Friday, 29 April 2011

Review of Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen

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As the trailer for the new Transformers film has been launched today, it seems like a good time to look again at the previous film, Revenge of the Fallen.  After its release, a number of people asked me what I thought of it, and I wasn't really able to answer such people at length and explain exactly what my opinion is, or to say whether or not I really enjoyed watching it.

So, here goes - my first written film review. And it will be detailed, and will contain spoilers. I should explain that I am a very big fan of Transformers, have been since I was about 8 years old, and thoroughly enjoyed the first Transformers movie, in 2007 (and the one in 1985). I can recall when Sideswipe and Ironhide were red, while Jazz and Ratchet were white.

When I settled down to watch the film, I noticed all the credits at the start: Dreamworks this, and Steven Spielberg that, and Michael Bay etc etc, and Hasbro. "Oh yeah," I thought to myself, "The toys - it all started with the toys." And thought nothing more of it at the time. It has crossed my mind several times since.

The film starts with the Autobots tracking down Decepticon activity all over the globe, having formed an alliance with the humans. I had to learn in the first movie that human weapons are effective against Transformers - they certainly never used to be, but okay, we'll accept that they are now. Ironhide leads a team to track down some nameless Decepticon. Now, excuse me for asking, but why don't the Autobots speak when they're in vehicle mode? Or do anything sensible? We do get the full length, ten-second-long Ironhide transformation - we know we'll never see a transformation take that long again - and Ironhide finally starts speaking. (Compare this with the scene in the first movie, just after Starscream's airstrike on the city has taken out Bumblebee's legs... Sam has to tell Jazz, who's still in vehicle mode, to back off and reverse. I'll repeat my earlier question - why don't the Autobots do anything sensible in vehicle mode?).

And yes, it is some nameless Decepticon.  Sadly, this is something that I had to get used to, as it cropped up repeatedly.  I guess here is as good a place as any to cover the new characters in the film. There are loads. In fact, to be quite honest, it's the single greatest issue I have with this film. I loved the explosions, I loved the hardware and the storyline, but the number of new characters was overwhelming. On both sides, but especially the Decepticons. The Autobots - we see them in their hangar, an array of shiny sports cars and motorbikes, a couple of Japanese minicars and an ice cream van. No, I know very few of the names of these characters, and very few of them got personalities - just accents. The purple ice cream van rates as moderately annoying. The two Japanese minicars - one of them was called Skids, which was really disappointing considering the intelligence of the original character - were stupid. I think a professional film reviewer likened them to Jar Jar Binks, which is quite accurate - right down to the racial stereotyping. One Autobot I did pick out was Sideswipe, who was silver, instead of red. Now, he has no feet, just wheels. Nor does he have hands or forearms - just large spikes on his elbows. I was thoroughly unimpressed by this - it strikes me as lazy CGI and I was not happy. But anyways, it was only a fluke that I found out that this particular character was Sideswipe - he could have been anonymous if I'd not been listening closely.

Having mentioned the large number of Autobots, this is nothing compared to the Decepticons. At one point towards the end of the film, it almost literally starts raining Decepticons. A huge army of Decepticons arrives in the desert and start attacking our heroes, and as I watched this, I started to wonder why the existing Decepticons - those already introduced in the story, or even some already on Earth - didn't show up. I'm still not sure, but I think the answer is that Hasbro are named in the credits, and more figures (I can't call them characters - I don't think they have a line of dialogue between them) means more toys. Now, these fresh warriors all look pretty much the same, since they haven't adopted an earth-based vehicle mode. In other words - they don't transform. This is, above and beyond the number of new characters; the stupid accents; the nameless characters, the single most irritating part of this film. Transformers that don't transform? No. Big mistake. Wrong. And wrong from the perspective of the toy makers too. Surely Hasbro should keep in mind that the original series of toys were successful because they were robots and vehicles. I should mention at this point "The Fallen" who also doesn't transform... he could have been any sort of intergalactic weapon - tank, spacecraft - but no.

And if you want further evidence that this is a toy-maker's film, consider Starscream, who is one of the few Decepticons to make it from the first film. Ordinarily, Starscream version 1.0 would be sufficient for most kids, but no. To quote one of the soldiers (I can't recall which), describing Starscream in aircraft mode - "It's got some crazy alien graffiti all over it." That's right, kids, Starscream from the first film is out-of-date, time to go splash out on Starscream version 2.0. And if you thought the original Optimus would suffice... sadly not, as, towards the end, we get Japanese-armoured-style ultra super-powered Optimus with the armour of that poor unfortunate defecting Decepticon, Jetfire. I bet the armour in the toy version either (a) sticks on and doesn't come off, leading to a non-transforming Transformer, or (b) doesn't stay on when it's put on. I'm not sure which is worse.

That's covered most of my ranting about the robots, now let's turn to the humans.

Now - Megan Fox. Oh good grief... I'd heard that she was in the film almost exclusively as eye candy, but the first few scenes with her in, posing on the motorbike, were just too much. Perhaps I'm the wrong side of, say, 14 years old, but it was just a bit too obvious that she was just in the film for the teenage boys.

Sam's parents, who thoroughly annoyed me during the first film, were back on form. Why, why, why do the film makers insist on giving Sam's parents lines, or even screen time? They are the most unnecessary characters in a film that I've ever come across. The "Sam's special time" scene from the first film could have been cut in its entirety and the film would have been greatly improved. In this film, it was the scene where Sam's mum buys a 'herbal rememdy' from a student that could have been left on the cutting room floor. Many people have commented that this film was over-long... I think I've just solved the problem.  I'm with Ironhide, who in the first film commented, "Can't we terminate the humans?  The parents are very irritating."

Speaking of Sam's parents - shortly after (before?) the first Megan Fox scene, we come to the scene with the kitchen critters and Bumblebee blasting the house down. Yes, I enjoyed this one - and in particular the extremely cool kitchen critters (no lines of dialogue, no names) but why, oh why has Bumblebee been reduced to an overgrown guard dog in the garden, with his own kennel? And, okay, perhaps it's a plot contrivance that he's lost his voice, but when did he become an over-exuberant teenager? He used to be a no-messing warrior who protected Sam from Barricade (the police car) and an all-round fighter. A highlight of the film is the scene where Sam has to tell Bumblebee to grow up and remember who he really is.

Now? He can't wait to go to college with Sam? Okay, I'll let it go, but I did think it was particularly stupid that he lived in the garage like a dog. And yes, I thought some of the kitchen critters were cool, but it didn't dawn on me until a little later that they were obvious merchandise, and would probably be in my local Toys R Us store by the end of the movie.

One of the film's biggest redeeming features for me has to be the Sector Seven agent, Simmons. He is brilliant. I loved his archive of antiquated Transformers, Frenzy's head in his office, I liked his panicky but genuine character, and the way he ordered the naval barrage was inspired. I like this character, and hope to see him in the third film.

Finally - Alice, the human who turned out to be a Decepticon. She doesn't Transform... and Decepticons never, ever, took human form. Mind control, yes. Human form? No. "Decepticon Pretender".  Possibly.

Overall, I actually liked this movie. I thought the effects were amazing; the music was outstanding (most of it taken from the first movie, and I was nodding along at various points); the story was actually well written, if a little cheesy in places... the idea of Sam having the power of the Allspark in his head goes back to a comic-book story where Buster Witwicky (yes, that was his name) was given the Creation Matrix by Optimus for safekeeping. Yes, I thought, on the whole, it was enjoyable, possibly overlong but on the whole kept ticking along at a good pace. Did I want the DVD for Christmas? Yes please. Would I watch it repeatedly until I'd learned the script? Possibly.

I think I could some up my views on this film by considering if I would I watch it all the way through; the answer is probably. Although I can quite easily see myself skipping the boring bits (with the humans), there's enough pace to make it watchable, and I'll also like to find out all those Autobots' names!  Overall, I'd recommend watching the DVD with the subtitles turned on - that way, you'll get all the dialogue, character names and all the parts of the plot.

So, I'm looking forward to the new film, and I'll be posting a review here when I've seen it!

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