Thursday, June 25, 2009

Movie Review: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

In its first day of release, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" managed to make more than sixty million dollars, all the while receiving a Tomatometer in the low twenties. The success, I think, is mainly owed to the fact that no major movies have been released in almost a month.

It is easy to dismiss it as merely a "bad" movie, as all but a slim minority of critics have done, but such a description is an incomplete picture. The movie is strange cocktail of awesome and awful. It is a flawed gift to geeks, but a gift nonetheless.

First, know that this is less a movie than a string of disparate moments and disjointed ideas. I would say that at least half the characters have plot arcs or situations which are never resolved. I could easily make a list of characters whose fates were never explained. I fear it would be a long list.

And yet, there are advantages to this format. The good parts - and there are several - are able to stand on their own, unencumbered by context.

Beware, though, that like Autobots and Decepticons, every good aspect is mirrored by a negative.

It is not my intention to spoil this movie for those who've yet to see it, but I cannot go on without provide some specifics. I shall try to be ambiguous where possible, but those wishing to avoid all detail should consider themselves warned.

The movie shines brightest during two fight sequences: one starring Optimus Prime; the other, Bumble Bee. These moments, while brief, raise the bar on action.

Unfortunately, most of the remaining action suffers from the same confused jumble of motion that hindered the first. There are many times where it is simply impossible to tell what is happening or even who it's happening to.

There are some brilliant characters, among them Jetfire, who is impossible to dislike. For this, the price is painfully high: we must endure "The Twins." It is difficult to explain these to one who's yet to experience them: imagine if Jar Jar Binks had a brother and they spent a movie bickering.

To the extent that the movie works, it does so as something of an unintentional parody. The sheer levels of cliche and melodrama are off any mathematical model developed to measure such phenomena. Even the Shatner Scale can't contain it. Yet this allows the movie to function as a comedy. Likewise, the reoccurring montages of military preparation open the door to numerous possible drinking games: this is a movie whose potential has yet to be realized.

The plot of "Revenge of the Fallen" tends to devolve into something of a video game, where obstacles drop randomly between characters and their arbitrary objectives. But it's impossible to take such things seriously: there's too much fun to be had. There are robots here which could have carried a movie of their own; who cares if the main villains are less inspired?

Before I finish, I do have one final ax to grind with the first few minutes. Optimus Prime is a hero and a warrior, who deserves better than to be portrayed coldly executing a helpless foe. I'll dwell no longer on this here.

On the "Chronicles of Riddick" scale, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is deserving of two and a half stars. Keep in mind that this is something of an average, however: there are scenes far more deserving.

This is not a good movie; indeed, it's hardly a movie at all. But, if you've already seen Star Trek, there are more than enough cool moments here to recommend it.

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