Transformers Retrospective (Part 2) Revenge of the Fallen
By Lewis Hurst.
With Age of Extinction edging nearer, it’s time to look at the second film in Michael Bay’s Transformers series: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. It’s no secret that the production of Revenge of the Fallen was very troubled. The writer’s strike impacting the script, the studio rushing the film to meet its summer 2009 release date to even Megan Fox being difficult on set. Add to that high expectations from audiences after the first film was a massive success and it seemed the film had a lot to live up to. Ignoring all these outside elements though, how does Revenge of the Fallen work as a film on its own? The answer is complicated.
Much like the first film, Revenge of the Fallen both works and doesn’t work at the same time. The film’s script this time offers a stronger story, delving more into the Transformers mythos and ret-conning Megatron’s plan from the previous film into a new one. As well as creating an army, Megatron wanted to use the Allspark to find an ancient device called the Harvester so his master, The Fallen, can use it to convert the Sun’s energy into Energon, the life source of all Transformers with it being implied that the Transformers will face extinction without it. But with the Allspark’s destruction, the only way to find the Harvester is through Sam after a shard of the Allspark implants the location in his brain. The only way to stop the Fallen is a Prime, however Optimus Prime is killed by Megatron leading Sam and co. to go on a race round the world to find the Maguffin of Leadership to resurrect Optimus.
It’s just a shame that the story as presented here is muddled and confused. It’s hard to fully grasp the plot upon first viewing and it just feels like the characters are going from place to place with no reason to do so. And this is a problem with the script itself. It feels like its several drafts away from being finished. Parts of the story are under developed and rushed in favour of more action, which the film focuses on so much that the entire film stops 90 minutes in so cranky old Transformer Jetfire can actually explain the plot. The entire scene is literally several minutes of Jetfire going “This is what’s happening, which is why we’re doing this etc.”. It’s a real disappointment as the story is actually fairly decent.
There’s some really good ideas being tossed around including the age old “does our destiny choose us or do we choose it?” which is dropped fairly quickly. It’s returned to at the end of the film where the Prime’s state in a weird dream sequence that Sam’s destiny is to resurrect Optimus and be at his side. It’s an interesting idea certainly, but the film doesn’t back it up that well. Maybe we’d feel something if the film had taken the time to develop Sam and Optimus’s relationship. As it is in the film, we don’t get the sense that they’re true friends. This is probably down to the films refusing to let the Transformers be three-dimensional characters instead of one-dimensional action heroes. Any apparent development or dimensions given to characters such as Optimus Prime or Megatron are all down to the amazing voice performances supplied by their respective voice actors. There’s lots of narrative and dramatic potential to be taken from the Transformers as characters but the films just seem to continually keep squandering this opportunity.
The action scenes in Revenge of the Fallen are very entertaining. It’s hard to pick just one as the film’s standout, but to me the clear winner is Optimus Prime’s face-off with Megatron, Starscream and Grindor in the forest. As well as being the strongest scene in the entire film, it’s also one of the standout scenes in the entire series. It’s a scene that deserves to be watched and enjoyed on the largest screen possible. As for the rest of the action, it’s good, but there are some problems. Action scenes seem to be inserted seemingly for the sake of there being another action scene. My mind is drawn to the attack of the “Kitchen-Bots” early on in the film. It’s out of place, doesn’t make sense and is obviously inserted because it’s been nearly ten minutes since the last explosion. And it is never referenced again in the film which makes its inclusion all the more confusing. Bumblebee blows up half of the Witwicky house seemingly because Michael Bay felt the urge to blow up a house.
Another scene which I found slightly pointless was the sequence in which the girl “Alice” is revealed to be a Decepticon in disguise. Again, it seemed to be there for the simple reason of another action sequence and is never referred to again. The scene conjured up a few too many bad memories of Terminator 3 for my liking and rumours persist that Bay only included the sequence as “payback” when he learned that Terminator: Salvation (a film released around the same time as this film) would feature a giant robot, perhaps cementing that this sequence was an unnecessary addition.
A down point of the film is once again the humour which somehow has got even worse. Most of the “jokes” in the film are just downright unfunny, crude and out of place. Characters are introduced simply for the purpose of providing cheap laughs. Sam’s college roommate Leo tags along for the entire film for no apparent reason other than providing cheap humour. Two new Autobots are introduced named Skids and Mudflap and the two are apparently just there for cheap laughs as well. But the problem is that none of the humour they provide is funny. Every time a Joke is made with these three, it’s just painfully awkward as it’s just not funny. I really got the sense that the film was trying too hard with the humour, which in turn makes it less funny. Nearly every scene has something inserted in an attempt to make the audience laugh, regardless of if the scene requires it or not. And I will have to say that I find Leo, Skids and Mudflap to be perhaps the worst comedy sidekicks I have ever seen in a film. They’re a huge part of the films problems in my eyes.
The love story between Sam and Mikaela again doesn’t work. While Megan Fox’s performance here is actually pretty good, there’s again no doubt that she and Shia LaBeouf again have no chemistry making it very hard to invest in the romance. Another problem with the film was its length. The film didn’t really need to be two and a half hours in length. In fact, it probably could have benefited from having a good fifteen to twenty minutes trimmed from its running time. A shorter running time would have helped the films pacing and tonal issues and may have allowed for a tighter focus on the films plot and characters.
In a final summary, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a confused film. It’s not sure on whenever it wishes to be a darker and edgier sequel or a lighter and softer one and instead falls uncomfortably in the middle. It’s almost as if there were two competing visions on the film that didn’t work together well. It’s a shame we’ll probably never know if most of the films problems were due to Michael Bay or if they were studio dictated, but either way it’s led to another mediocre entry in the franchise. The film struggles on several levels to keep a consistent tone which leads to the exact focus of the film becoming muddled. Revenge of the Fallen is sadly a major step down from its predecessor. It’s still entertaining, but doesn’t justify its two and a half hour runtime. With a tighter plot and a condensed running time, it could have worked but as it is the film is a disappointment.