Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Revenge Is Sweet!

The battle for Earth has ended but the battle for the universe has just begun. After returning to Cybertron, Starscream assumes command of the Decepticons, and has decided to return to Earth with force. The Autobots believing that peace was possible finds out that Megatron's dead body has been stolen from the US Military by Skorpinox and revives him using his own spark. Now Megatron is back seeking revenge and with Starscream and more Decepticon reinforcements on the way, the Autobots with reinforcements of their own, may have more to deal with then meets the eye in Transformers : Revenge of the Fallen.

Just how enormous is the scale of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen? Big enough that the movie has a prologue set in the year 17,000 B.C. Big enough that the film's opening setpiece, in which the good robots (i.e. the Autobots) suss out a bad robot (i.e. a Decepticon) in their midst in modern-day Shanghai, is awesome enough to make practically any other summer spectacular wish they could have it for their climactic finish. The spectacular Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a triumph of the producers' creed: Pound the senses, simulate emotion and milk the golden calf of the familiar like a mechanical farmhand. Fanboys who have fallen for the publicity blitz will leave the multiplex dazed, confused and drooling. This is a bigger, longer and uncut companion to the surprise hit of 2007. Reluctant teen hero Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) leaves for college with a sheepish farewell to his parents (Kevin Dunn and the amusing Julie White); his sexy mechanic girlfriend, Mikaela (Megan Fox in the mandatory cut-off jeans); and Bumblebee, the yellow sports car that transformed into a robotic protector when shape-shifting Decepticons unleashed hell on Earth. But even with the evil Megatron now rusting at the bottom of the ocean, the Decepticons are regrouping under a resurrected leader called the Fallen, who knows that Sam's recurring hallucinations are the key to finding a buried energy source. Sam's life in the dorm with hacker conspiracy buff Leo (Ramon Rodriguez) is crammed with cutesy allusions to movie archetypes, from "Gremlins" and "Rain Man" to a robotic hottie that's a nod to "Terminator 3." Meanwhile, all-too-appropriate quotes from popcorn classics get barked through the dogged Bumblebee's radio. Director Michael Bay has a diabolical knack for repackaging old cheese, but his machine-driven mayhem sets a new standard. The head of the good alien Autobots is still Optimus Prime, the 18-wheeler with a major Christ complex, but he's sidelined for much of the movie by a wrong-headed U.S. national security drone (John Benjamin Hickey) who represents Obama but acts like Bush. Optimus is still trying to convince his erstwhile earthling pal Sam Witwicky to assist him in saving the universe, but Sam has other things on his mind: he's heading East to attend college and he's trying to get up the nerve to tell his girlfriend Mikaela Banes that he loves her. The amply endowed Fox does a lot of leaning forward and pouting. Sam again gets dragged into the ongoing alien feud when a stray piece of the all-powerful AllSpark, the Transformers' power source, ends up in his college backpack. After Sam enlists Leo, Mikaela and disgraced agent Simmons (John Turturro) to join the friendly Autobots in repelling the Decepticon resurgence, we're surrounded by cyclonic-but-bloodless destruction of World War proportions. There are three major bad alien robots this time: the revived Megatron (c'mon, you didn't really think he was gone, did you?), his Decepticon leadership rival Starscream and a devilish bucket of bolts named the Fallen who is the boss of both. Not happy just to destroy Earth, the Fallen is also plotting to blot out the sun, too, apparently in payback for something the cavemen did to him. The bad bots also have a host of mechanical insects and beasties at their beck and call, including a panther that looks like it snacks on pit bulls. There are multitudinous Autobot additions, too, most of them played for comic relief. The most bizarre are Mudflap and Skips (Voiced by Tom Kenny)AKA The Twins, a pair of over-excited Chevys that sound like they've listened to too many rap videos.

The comedy is what keeps Transformers 2 from turning into one colossal pileup of the monster trucks. Whether it's Sam's parents fretting about their rose bushes and their Paris vacation in the midst of global calamity, or his paranoid college roommate reluctantly tagging along for the ride, the biological factor helps keep all the metal from melting down. Best of all in the laughs department is John Turturro, whose Seymour Simmons was the bureaucratic troublemaker in the first film but who wears two caps this time, jester and hero. There's a lamentable amount of flannel in the film, which needlessly runs close to 2 1/2 hours, but people who love bent metal, toys and noise will get all they crave. What saves Fallen, aside from La Beouf's undeniable charisma (he's a natural born star, that kid), is that Bay continues to tamp down his worst instincts as an action filmmaker. The movie may be nonsense, but it's dazzling, visually striking nonsense, be it a free-for-all battle between a badly outnumbered Optimus Prime and a squad of baddies in the forest; a sequence in which a giant mass of shiny ball bearings coalesces into a robot; or the sight of a gigantic Decepticon comprised of construction cranes climbing one of Egypt's Great Pyramids, the ancient stone crumbling beneath its weight. How and why a robot is running around Egypt is one of the problems with Fallen, which often seems to intentionally take good ideas -- like the concept of a vintage fighter jet at the Smithsonian as a slumbering Decepticon -- and then do the least interesting things imaginable with them, such as sending it in search of a key unwisely named the matrix. Apart from the lame romantic and comic interludes, the plot of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is fast-paced, and as realistic as its "battle of the junkyards" premise can get. The action, which veers from Shanghai to Paris to a ruin-strewn desert somewhere between Egypt and Jordan, takes place on a colossal scale, with what looks like entire geographic zones laid waste. It's easy to pick apart Bay's directing style: a short attention span with dramatic issues, a tendency to lean too heavily on pyrotechnics and volume, gung-ho politics, etc. But Bay's vision—his sense of composition and editing—works even when his scenes don't. His pounding pacing in the action scenes is flawless, even when the screen is awash with motion too blurry to decipher. And he finds the details that give his imagery real bite, like the contrails from a jet as it takes off from an aircraft carrier. Or a helicopter that shears the top from a palm tree as it crashes, its pilot slamming into the windshield. The combination of animation, special effects and CGI is so adroit that the Transformers not only appear organic, but develop recognizable personalities. More substance would have been nice, but in the thick of the summer movie season, sometimes that is all you need.Whether you like warring robots or not, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen makes the third part of the trilogy something to look forward to. A heart pounding 4 on my "Go See" scale.

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