Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

The first instalment of the revitalised Transformers franchise was a well-crafted piece of summery distraction formed from a combination of spectacular special effects and a funny, self-aware script. For the sequel, Revenge of the Fallen, it is clearly director Michael Bay’s intention to deliver more of the same, a lot more. This instalment is almost two and a half hours long, features 42 separate robot characters and a bizarre, unintelligible story that spans the globe. What was spectacular before is mundane and prosaic now and what was witty and clever irritates the second time around.

Here's what I made of the story: Two years on from the events of the first film, the good Autobots remaining on Earth have allied with the US military to prevent further attacks from the bad Decepticon robots. Meanwhile, the boy at the centre of the story last time around, Shia LaBeouf's Sam Witwicky, is trying to forget that he discovered a race of gigantic robot aliens and is concentrating on his first year in college and concerned about how to maintain his relationship with his ridiculously oversexed girlfriend Mikaela (the returning Megan Fox). Unfortunately, as Autobot leader Optimus Prime solemnly intones, ‘fate never calls on us at the moment of our choosing’. The Decepticons have returned to resurrect their leader Megatron, at the behest of an ancient and evil Transformer known as The Fallen, who plans to reignite a super-weapon hidden in the Great Pyramid at Giza and destroy the Sun.

So, Transformers II is patent nonsense but the first film was too and that didn’t stop it from being entertaining. It is obvious from the outset that, a series of vast action sequences aside, Bay and his returning writers Ehren Kruger and Roberto Orci don’t have any clear idea of what form their sequel should take. The plot is baffling, a hodge-podge of pubescent college humour, soft-porn pouting, military jingoism and blurred special effects. The sense of wit that saved the first film is replaced by a constant procession of dull one-liners and strained slapstick. Events and locations become blurred and difficult to follow. The gang go looking for an allied robot at the Air & Space Museum in Washington, break down a wall to escape and emerge in a vast airplane graveyard, in the desert, ringed by snowcapped mountains. If Bay cannot keep track of this thing, how are we supposed to?

This bloated leviathan even boasts its own Jar Jar Binks – the blabbermouth aquatic creature that single-handedly ruined Star Wars - in two awful new characters, a pair of bickering African-American inspired compact cars with an endless torrent of unfunny, ethnically derived epithets. This is a film that doesn’t know when to stop, reaching its dramatic climax around half way through, in a well-realised scene set in a forest, before lumbering on regardless for another hour of flat fight sequences, eardrum-shattering noise and stroboscopic visual effects. Bay, who drops a series of blatant references to his own back catalogue of films, has suffered the same malaise before with the interminable Pearl Harbour or the over-blown, obnoxious Bad Boys II.

The first Transformers was, evidently, a blip. Bay has fallen back into the habitual formulae that he believes make for entertaining cinema. His storytelling senses have been so numbed by noise and sparks that it has atrophied away almost entirely. His sense of the spectacular is waning too, the slo-mo, one-on-one robot ballistic ballets from the first film are far less interesting when played out by a cast of dozens. As the clanking battle rages on screen, it becomes impossible to distinguish one robot from another or figure out what anyone is supposed to be doing. Long before the explosive final scenes, Transformers II has become a celluloid headache, a numbing, mind-wearying exercise in bombast and excess.

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