x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Review Revenge of the Fallen is an uninspired retread of the first Transformers movie.

The Autobots and Decepticons are back in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
The Autobots and Decepticons are back in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

The tremulous emotional hook in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen involves the troubled relationship between the post-adolescent hero Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and his lipgloss laden paramour Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox).

In the first act - before the alien robot antics dominate the film entirely - Sam is having trouble telling Mikaela that he loves her. The words, it seems, terrify him, causing him to splutter and deviate in equal measure (LaBeouf has some nice comic instincts, and just about carries this off). However, in the scene directly after this, Sam bids farewell to his yellow Chevy Camaro. "You'll always be my first car," he sighs wistfully. "I love you."

There is, of course, an intentional joke here. Sam is emotionally more connected to his Camaro (which, in a couple of easy whirrs, cranks and clunks, transforms into the bodyguard Autobot Bumblebee) than he is to his real-life girlfriend. And yet, over the course of the movie, it becomes a horribly piquant gag. For this is a film that, at its most fundamental, is both wholly enthralled by the lifeless clash of metal and simultaneously averse to the most basic understanding of humanity.

The movie opens with a clanging, banging, explosion-filled chase through the streets of Shanghai, where the kindly Autobot transformers chase down a group of nasty Decepticons - since the first movie, the Autobots have become an anthropomorphic international police force, dedicated to pursuing the Decepticons across the globe. Much of the city's road system and industrial districts are destroyed in scenes of furious synapse-splitting action that involve huge metallic creatures punching each other with little physical effect or emotional impact.

It must be noted here that though the computer effects are rendered with gusto, there is little in the frenetic, shaky shots and set ups to distinguish Autobots from Decepticons. Nor is there much within either camp to distinguish team members from each other - they're merely giant chrome-plated forms flinging each other across the screen and blowing up their surroundings whenever they hit the ground.

And on it goes. After some paltry attempts at character development (see Sam's love dilemma), we learn that the Decepticons and their newly revived leader, Megatron (Hugo Weaving), are searching for a shiny chrome key that will allow them to start the engines of some ancient sun-sucking machines hidden inside the Egyptian pyramids. These machines will revive their ancient Decepticon king, The Fallen (Tony Todd), and destroy earth and all of mankind. This is all a convoluted excuse for an uninspired retread of the first Transformers movie, complete with desert warfare, urban chaos and a rousing finale.

Worse still, the climactic set piece scenes (the source of the movie's alleged $200 million [Dh734m] budget) are lazy reworkings of the director Michael Bay's previous show-stopping moments. Thus the pulverisation of the Navy from Pearl Harbor and the asteroid attack from Armageddon are replayed with loving and only slightly altered detail. There are even two new Autobots who replicate the banter between Will Smith and Martin Lawrence in Bay's Bad Boys franchise.

Naturally, there are some moments of levity, mostly provided by John Turturro as a former government agent turned d eli salesman who lives with his parents. "What you're about to see is top secret," he warns Sam and Mikaela, as he leads them into his basement control room. "Don't tell my mother!" Asides like this are nonetheless thin on the ground. Revenge of the Fallen eventually slides into an agonising, 25-minute finale of metal mayhem set against the pyramids at Giza. It features so many American Army helicopters, gunships, commandos, tanks and jets that it suggests a kind of sublimated wish fulfilment not seen since Sylvester Stallone's John Rambo asked of his second incursion into Vietnam: "Do we get to win this time?"

In short, the Middle East is invaded but this time it's all for a noble cause - the love of the blockbuster, the promotion of noise, and the desiccation of emotion.