Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Revenge of the Fallen

On one hand, the title is a reference to my triumphant return from being in Internet limbo. On the other, it's a reference to my ridiculously late review of the second Transformers movie, which I saw the weekend it opened (or perhaps the week after). It's been a busy month or three. Spoilers ahead.

So since it has been so long since I saw the film, and since I'm still pretty busy, I'm just going to lay this out in bullet points.
  • Starting with the good: the effects, as usual, were very good. I think I would have liked to see a little more use of the alternate modes for most of the robots, but in general the effects were great.
  • One thing I really liked about this is the way it corrected one of the first film's major mistakes: failing to characterize the Decepticons. I thought Starscream and Megatron got some great character moments this time around, and the Fallen was pretty well fleshed-out as well.
  • Optimus Prime was fantastic. Every moment that he was around was classic. He had great dialogue, his characterization was spot-on, and he got to have some epic fights. Optimus was the highlight of the film. I think the best bit, besides his death-battle, was when he told the government agent flat-out that he and the Autobots would leave if they were presenting a danger to Earth.
  • Which brings me to another positive: the homages. Now, honestly, I haven't watched any G1 Transformers cartoons in quite some time, but I thought there were some plot points that really mirrored some of those early G1 stories. Obviously Prime's death and the Matrix stuff were reminiscent of the original Movie, and Soundwave sounded a great deal like his classic self. But besides that, I thought Optimus's promise to leave if asked was fairly reminiscent of "Megatron's Master Plan," where the Autobots leave Earth after being (falsely) convicted for terrorist acts. Moreover, "Decepticons find a powerful ancient weapon in a pyramid" was also the plot of the G1 episode "Fire on the Mountain." Even Jetfire's sacrifice hearkens back to the various versions of Jetfire (Armada in particular) which could become armor for Optimus Prime. I'm going to assume that this is all intentional, and I approve.
  • And, well, I don't approve of too much more than that. My first complaint, I think, is the amount of military porn. It seemed like there were way too many shots of nameless military personnel ordering things over radios, apparent stock footage of jets flying places, and army guys fighting with some robots wandering around in the background. I actually liked the army guys in the first movie; they were characterized in fairly broad swaths, but they got some good moments and some great dialogue. This time around, I wasn't even sure that Tyrese was back, since he had something like two lines (and neither was "left cheek!"). Major Lennox got in some good scenes, but everyone else was green-shirt filler. Which wouldn't have been such a problem if they weren't apparently the primary focus of the film.

    More succinctly, as I said to someone in the week after seeing it, I thought that "Revenge of the Fallen" was a pretty good G.I. Joe movie. Sadly, I think it'll turn out to have been a better G.I. Joe movie than "Rise of Cobra."
  • The plot felt really, really disjointed; a lot of this was due to setting issues. The movie jumped around from place to place--Japan, Washington, Egypt, the Moon, and so forth--far too much for any kind of coherent continuity. I swear, the traipsing about in Egypt was done solely for the "Hey, remember that other movie Shia LeBouf was in, wink wink?" factor.
  • That excess of settings might not have been quite so bad if not for the terrible excess of characters as well. Sure, we got lots of new Transformers, but I'd be hard-pressed to name most of them--the filmmakers apparently were too. I think maybe a third of the new Transformers got names, and far fewer got characterization to any degree. Lack of distinguishing characteristics was a problem with the Decepticons in the last film; in this one, it plagued the Autobots at least as much. Very few characters got an opportunity to shine at all. And the ones that did, aside from the ones I mentioned before...well, we'll get to that later.
  • I felt more than a little cheated by Alice, the creepy stalker girl who turned out to be a creepy stalker Decepticon. So far in the series, we've seen that Transformers can take the forms of just about any electronic device, but until that point, it was only electronic devices. Now, I've heard there's some backstory which says she scanned an Alice in Wonderland animatronic robot, but that's lame. Find me an Alice in Wonderland robot that looks like that, and I'll find you a really creepy Imagineer. If the movie were going to introduce Pretenders or Beast Warriors, as this kind of sets the precedent for, it should have been alluded to before we met Alice.
  • The scenes with Alice are a good opportunity to bring up one of my biggest problems with the movie. Now, the last film had some strong language, lots of violence, and some T&A, but I wouldn't feel too terrible about watching it with my kid brother. When my parents were going to take him to see this one, though, I strongly advised against it. The amount of lewd humor, T&A, and strong language made me uncomfortable. Okay, the wrecking balls on Devastator were pretty funny, bur I could have done without Jetfire's parachute incontinence. And I certainly could have done without Wheelie humping Megan Fox's leg. Honestly.
  • What's with the obnoxious sidekicks? Wheelie was pretty close to unnecessary, Sam's roommate was useless and whiny (Sam was mostly just whiny this time around), the Decepticon doctor's strange accent made him incomprehensible (and he wasn't the only 'bot with intelligibility issues), and so forth. But it seems like I'm forgetting something relevant here.
  • Oh, yes, the twins. So, the filmmakers picked two Autobots to dominate the screen time in this installment, and then made the bold moronic choice to turn them into robotic minstrels. Now, I'll give Bay & Co. the benefit of the doubt and assume that Mudflap and Skids weren't intentionally really horrible racist stereotypes; I imagine that it was more the Jar-Jar effect, where obliviousness and ignorance conspire to create offensiveness. The "we can't read that" bit didn't help, even if it was pretty clearly implied that none of the modern Transformers could read the ancient language. It was just one more thing to toss onto the unfortunate heap.

    Anyway, not only were they stupid and offensive, but they were incredibly obnoxious as well. Now, I've been a fan of Transformers for a good long time, through the original Wheelie, through Nightscream, through RiD Ultra Magnus, through oodles of annoying characters, and I have never, ever been more disappointed to see a Transformer not die than when Mudflap shot his way out of Devastator's head. Honestly, it'd be as if Jar-Jar were the one to cut Darth Maul in half. Why on Earth would you give the Scrappy a Crowning Moment of Awesome?
  • Hey, how about that climactic battle? You know, the one that was over in thirty seconds? Where the world-destroying superweapon was taken out by a single shot and Optimus tore the Fallen's spark out with almost no effort? Yeah, I could have done without three or four minutes of twin banter and airplanes flying places, if it meant we would have gotten less of an anticlimax.
  • Overall, I was disappointed. I thought the first film was great; about the only misstep there was that the Decepticons got too little characterization. This time around, it felt more like they were trying to do too much of too many things, and consequently there was very little substance. I just hope the third one doesn't confuse "more" with "better."

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