustrated, while the army guys are patriotic-to-the-bone, and are seething to find a reason to put their life on the line. Every robot is stoic and violent… Except the one that humps Megan Fox’s leg. It truly doesn’t matter whether it’s Bumblebee smacking down a Deceptacon or some random new robot you’ve never seen before, because they’re all highly interchangable.

And with the writing out the window there really is nothing standing in the way of Director Michael Bay. The result is a film that, as the title of this review points out, ultimate excess. Michael Bay had a skeleton crew of people to put the script together, sure, but he had an army of special effects artists. With them he conjures the most ludicrously bonkers-on-toast action you’ve seen. Despite coming out only two years after the first, there are clear effects upgrades and so much more action that you can sometimes see the budget burning on screen.

Style? No. Substance? No. But a robot being stabbed by another robot with a sword arm, only for the sword arm to transform into a gun arm while it’s still inside him and shoot directly through the imapled robot? Yes. That’s here. Don’t worry.

The plot? Erm… Ancient Egyptians… Something, something pyramids… Something, something Optimus Prime fights the baddie… THE END! You did it, you sat through Revenge of the Fallen! You sat through a 150-minute film where absolutely nothing happens. I mean, an aeroplane transformer farts and causes it’s built in parachute to launch from it’s ass and drag it over in the wind… So I guess that happens; You watched a film where one thing happens, good job.

Is there anything else to say about this one? Well this was probably the one that started the franchise down that cold, cynical road we’ve been mentioning on and off, but the whole film doesn’t feel jaded; just most of it. There are little insightful moments where you can see they were genuinely trying to make a good sequel to the original, but they are so few and far between all the noise that it really doesn’t matter what this film is, so long as you understand it’s about fighting robots.

I have been very forgiving of this type of film before – the type where it’s just an excuse to watch some action. Some find the it’s just dumb fun, don’t think too hard excuse shallow, but I think in situations where you’ve had a long day at work and want to relax without critically thinking before your next shift, a dumb fun film can be good for one’s soul. I’m not above dumb fun. But, despite what I’ve said about this film, I can’t categorise it as dumb fun nor find myself able to forgive it in areas I would forgive those similar to it.

And I think it all comes down to Michael Bay. For a film to be dumb fun and let you turn your brain off, it has to have down time. It has to be clear and, at the very least, simple in plot and/or execution. Revenge of the Fallen, however, is far from simple. Every other scene is a lore or exposition dump. The camera is constantly moving, and any concept of stillness is lost. Everything is bright and reflective, which is almost punishing on the ol’ eyes in some scenes. Dialogue is oppressively over written, quickly spoken and edited together so tightly that there’s hardly room to breathe even in the few moments the film decides it will take it’s time. The result is a film that you can’t turn your brain off too, like you can for, say, King Kong or Godzilla, or Pacific Rim, or even the Power Rangers. It’s a film that has all the hallmarks of being dumb, but is only ever fun about 60% of the time. And in a film as long as this, that 40% of noise feels a lot more than it is.

Perhaps what is most notable about this film is the way Michael Bay films women. Megan Fox gets it worst, of course, but there are other attractive women in this movie too that get it bad. If a young woman on screen, the camera immediately reflects, what can only be, Bay’s immense horniness. I mean plenty of films have good looking women in them, and more than a few have them centre stage. But very few feel as invasive towards those women, from the audience perspective at least, as this one does. This is a film based on children’s toys made by Hasbro, and we see Megan Fox’s ass peeking out of her short shorts as she lays like a pornstar on a motorcycle before we even see Bumblebee. As for women that aren’t conventionally attractive (which Michael Bay seems for define by being middle aged), they’re just written to be loud and shot to look as insane and inconvenient to be around as possible. I’m in no way implying Bay is the only director who has done this and that these tropes haven’t appeared in other kinds of film, some of which are otherwise quite good. But what I am saying is that it stands out more when this man does it, because of how overtly sleazy it is.

All of this to say that Revenge of the Fallen seems to highlight just about everything right and wrong with modern Michael Bay as a director. He knows how to tap into your caveman brain, and get your dopamine receptors to activate when a robot kicks another robot in the face just right. He paradoxically knows how to make you enjoy something that isn’t actaully that enjoyable. On the other hand, everything else seems desperate. Every line of dialogue, edit and frame reflects his utter desperation for you not to look away from the screen because, if you do, you might critically think for a moment. And the moment you look away, this movie, and your enjoyment of it, begins to fall apart… Well, it shows that and his desperation for a younger woman.

So, if you do decide to watch Revenge of the Fallen, I’ll leave you with this advice:

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