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Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Review – Not Much More Than Meets the CGI

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Review – Not Much More Than Meets the CGI” width=”560″/>

I love that they’re called “Decepticons.” Like The Core dubbing the ultra-rare element that can slice through diamonds “unobtainium,” naming villainous robots “Decepticons” is a lovely bit of Saturday-morning-cartoon kitsch — virtually perfect for a story about an alien race of “autobots” that transform back-and-forth between 200-foot-tall metal warriors and, for some reason, Earth cars. And it is practically begging for a brisk, breezy, candy-colored treat of a movie — a summer flick that embraces the silliness, runs with it, makes us smile.

At the risk of stating the obvious, Michael Bay is not the person to deliver such a movie. He wasn’t the right person in 2007 when the original Transformers was released, and he’s not the right person today. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is loud, lumbering and long, entirely unconcerned with telling a story or doing anything other than sustaining a din of metal clangs and explosions.

Bay is vilified as the baron of mindless big-budget action, but of course “big-budget” is not the problem. “Mindless” is closer. He is the unchecked id of Hollywood filmmaking, let loose with hundreds of millions of dollars to make things ‘splode, but untempered by any conception of pacing, suspense or tension — you know, the things that make action movies enjoyable. The term “mind-numbing” was invented for him, and you haven’t seen “mind-numbing” until you’ve seen Revenge of the Fallen.

I gather this franchise is a nostalgia trip for many people my age, and if that’s all you seek, you may not be disappointed (though you could probably just as easily leave after thirty minutes). Revenge of the Fallen features all the Decepticon-on-Autobot action you could ask for. There’s even some sort of super-Decepticon — an ancient evil robot (though not, as best as I could tell, an actual Transformer) who wants to activate a machine buried in the Earth that would destroy the sun. Why? I think it has something to do with mining it for energy, though no one else seems particularly eager to do so. Somehow or other, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and his hot girlfriend from the first movie (Megan Fox, whose hotness is mentioned at every opportunity) get involved and start roaming the globe looking for a way to stop the Decepticons. After a while, the movie turns into a sustained action set piece, and the significance of any particular explosion or robot smackdown becomes difficult to pin down.

Revenge of the Fallen is two-and-a-half hours of top-shelf special effects deployed indiscriminately; a roaring, plotless, character-less mess that sees mainstream moviegoers as money-spending, barely sentient automatons. I want to emphasize the two and a half hours, because that running time seems downright criminal. It filled me with despair. At some point — probably around 100 minutes in, though I didn’t have a watch — I became convinced that the movie would never end. It’s not just that it felt long (though did it ever) but that there seemed to be no reason why it could not go on forever. Without a narrative shape, any specific ending point could only be arbitrary.

A few things did jump out at me from the miasma of fireballs and noise. The movie is casually racist in a rather appalling way — among other things, there’s a duo of jive-talking “black” autobots who, the movie helpfully points out, “don’t read much.” I agree that Megan Fox is attractive, but Bay absolutely leers at her with his camera in a way that started to make me uncomfortable. And Bay’s self-regard scales new heights, as a poster for Bad Boys II is prominently displayed on the wall of Sam’s dorm and fills the screen on more than one occasion. As if any self-respecting college student would hang an enormous Bad Boys II poster in his room.

But what’s most offensive about Revenge of the Fallen is the boredom — awful, escalating boredom that transcended mere indifference, and even annoyance. Critics blithely refer to movies as “painful” all the time, but this is the real deal. I see how Transformers could be charming, but in the hands of Michael Bay it is — as much as any movie could ever be, I think — torture.

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