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Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

by Steve Habrat

Michael Bay’s 2007 Transformers was no doubt a huge guilty pleasure. It was far from intelligent but at least it was entertaining and that is really all we could ask of it. I can’t really say that I was dying for a sequel but you knew it was inevitable given the success of the first installment. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the 2009 sequel, never even remotely justifies its own existence. Revenge of the Fallen is lumbering, loud, stupid, and downright obnoxious from the first frame all the way to the last. It’s almost as if the first film shot up with a bunch of steroids, downed a whole case of Red Bull, and then was let loose to wreck havoc on society. Part of the problem is that returning executive producer Steven Spielberg has obviously cut the short leash that he had director Bay on and allowed him to bolt right for the TNT stash. I swear that Bay can’t go ten minutes without blowing something up and he sculpts his film all the fireballs.

In the opening moments of Revenge of the Fallen, it is revealed that ancient race of Transformers called the Dynasty of Primes was searching the galaxy for energon sources. The Dynasty of Primes used energon to power their mighty AllSpark, the device that caused all the ruckus in the first film. They decide that if the planets they visit have life forms residing on them, they will not harm the planet. When one brother who is dubbed “The Fallen” breaks away, he lands on earth and builds a Sun Harvester, which drains stars of their energy. The other Primes sacrifice themselves to stop “The Fallen” before he wipes out the human race and to hide the Matrix of Leadership, which is the key to operating the Sun Harvester (I hope I have all of that straight…). In present day, the Autobots are working with an elite group of soldiers lead by Captain Lennox (Played by Josh Duhamel) to seek out and destroy the remaining Decepticons. Meanwhile, Sam Witwicky (Played by Shia LaBeouf) is getting ready to go off to college and start a life of his own away from his goofy parents (Played by Kevin Dunn and Julie Alice White). He is also grappling with leaving his super hot girlfriend, Mikaela Barnes (Played by Megan Fox), who wants Sam to say the L word (LOVE). After Sam discovers a small piece of the AllSpark stuck in his jacket, the Decepticons begin to regroup and launch an even more powerful strike on earth. Autobots leader Optimus Prime calls on Sam and Mikaela to once again aid him in his protection on earth, but Optimus discovers that he is facing a far more powerful villain than he ever could have imagined.

The small synopsis that I have provided in this review is only the tip of the iceberg that is Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. This movie has so much going on in it, you will be in utter disbelief (Seriously, go look at the synopsis on RottenTomatoes. It’s unreal how long it is!) and actually feel your brain melting from overload. Upon my first viewing of the film, I actually started getting a headache from all of the longwinded explanations and teeth-rattling explosions. The first film didn’t bog itself down with complex back-story and sub plot silliness, which made it an easier pill to swallow. It appears that Bay and his screenwriters overcompensate for the simplicity of the first film, which is what made it so likeable in the first place. If that isn’t bad enough, the film features more pointless action sequences that are stuck in simply to show off how much the CGI has improved in the past two years. A sequence in the middle of the film that features an army of Decepticons raining down on earth, smashing into U.S. Naval ships, cities, and everything else you can think of is the final word in extreme and meaningless, a continuous string of explosions, CGI destruction, and incomprehensible aliens.

In addition to all the inane action and story, Revenge of the Fallen further irritates with the horribly misguided acting that Bay proudly displays. LaBeouf’s Sam was once a relatable teen who was caught in the middle of something larger than life. In Revenge of the Fallen, you want to kick him in the face. I couldn’t believe how unbearable he was this time. Bay throws him in with a slew of other aggravating teens, which makes things even worse on the viewer. Fox is given absolutely nothing to do except look hot in a tank top and run away from multiple explosions. Duhamel is still wooden and cliché yelling orders at Tyrese Gibson’s equally useless Sergeant Epps. John Turturro returns as the disgraced Sector 7 agent Simmons, who once again appears to be having fun but he fails to cast his spell on us this time. Ramon Rodriguez joins the insanity as the Sam’s college roommate Leo, who is even more aggravating than Sam. Blonde bombshell Isabel Lucas also is on board as the mysterious Alice, who has an attraction to Sam and wishes to break up his relationship with jealous Mikaela. I still don’t buy these two girls battling over LaBeouf. Sorry, Bay.

What was once sort of cute has become a revolting spawn of Satan, a film that is shockingly racist (get a load of the Twins), unintelligible, and just plain irresponsible. It could be one of the worst written sequels I have ever seen, one that was spit out to suck more money out of the pockets of those who enjoyed the first film. Sadly, we were all suckers and flocked right to it opening weekend. If I were a bigger fan of the Transformers franchise, I would be absolutely furious at Bay for what he has done to this material. He is so concerned with staging an action sequence that he throws lucidity right out the window, napalms it, and the proceeds to piss on the ashes. What Bay fails to understand is that story is more important than action and respect for the material is key to winning the hearts of fans. These characters mean so much to people and to see Bay more concerned with how much of Fox’s cleavage he can capture is just despicable. Furthermore, Spielberg should be ashamed of himself for allowing this film to be made and being okay with his name stamped in the credits. If you have not seen Revenge of the Fallen, trust me when I say that you will not believe your eyes or your ears. With Transformers, Bay earned a smidgeon of my respect and showed the world that he could make a film that was watchable. With Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, he lives up to his reputation for being one of the worst directors currently working in Hollywood.

Grade: F

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Transformers (2007)

by Steve Habrat

Michael Bay’s 2007 live action interpretation of Transformers, the immensely popular Hasbro toy line is infinitely better than it should be. I can still remember seeing trailer for the Bay vehicle and thinking that it would be the biggest piece of junk ever spit out by both Bay and Hollywood. It turns out that Transformers was more than meets the eye (I couldn’t resist!). While I admit that I had more fun than I should have at Transformers, it is nowhere near a perfect movie. Transformers has some of the worst dialogue that you are likely to hear in a motion picture, bizarre lapses in time, and some truly awful acting yet astonishingly, the film remains watchable and surprisingly entertaining when it really shouldn’t. The first Transformers film works because it shows us something we can all honestly say we have never seen before. Despite all the twisting and turning metal that fills the picture, executive producer Steven Spielberg slyly inserts a human heart in all of the nonsense and keeps Bay on a short leash, giving it a yank whenever the action on screen gets too out of control.

After their home planet is destroyed by war, the Transformers are split into two groups. There are the Autobots, who are lead by the courageous Optimus Prime and there is the evil Decepticons, who rally behind the dreaded Megatron. The two groups are after the AllSpark, which could allow the Autobots to rebuild their home planet and allow the Decepticons to wipe the Autobots out and take control of the universe. Their quest to find the AllSpark brings both groups to earth where they meet nerdy teenager Sam Witwicky (Played by Shia LaBeouf), who unknowingly holds the key to locating the AllSpark. It turns out that Sam’s new beater car also happens to be the gentle Transformer named Bumblebee, who has to protect him from the Decepticons that are closing in on him. In between attempts to woo the girl of his dreams, Mikaela Barnes (Played by Megan Fox), Sam is dragged into vicious war between the Autobots and the Decepticons, who fully plan on using earth as their new battleground. Sam and Mikaela are reluctantly paired with a small group of humans who have to battle beside the Autobots in order to save the human race from being wiped out.

Transformers is a must-see for the mind boggling special effects and earth shaking action sequences that Bay is noted for. The end battle in the streets of Los Angeles ranks as one of the most satisfying and adrenaline-pumping action sequences in a summer blockbuster. This one is truly one of those films that leaves you asking, “How did they do THAT?!” Being a Bay film, you are never really required to use your brain outside of keeping all the Transformers’ and secondary character’s names straight. Credit has to be given to Bay because he knows why we are watching this film and it certainly isn’t for a beefy plot. He fills the screen with hot chicks, explosion porn, and enough showdowns to drive Transformers fans up the wall. It’s all eye candy here but it is eye candy that we have never seen before and that will give your eyes cavities. I dare someone to name me another film where you see a Camaro convincingly morph into a towering robot, go leaping through the air, and clash with another robot that just morphed out of a police car. Go ahead, I’ll wait…

While the fiery battles are quite a bit of fun, they also happen to be one of the many flaws that wound Transformers. Clarity is sacrificed as Bay’s camera shakes around violently and his editor jumps from one side of the action to the other. He doesn’t really go out of his way to really distinguish the secondary Transformers, as he has them all done up in gunmetal gray and earth tones. When it is only two of them trading punches, rockets, and bullets, you can easily distinguish who is the bad guy and who is fighting for good but when the climax arrives, Bay frantically throws every single robot at us, causing Transformers to loose control here and there. And while the climax is rousing, the earlier battles are a bit more fun because we are able to actually see who is winning the showdown. A confrontation on the highway between Optimus Prime and Bonecrusher is stunningly realistic and easy to distinguish. Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, and Megatron are really the only Transformers that we are able to identify in all the mayhem, as they are the ones with the most color and personality.

Transformers ultimately belongs to Shia LaBeouf, who salvages crummy dialogue and creates a multidimensional teenager who other teenage boys can relate to. He also happens to be relentlessly hilarious and a real charmer. He’s just a goofball trying to fit in and win over the beauty, who appears to be way out of his league. It’s through extraordinary events that LaBeouf’s Sam gets what he wants and sees his suburban ennui shattered into a million little pieces. He works well with Fox, who has very little personality but LaBeouf knows how to coax what little she does have to the surface. Fox ends up being likable enough even if she is aware why Bay has his camera pointed at her. LaBeouf and Fox are paired with a slew of other pretty faces including Rachel Taylor as smoking computer analyst Maggie, Josh Duhamel as Captain Lennox, Tyrese Gibson Tech Sergeant Epps, Anthony Anderson as overweight nerd Glen, Jon Voight as Defense Secretary John Keller, and John Turturro as weirdo Sector 7 agent Simmons. They all get their chance to ham it up for the camera, mostly Turturro as Simmons, who seems to be having a ball slumming it. Tyrese and Duhamel are handed some of the worst dialogue to work with and their characters are lumbering clichés for the girls to drool over. Kevin Dunn and Julie White memorably show up as Sam’s TMI parents who walk a fine line between funny and downright annoying. Luckily, they fall more into funny.

Given the problems with dialogue, clarity issues, and everything else that Bay does wrong, Transformers morphs into a fairly memorable adrenaline rush that represents why we flock to summer blockbusters. It never attempts to be anything more than a mindless diversion from the humid weather outside and give us an excuse to munch on a gigantic bowl of popcorn. If you go in to Transformers with extremely low expectations, you will emerge from it a little winded and pleasantly surprised. This uber-expensive B-movie works because Spielberg keeps a watchful eye on Bay, as I’m sure he is fully aware of the work that Bay churns out. Spielberg seemed to demand warm and fuzzy moments, ones where he underlines the idea that there is something extraordinary happening right in our own backyard. It’s a bit naive but it works here. So, if you’re willing to let yourself go for two and a half hours, Transformers is just the escape that you are looking for. It may not change your life but not every movie has to.

Grade: B

Transformers is available on Blu-ray and DVD.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

by Steve Habrat

As you exit the theater after viewing Michael Bay’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon, there should be theater employees stationed by the door that snap a picture of you and toss you a t-shirt that reads, “I survived Transformers: Dark of the Moon!” I kid you not that when the theater lights come up, the gleaming credits roll across the screen, and Linkin Park blares down on you from the theater speaker system that you will need to take a minute to compose yourself. Your brain will be reduced the pancake batter, your ears will ring, your bones will ache, and you may suffer from a pounding migraine headache as your try to decipher what it is that you just saw. The truth is that Transformers: Dark of the Moon is infinitely better than the previous installment in the Hasbro toy franchise, but the bottom line is that the film, which hints at an intriguing concept early on, single handedly creates a new subgenre of action film: Explosion porn. In the last hour of this film, I’m absolutely astounded that you could not hear Bay’s maniacal laughter as he reduces Chicago to a pile of smoldering embers, reduces the premise to ash, and leaves you reeking of gasoline and defeat.

Almost everyone I talk to about the Transformers films seem to agree that the first film was a charming action film about a boy and his car. About an eccentric kid grappling with problems most teenage boys face (girls, popularity, money, ennui in suburbia) getting thrust into something that is larger than life. Then came the second film and the awe factor was reduced to racist rubble at the pyromaniac claws of Michael Bay. The first film was clearly overseen by Spielberg, who is the executive producer of these films; because Bay demonstrated some disciplined restraint and didn’t blow up EVERYTHING he pointed his camera at. The second film was an incomprehensible mess that was nothing but one confusing fight sequence after another. Furthermore, halfway through the film, it seemed like the writers realized the storyline was rancid and tried to redirect the entire film. Bad idea.

So how does the third entry in this lucrative franchise fair? Well, it manages to be pretty average in the story department. It has a beefier plot than the previous film but the film is so garish and cramped that it almost bursts on screen. The plot wears thin after the first hour and a half and the film spends the next hour using an epic showdown in downtown Chicago as a dazzling diversion to the fact that the storyline has run out of fuel. The film begins with a nifty prelude that suggests that the space race of the 1960s was in response to a ship that had crash-landed on the dark side of the moon. Turns out that the ship actually belonged to Sentinel Prime, an Autobot that fled the planet of Cybertron during the war between the Autobots and Decepticons. He took with him a precious weapon that would have decided the outcome of the war. Flash forward to present day and the Decepticons are lurking on earth and looking for the weapon to launch a massive campaign against Earth and wipe out the remaining Autobots.

Back at the center of all the action is the bumbling hero Sam Witwicky (Played by motor-mouthed Shia LaBeouf). Once Sam was a lovable hero who just wanted to get the girl. Now, he’s been reduced to a shadow of his once beloved character. He’s set up shop with Carly (Played by Bay’s curvy Babe-of-the-Month Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) in what appears to be a left over set of a Victoria ‘s Secret commercial. The two can’t even come close to emulating the bizarre chemistry that LaBeouf had with Megan Fox in the first two installments. They seem like the most improbable couple on the face of the earth. The rest of the cast is back too and they are all as colorful as ever. We have the tough-as-nails army officers Epps (Played by Tyrese Gibson), and Lennox (Played by Josh Duhamel) back on the front lines of the alien/robot battle. Also back is Sam’s TMI-spouting parents and the eccentric former Sector 7 agent Simmons (Played with berserk delight by John Turturro). Newcomers include John Malkovich as Sam’s unhinged new boss, Ken Jeong as Sam’s jittery coworker, Frances McDormand as an icy government agent, and Patrick Dempsey as a charismatic boss.

It truly is enigmatic how Bay convinced some of the talent to actually agree to be in this beast of a movie. They must have all been desperate for a payday because I can’t imagine stars like Malkovich and McDormand actually biting at this tomfoolery. They do the best job they can with the material they are given. Let’s not forget that some of the dialogue has never been some of the sharpest banter ever projected onto the silver screen but it is given some life by these accomplished actors. Yet somehow all these characters are the reason that these films astonishingly stay afloat. Granted the second film may be one of the vilest movies of recent memory, but you have to admit that it had spunk. The characters are effervescent and so are their alien allies even if tired clichés pour from their CGI mouths.

While many are swift to accuse Bay of producing empty cinematic experiences, they are correct to an extent. Bay does action well and he can frame a scene better than most directors out there, but the problem with Bay is that he sabotages his own film’s potential. This film has plenty of said potential and the first twenty minutes of it are expertly constructed. He weaves history and fiction together just as effortlessly as they did in X-Men: First Class. But then Bay can’t resist himself and pulls the pin out of the grenade. He does this with a single shot that throws off the momentum that the film has been gathering—a shot of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s ass as it sways up a set of stairs. It sucks the life right out of the film and for the next hour, the film scrambles to gather back that momentum. It doesn’t help that the premise here is stretched to the breaking point, snaps, and then continues on for another hour. I believe that the first film worked so well because we knew so little about these alien visitors. Now, the films have been steeped in geek lore and suffer from being completely overblown. Everything is given a longwinded explanation that drags the events on another ten minutes. This entry keeps it a bit simpler but I still firmly believe the franchise should have been left at one. Shame on Hollywood’s gluttony.

Overall, Bay has become a target for another crime against his audience—making them feel no emotion whatsoever. His films are more concerned with the action sequences than any redeeming quality like emotion. Yes, a film should send you away with a feeling. That can include walking away sad, overjoyed, depressed, moved, or, yes, thrilled to your core. While the last entry sent you away confused and simply infuriated that it exists, Transformers: Dark of the Moon sends you away overwhelmed and disoriented. You will feel like you just stepped off of a rollercoaster. I guarantee that your stomach will be doing somersaults for hours after in your gut. We can spend all day arguing over the mediocrity of his latest film, or we can just agree on the obvious: At least Bay sent you away FEELING something this time around. Grade: C+

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is available on Blu-ray and DVD Friday.

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