Michael Bay returns to cinemas with a second installment of the Transformers franchise, that glorious silly commercial-in-disguise piece of Americana film making. I’m not being sarcastic: I enjoyed the first film as I marked on this blog at the time.
The question for me was: could Bay continue to surf the nostalgia or would he wipe out?
The story picks up a couple of years after the first film. The Autobots are working for the U.S. government hunting down Decepticons, Sector Seven has been disbanded and Sam is still seeing Mikaela as he heads to college. Things are ostensibly going well but that would make for a dull film. It turns out the federal government are growing concerned that the Autobots are actually attracting the Decepticons, in reality the Decepticons want something called The Matrix of Leadership for someone called The Fallen and Sam appears to be channeling the same information that drove his great grandfather mad.
No, and to be honest I didn’t either. The film has plenty of Bayesque action sequences that do exactly what you’d expect and involve big explosions, breathtaking CG and provide plenty of spectacle on the IMAX. There’s also the requisite leering camera all over Megan Fox and Isabel Lucas pushing this film hard as the boys own adventure that it is. Plenty of laughs from a comedy double act of Autobots, John Turturro back as the mad Agent Simmons and Kevin Dunn and Julie White are a cringeworthy delight as Sam’s parents. All the elements are there for a successful sequel.
The film is plagued by odd decisions and poor choices. There is a confusing, complex storyline that really has no place in a film that should be light-hearted fluff. A poor choice of actor for the character of The Fallen in Tony Todd*. Todd’s distinctive voice is instantly recognisable, as well as totally out of place, and breaks the suspension of disbelief because of his association with other iconic characters, destroying the point of doing photoreal CG. I didn’t see the Fallen, I heard the Candyman.
I am flummoxed by the decision to have Shia LeBoeuf play the straight man as it throws off the dynamic of the central characters and necessitates the presence of an extremely irritating sidekick in Ramon Rodriguez. LeBouf is entertaining as a comedic lead but dull as a straight out hero verging on the tragic.
The combined impact of these flaws is to make the narrative arc much harder to follow than in the first film. This lack of coherence is further compounded by sloppy editing and poor continuity that makes the first act feel more like an episode of the cartoon than a multimillion pound blockbuster and not in a good way.
That said, at its core Transformers is – selling toys aside – about giant alien robots kicking the shit out of each other and that’s something I, for one, can live with. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy Revenge of the Fallen. Unlike it’s predecessor there are much more extended and frequent Transformer fight sequences, sweeps of new robots and the welcome addition of Soundwave. The film hits enough of the high spots to provide the spectacle and enjoyment of a decent popcorn film that doesn’t tax the brain too much. Even G – who has no childhood nostalgia built up around Transformers – enjoyed it.
If you’ve seen the first film, are prepared to go in without expectation and enjoy popcorn films then you’ll have a good time.
Otherwise: give it a miss.
* Note: I am not saying Tony Todd is a bad actor, just that his casting in this role is problematic because his voice is so distinctive he is recognisable and that I find it hard to hear his voice without thinking of Candyman.