Shiny Shelf

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

By Jon de Burgh Miller on 22 June 2009

Before I start this review I should probably post a quick disclaimer. I’m a huge Transformers fan, and have been since I was a kid reading the early Bob Budiansky comics which told wild tales of Decepticons raiding Earth for Energon while Buster Witwicky and family helped the Autobots in their battles against them. Later on, Simon Furman took the reigns and told us epic stories that humanised the Transformers, blurring the lines between good and evil, turning the series into an anthology of war stories, exploring different views and viewpoints, against a backdrop of death, destruction and time travel.

With the arrival of The Transformers: The Movie (1986), undoubtedly helped by the establishing groundwork Furman had done, the Transformers animated series caught up with the comics in terms of storytelling and character depth, and the series matured into a mythology and franchise that, despite its humble origins as a toy line, still stands up well today.

I’ve therefore always wanted to see a live action Transformers movie, and with mammoth sales of both new toys, comics and several highly successful animated series, we finally got that in 2007. When Michael Bay announced he was directing the film, fans wondered whether he could deliver an adaptation true to the spirit of the originals, (as many of the recent Marvel films manage so successfully) or would he miss the point somewhat.

Watching Transformers (2007), the answer lies somewhere in between. While you can see a real Transformers film struggling for oxygen (mainly in the Witwicky family scenes) the clash of flying metal, noise and po-faced testosterone meant that while the film worked well on its own terms, it wasn’t quite the big screen adaptation of the mythology many fans had hoped for.

One of the problems with having a very straight-laced director like Bay in charge of the first film was that Transformers has always had a light tone to it, it’s the only way you can tell the story of giant toy robots and get away with it. Much of Bay’s reasoning for foregoing Transformers traditions for the first film was due to his effort to make it an ultra-realistic military war film. This led to an uneasy schizophrenia. At times you can almost feel the source material struggling, having had the slightly campy humorous undertone stripped away from it.

With ‘Transformers:Revenge of the Fallen’, Bay has relaxed his rules and realism has been thrown out of the window in exchange for a fantasy adventure closer to ‘Men In Black’ than ‘Pearl Harbour’. The humour has been cranked up and Bay himself seems to have lightened up a little since making the last one.

The acting comes across as more natural and relaxed, leading to characters who fell flat in the first film when trying to be ultra-serious, coming across quite well in this one, and Shia LaBeouf is given plenty to work with here to establish his action movie credentials in addition to his comedic ones.

The abundance of toilet humour and innuendo does feel a little out of place (and something that was pretty much unheard of in previous incarnations of the franchise), but should go down well with the teen crowd the film is aimed at and I’d rather have a few crude jokes than no jokes at all.

For writing duties on the sequel, Kurtzman and Orci drafted in Scream 3 writer Ehren Kruger (a long-time Transformers fan) to help deliver the script before the writer’s strike, and the fan influence shows. Drawing heavily from early Budiansky comics (and Simon Furman’s Generation 2), this is the story of Sam’s attempts to escape life with the Autobots by going away to college, with a dawning the realisation that something of the Autobots still lurks inside his mind.

While not interfering at all on a level that the general viewer would even notice, lots of iconic Transformers concepts and moments are present, from characters unsure of their allegiance to certain characters’ deaths and potential resurrections. It’s surprising Bay let so much of this through when he stripped so much of it out last time, and one has to wonder if the strike tied his hands for the better in some cases.

That said, while the movie riffs from many aspects of Transformers lore, the Generation 1 comics, the original movie, Generation 2, Armada and Energon, and even Beast Wars, don’t think for a minute that we’re at ‘Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man’ levels of fan pleasing.

This is still firmly a Michael Bay Transformers film, with epic yet incomprehensible action sequences, heavy military displays and global mass carnage. Oh, and the robot fetishising is taken to a new extreme with two (count ‘em) scenes of robots trying to get jiggy with a human, but this time it’s not *just* a Michael Bay film.

The main goal of the film seems to be to make something bigger, batter, badder and louder than its predecessor, and for the most part it succeeds.

The effects work in the action sequences is excellent, and Bay’s skills at directing robots do seem to be improving as time goes by. Most importantly in a film like this, it contains plenty of things you’ve never seen before in the cinema, with the climactic scenes at the pyramids being particularly impressive.

As a far superior film to ‘Terminator: Salvation’, the other giant robot film released this Summer, ‘Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen’ should not only please long time Transformers fans but also give a more casual audience real value for money.

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By Jon de Burgh Miller

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