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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Movie Review: Transformers (Rise of the Fallen)

One of the more anticipated of movies this year, Transformers 2 is a sequel that knows it's a sequel. What it lacks in narrative cohesiveness it makes up for in what I'm going to call OCCAD, or obsessive compulsive computer animating disorder.

Transformers 2 occurs some two years or so after the first movie ended. The Autobots now work with mankind to hunt down and destroy the remaining Decepticons, while Samuel Witwicky, our hero from the first movie, prepares to head off for college--apparently on the taxpayer's bill. But the Decepticons are not finished with ruling the Earth. They've been here before, so many thousands of years ago, back before any of these enormous living machines could transform. These machines need Energon, a special form of energy that allows them to live and exist, and to do that they have to harvest suns. The rules, it seems, are to harvest only those suns orbited by lifeless planets. But when they find Earth, some of them don't agree and a civil war breaks out. And now, thousands of years later, the Fallen--the bad guys who were defeated so long ago--are attempting to return. It's up to Sam, Mikaela, and a few familiar friends to put a stop to it.
That's the short description. The problem with Transformers 2 is that it suffers horribly from sequelitis. The first half hour of the movie is essentially wasted space, explaining to us where everyone has gone, what they're up to, why they're where they are, etc., when, in reality, all that matters to the story is setting up Sam and the basic conflict. Great, wonderful, the Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, are off hunting their evil brethren, but we don't really care, particularly because it's wasted space when what matters isn't so much that they're doing what seems like a good idea, but that the Fallen have/has returned and Sam is caught in the middle of it. Why didn't Bay start right in the middle of Sam's move to college?

Oh, but there's a good reason. See, apparently they didn't destroy all the Decepticons way back when. Oh yeah. They're still around. No idea how the Autobots magically missed them all those years ago, nor why said Decepticons didn't get into the fight, nor where all these new Autobots came from. We're supposed to assume that they just magically took up Optimus Prime's offer and flew over at sublight speed through space to Earth (which, let's face it, makes about as much sense as trying to fly an apple through a ten-foot thick steel wall). But we get no explanation for that whatsoever, even though thirty minutes of the film are wasted explaining everything else.

Unfortunately, the science in this film is abyssmal. I get it. The movie is ridiculous in and of itself, what with robots that transform, etc., but Bay could have at least tried to play things a little closer to home. A matter of days, maybe weeks occur in this one movie, yet somehow we're supposed to accept that Decepticons can move at obviously slower-than-light speed from a planet not in our solar system to Earth in less than twenty-four hours? Bullcrap. Leave the ridiculous concept to its ridiculousness and leave everything else to reality, please.

And then we have to deal with some of the more overwhelming parts of Transformers 2: the characters. There are far too many of them. The X-men franchise was at least smart enough to realize that it couldn't possibly shove every single Marvel superhero into the mix; some had to be left as little more than side notes. But Transformers 2 is flooded with new and old characters. There are too many Decepticons and Autobots to keep straight in your head and I still have no clue who most of them are. It's almost as if Bay wanted to keep the CG boys as busy as humanly possible, so any and all Transformers that might have appeared decades ago have now been sprung up from the depths and chucked into the fray. It's confusing and overwhelming.

And here's where we get into the biggest criticism of the film: the computer graphics. Michael Bay has been accused of using CG as an ends to the mean, rather than as a tool, and that fact is made crystal clear here. There are so many battle scenes (with their accompanying transforming) that practically every inch of Transformers 2 is dripping with CG. And half the time these battles are extraneous. The first half hour is essentially an enormous turd of explosions and giant robots, and the rest of the movie is an on-and-off display of fights, destruction, and general mayhem, as if the movie's concept wasn't entertaining enough and Bay had to inject every minute of the film with something flashy and fiery. The film would have been just as entertaining with half the battle scenes. Truly. The only good thing to say about the CG is that it is quite good and cleverly crafted so it becomes difficult to see the lines between real and fake beyond one's suspension of belief.

The only thing that saves Transformers 2, though, happens to be one if its flaws: the characters. While I have already remarked that there are too many of them, those that have stuck into my head were definitely worth remembering. Not only are we gifted with familiar faces (Sam, Optimus, Bumblebee, the parents, and a few surprises), we are also introduced to a couple of other characters that drive the comedic quality of this film upwards. If not for the comedy, this film would be a waste of space. Chuckling in the theater has a way of making you forget, at that moment, all the problems with what is happening before you.

Overall, I would say that Transformers 2 is a tremendously flawed piece, but it will likely entertain most audiences. If you're thinking of taking your kids to this one, you might reconsider, if you're concerned about bad language and suggestive content. Transformers 2 is clearly an adult film, but one with action and explosions and likely enough necessary tidbits to be worth seeing at matinee prices.

Direction: 2/5
Cast: 3.25/5
Writing: 3.5/5
Visuals: 2/5
Adaptation: N/A
Overall: 2.7/5
Value: $6.00

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  1. I liked the first film because I went in expecting giant robots fighting and that's exactly what I got.

    Yet, I have no desire to see this one. I find your comments that there are too many battles interesting, because that would seem to be the only redeeming feature of the movie. And if there's too much of that, then it must be really bad.

  2. Yeah, I liked the first movie. It wasn't perfect, but it managed to make me like enough to want to see this second one.

    I just don't like it when computer graphics are used excessively, and that was very much true of this movie.