Sunday 26 June 2011

From the archive: "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"

Try as I might, I couldn't bring myself to actively hate Michael Bay's first Transformers film, in part because it was never less than upfront about what it was - noisy teenbait, unadulterated product - and partly because it was one of 2007's few event movies to deliver exactly what its trailer promised: artless sound and fury, a triumph of the hard drive, among many other machines. Most of the original cast have returned for Revenge of the Fallen, the obligatory sequel: Shia LaBeouf ("not quite a nerd, not quite a jock," to quote Homer Simpson), packed off to college this time with what turns out to be another sliver of robo-catnip among his set texts; FHM-sponsored sex android Megan Fox, introduced straddling a motorbike in a pose reminiscent of certain top-shelf publications; even - and this is the real indicator of the money sloshing about and overcoming thespian dignity here - John Turturro, whose Homeland Security agent spent much of the first film tied to a lamppost, and being sprayed with the contents of a Transformer's sump tank.

The novelty crucial to any franchise based on a range of Hasbro toys has, however, vanished, buried under a multi-million dollar marketing campaign: what results constitutes the longest, loudest, costliest yawn of the summer. Whoever made the decision to give the robots more screen time, it was the wrong one. We get lots more Autobots and Decepticons (big robots, bug-sized robots, robots with British accents), they're given their own mythology (which requires the film to go back to ancient times, over to Egypt and out into space) and even, in the closing moments, a weird junkyard Valhalla, yet they remain all but indistinguishable as characters, and have become no more interesting to watch. Terminator II famously set a benchmark for visual effects by doing the unthinkable, and turning man into metal, and vice versa. All the effects do here is to reconfigure one set of nuts and bolts into another, an alchemy you or I could work over time with the right shed and a Phillips screwdriver.

Human interest has, consequently, shrivelled: LaBeouf, a likable if lightweight presence first time round, is obliged to perform a laboured and unfunny manic routine while under robot control, then ends up refereeing a squabble between two jive-talking kit cars. Bay, for his part, remains an exasperating filmmaker, prepared to adopt any stance for a few extra bucks; his film is mouthing adolescent anti-authoritarian sentiments one minute, the next slavering over the massed might of the U.S. Marine Corps (all right, ex-models Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson, and former Corrie actor Matthew Marsden). He tosses in his usual self-homage - proudly displaying a Bad Boys II poster on the wall of LaBeouf's dorm, when others might have kept their involvement with that movie quiet, like a relative with mental illness, or an allegation of child sex abuse - and enjoys inflicting vast collateral damage on Paris in a way that may yet lead to men in berets blowing up Bay's home, just to see how he likes it.

There's too much to be annoyed by, really: a soundtrack that holds off on the explosions for five picoseconds so we can hear an awful industrial cover version of Talking Heads' "Burning Down the House" (thanks, Linkin Park); the script's proposal of "camshafts" as a dirty word; the continued promotion of Fox, one of several young actresses here whose cold, dead eyes suggest they're about to shuck off their shellacking of fake tan to reveal their true, metallic colours. For pubescent males with pocket money to burn, that may be enough; for everybody else, Revenge of the Fallen is practically a free pass to go outside and play in the available sunshine.

(June 2009)

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