Movie Review: 'Transformers 2' - New Transformers, Same Old Michael Bay Punishingly brutal, stupefyingly techno-sophisticated, the sequel to 2007's summer hit is amazing — if only because you'd think something so outrageously gigantic would leave behind at least a little impression when it's done.
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New 'Transformers,' Same Old Mechanics

Prime Mover: Granted, it's Optimus Prime's species above the title, but shouldn't we care that the new Transformers movie is more interested in CGI'd chrome than in characters? Paramount Pictures hide caption

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Paramount Pictures

Prime Mover: Granted, it's Optimus Prime's species above the title, but shouldn't we care that the new Transformers movie is more interested in CGI'd chrome than in characters?

Paramount Pictures

Transformers:
Revenge of the Fallen

  • Director: Michael Bay
  • Genre: Sci-Fi Action
  • Running Time: 144 minutes

Rated PG-13: Intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, language, some crude and sexual material, and brief drug material

With: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, John Turturro, Isabel Lucas

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On The Run Again: Shia LeBeouf (right) and Megan Fox are the nominally human pawns in Bay's relentlessly mechanistic game. Jaimie Trueblood/Paramount Pictures hide caption

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Jaimie Trueblood/Paramount Pictures

On The Run Again: Shia LeBeouf (right) and Megan Fox are the nominally human pawns in Bay's relentlessly mechanistic game.

Jaimie Trueblood/Paramount Pictures

The most amazing thing about Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen — and it is an amazing movie, in ways both dazzling and repellent — is that something so outrageously gigantic finally leaves so little an impression. Never have such quantities of money, hardware, technology and fathomlessly complicated logistics been marshaled to produce an experience so fleeting and ephemeral.

This is not to underestimate the brutal power of that experience. Submitting to this mega-spectacular is an invitation to rock your body, liquefy your brain and sacrifice your soul to the godhead of Hollywood shock and awe.

There's no question that the movie achieves its primitive aim — an overwhelming vision of technological supremacy — nor that this vision has been executed with astonishing audio-visual sophistication by legions of technicians, designers, animators and crew.

But when the lights go up, and you stagger back to reality, all that remains is a vague sense of having been relentlessly stimulated for close to three hours, as if by a low-grade electrical shock.

Indeed, Revenge of the Fallen might be compared to torture, not in the colloquial sense of being "painful" to watch, but rather insofar as it reduces both subject and spectator to the status of objects. The film is profoundly inhuman — mechanized not only in terms of the alien robots who rampage through its narrative but in regard to its ostensibly human characters.

Shia LaBeouf reprises his role as Sam Witwicky, an all-American boy next door plunged into an ancient intergalactic feud between the benevolent Autobots and the apocalyptic Decepticons. Having survived the first round of combat, which banished Decepticon leader Megatron to the bottom of the ocean, Sam prepares to leave for college.

What this portends for his relationship to his girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox) — here introduced splayed over a motorcycle in her Daisy Dukes — comprises the "human interest" angle of the story.

As directed by Michael Bay, the unquestioned master of nihilistic spectaculars, Sam and Mikaela generate significantly less psychodrama than two lumps of Silly Putty mashed together. LaBeouf displays little of the charm — what little there was — that he brought to the first, more fablelike Transformers movie. For her part, Fox is merely displayed, an arrangement of plump breasts, bee-stung lips and submissive/seductive postures.

Granted, a feminist critique of a Michael Bay flick is about as pointless as chiding a Buick for being made of metal, but it's staggering how totally he reduces the women of the movie to purely synthetic creatures. In a kind of representational Freudian slip, the film actually literalizes its objectification of women in a set piece featuring a Decepticon disguised as a slutty co-ed.

The callousness of these characterizations is appalling even by the standards of the furiously cynical Bay oeuvre, but they pale in comparison with some of the most blatantly racist imagery in modern movies. On hand to perform a kind of postmodern minstrel act are Mudflap and Skids, a pair of goofy, jive-talking Autobot twins unambiguously coded as uneducated black youths. In case we didn't get the message, a passing joke taints them both as illiterate.

Such unabashed misogyny and racism are byproducts of a vision totally invested in the thrill of technological warfare. As reported by Variety, Revenge of the Fallen was produced with unprecedented cooperation from the armed forces. In exchange for providing the filmmakers with battalions of war machines, the military has been granted an extravagant recruiting commercial.

No surprise, then, that the movie stages its climactic engagement in the Middle East. The story entails the efforts of the fallen Decepticons to rise by extracting a set of glyphs implanted in Sam's brain — don't ask — and thereby reactivating an ancient weapon cached in one of the great pyramids of Giza.

Thus does Revenge of the Fallen stage the giddiest destruction of ancient relics since the Taliban toppled the Buddhas of Bamiyan, as great chunks of Egyptian antiquity are shattered in the climactic showdown between the Autobots and the Decepticons

At this point, some two hours into the assault, Revenge of the Fallen has decidedly run out of gas, though it keeps right on trucking — and smashing and shooting and colliding and bombing and exploding. Imagining the carbon footprint of this mega-movie is more head-spinning than anything onscreen.