Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen

Director    Michael Bay
Starring    Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Kevin Dunn, John Turturro
Release    24 JUN (US) 19 JUN (UK)    Certificate 12A
4 stars


12th June 2009

It doesn't take a genius to figure out why, out of all the big ass summer blockbusters this year, Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen was the one I was least worried about performing. Camp-as-Christmas Hugh Jackman trying and failing to unleash his inner animal? Cringe. Christian Bale's CHAN CANNAR trying to avoid termination at the hands of retardobots? A disaster waiting to happen. But Transformers? Big robots fighting other big robots? Bright colours? Exploding helicopters? Sunsets? Michael Bay was hardly going to underwhelm, was he?

Terminator Salvation director McG challenged Bay to a "dick measuring contest" between their admittedly similar-in-concept movies, but his efffort failed because it took itself far too seriously. Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, however, succeeds because it's ridiculous in all the right ways. Check your brain in with your coat and soak in the most gloriously dumb spectacle of the year.

Revenge Of The Fallen picks up two years after the events of its predecessor. The Autobots who defeated Megatron first time around are now working alongside the military in a top secret organisation, tasked with rooting out rogue Decepticons hiding around the world; first stop, Shangai, and a shit-kicking unicycle the size of a skyscraper.

Meanwhile, Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) is off to college, leaving behind his worried parents, his achingly hot girlfriend Mikaela (Fox) and his ride, Bumblebee. But when he accidentally discovers a lost shard of the Allspark - that's the energy-loaded Macguffin of the first movie, do keep up - he kick-starts a whole new ruckus that sees Megatron hauled back from the depths of the ocean and the Decepticons strengthen their numbers in order to... um, take over the planet or something dumb like that.

Here's the thing. Revenge Of The Fallen is a kids' movie; the secret to enjoying it as an adult is to unlock the ten-year-old within (and not the one in your cellar, bunnngg). It is, in common parlance, completely and utterly retarded. The juxtaposition between hardcore military war movie and shitty Saturday morning cartoon feels downright bizarre at times. You'll be creaming at the sight of the US army unloading their weapons on the enemy, only to feel a little ashamed when you remember their enemy is a race of evil alien robots who want to destroy the sun. Somewhere towards the end, when you realise the plot literally centres around magic dust, you'll feel ever-so-slightly silly for enjoying it.

But hey, fuck it: this is Transformers we're talking about here - us geeks have waited a lifetime for these movies, and no film snob can make a movie about angry robots any less entertaining. In truth, Revenge Of The Fallen doesn't stray too far from the solid framework built in the first movie. It mixes superb action sequences - directed with panache and almost pornographic glee by a never-better Bay - with frequent scenes of light comic relief, some of which work (squabbling robo-hick siblings Skids and Mudflap provide a few laughs), some of which don't (Wheelie the RC truck humping Fox's leg).

Similarly, Revenge Of The Fallen shares its predecessor's tin ear for the spoken word. Dialogue, as if it even matters, is delivered at breakneck speed and is barely audible amongst the cacophony of metal on metal. What can be heard isn't much worth listening to - it doesn't feel much like a script, rather a transcription of Action Man's greatest pull-string catchphrases. In Michael Bay's universe, soldiers really do say "Bring the rain!" and villains really do snarl "This isn't over!" But come on. Like you even care.

LaBeouf has less to do this time around, nudged out of the spotlight by a growing roster of robots. He runs, he shouts, he flirts, he grimaces - he's good, not great. Megan Fox, bless her, is required to do little else other than be Megan Fox - she's hot, not entirely necessary. The best human representatives are, bizarrely, Sam's mother and father, who make the practically robot-free first half hour just breeze by, as they did in the original.

Naturally, the robots are the real stars again. Optimus Prime is just as cool here as you'd always hoped - his twin-sword showdown with three Decepticons is the kind of kick-ass fight scene that'll make even the hairs on the back of non-fans' necks stand on end. Bumblebee gets a few chances to shine and is perhaps the best example of having a CG alien robot 'emote' - tellingly, of course, he speaks no actual words.

Comparatively, the movie's big bads let the side down somewhat. Megatron, back from the dead, is still slightly underwhelming, lacking that much-missed Frank Welker snivel that made his cartoon iteration so loathsome. The titular Fallen is hard to truly hate, given his spindly frame and lack of decent screen-time. Devastator - the 120 foot high beast made from seven separate Constructicons - though technically astounding, is criminally underused: you can see the money burning every second he's on screen. (Worry not, DreamWorks - next year's VFX Oscar is a lock.)

But damn, if it isn't fun watching them go to town on each other. Each character boasts at least one bona fide badass moment, whether it's Sideways crashing through a Chinese apartment block, Bumblebee taking the head off an opponent or Prime receiving a last-reel system upgrade. Sure, some characters only exist for such visual flourishes; motorbike bot Arcee vanishes after the opening act (shame, since she's the only girl Autobot) while rickety old plane Jetfire acts only as a deliver of pained exposition. But Revenge Of The Fallen is a movie that's so thoroughly entertaining, such inconsistencies can be ignored: you'll simply be having too much fun to notice.

Yes, you could level the same accusations at Transformers as I and many others lobbed at Terminator Salvation. It's over-long; it has plot holes you could steer an aircraft carrier through; it's loud and stupid and relies too much on pyrotechnics. But the difference is, the Terminator franchise was never designed to be consumed and enjoyed as blockbuster entertainment. Transformers, on the other hand, was built from the ground up to be a popcorn-devouring, eye-popping, nostalgia-sparking crowd-pleaser - and Revenge Of The Fallen sees Michael Bay tick all those boxes and more.

The contest is over - not only does Bay have the bigger dick, he's made the better film as well.

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