Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

This is not a good film.
It is, however, a decent-ish movie.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen lacks solid character development, good scriptwriting, and a coherent plot. And yet, for all it's flaws, there are still select moments where it's highly entertaining.

Revenge starts off with a brief prologue, followed by a great action scene that sets up the plot very well. In this story, Optimus Prime and his team of Autobots are working alongside NEST, a small U.S. military force led by Major Lennox, to eradicate the Decepticons from the face of the planet. When an ancient evil enemy, The Fallen, moves to destroy the Earth, Optimus Prime and the Autobots find themselves nearly powerless against this new Decepticon threat.

Unlike the first film, in which the the film's budget greatly restricted the amount of screentime that the transformers could be given, here we see the robots in their full glory throughout the film, even when we probably don't need to. The extreme close-up camera problems from the first film are almost entirely gone, as the action is much better-framed in Revenge of the Fallen.

The film feels very much like the original animated series, as we get the same globe-spanning (and oft-ridiculous) sci-fi war adventures of the Transformers. It's a lot of fun, even if it comes off as convoluted and silly.
A highlight of this film is the much-improved character of Sam Witwicky. In the last film, he was an annoying boy whose entire motivation was to get a cool car and a hot girlfriend. His entire existence in the last film seemed contrived and silly, as was the film's assertion that he somehow represented the best of humankind. In this film, he is shown to be much more responsible, working right from the start towards getting his college education, and, later, saving the world. He is also given a completely plausible reason to exist in the film, which makes his scenes actually contribute to the overall plot rather than distract from it as in the first film. For the first time, I actually care about Sam. He earns his place in the film.

Mikaela (Megan Fox) has nothing to do in the movie. All of her important scenes only serve to advance the plot in a very small way, and it's obvious that the scriptwriters were just looking for something to do with her. Nearly all of the other secondary characters are similarly useless or annoying, with the notable exception of Major Lennox, who continues his role as the .

Throughout the film we see Optimus Prime not as the slow, clunky old robot that he was in the last film, but as a powerful and skilled warrior. After seeing Optimus do little in the first film but give inspirational speeches and get kicked around by Megatron, it's great to see him as the great warrior that he should be. One of his fight scenes is, without a doubt, the best action scene I've seen in a long time. As a Transformers fan, that scene alone was worth the $9.50 I paid for the ticket.

Bumblebee is the only other Autobot that's given much spotlight, which is probably for the best. Honestly, there's no reason for the audience to care about anyone else, so this is a welcome change. He's every bit as cool as he was in the first film, though his speech problems are becoming annoying. In the last movie, we never really got to see him in action, as he was either off-screen or crippled for all of his fight scenes, but here we can see that he's an extremely good fighter; fast and powerful. His Camaro form also gets an upgrade from the 2007 film, which is nice for the people like me who appreciate that.

The two new "comic relief" characters, Skids and Mudflap, are extremely annoying. They're portrayed with a large number of racial stereotypes (which makes absolutely no sense), and serve to do nothing other than sit there and act like morons. They could have been completely taken out of the story and the film would have been better for it. It's not exaggerating to say that they're the worst part of the movie.

Jetfire, perhaps the most important of the new Autobots, is portrayed in an odd fashion. Whereas he was a powerful (and relatively young) Autobot in all of his previous appearances in Transformers lore, here he is shown to be an ancient transformer that can barely move. As a fan, I'm somewhat disappointed with this portrayal, as Jetfire is one of my favorite TF characters. Here he serves the purposes of exposition and little more. His entire introduction scene is actually one of the major subplots that did not need to be in the film.

The rest of the Autobot cast is relatively ignored. Ironhide and Ratchet are given only a few lines in this film, and serve as background characters along with Arcee, Jolt, and Sideswipe. While this might seem sad, it ultimately works, as they really are mere soldiers in a war, and aren't extremely important characters anyway.

The villains this time are actually shown in their full glory outside of battle, rather than only glimpsed as in the 2007 film. It's nice, even if they're a bit silly and not very deep. They really only serve as the threat, not actual characters. However, as that threat, they serve their purpose well.

The aforementioned forest battle comes in the middle of the story, and honestly is the high point of the entire film. The story's climax isn't anywhere near as interesting, but the endless number of explosions and mini-battles keep the intensity high. Perhaps too high, actually.

It's been said by some that a film is filled with depth, while a movie is superficial entertainment. By those definitions, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a terrible film, but a so-so movie. Normally the battles and "fun" elements of the story would be enough to elevate the movie overall, but the bad stuff here is just so bad that it's hard to enjoy the whole.