It must've been John Rogers' lack of involvement. It kept slipping my mind that this movie was being made; when the trailers came out, I wasn't overly stirred by them; and then the reviews from critics starting coming far and wide that this movie was...um...not good, to put it politely. (21% at Rotten Tomatoes — currently among the bottom ten ratings for films currently showing.)
So I wasn't particularly planning on seeing it anytime soon. Maybe some weekend matinee in a few weeks' time. But then, last night, my nephew called me. "Hey," he said, "We're all going to see Transformers in an hour. Wanna come with?" It was family, and I was at the Barnes & Noble across the street from the theater when he called, so I figured...why not? I called Jen, we met up and grabbed a quick dinner, and then headed to the movies.
My bottom line (which you've already seen if you follow me on Facebook or Twitter) is, while Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is not as worthless as Ebert says, the previous one and the animated movie were both FAR better.
First the good:
• No matter what you give them to work with, John Turturro and Shia LaBeouf will always deliver watchable performances.
• I liked that Frank Welker got a solid part in this movie. His voice is showing his age more than Peter Cullen's is (which is why he didn't get the gig as Megatron's voice), but he can still do a good Soundwave.
• I found it easier (for the most part) to visually distinguish the different robots in this movie.
• If you like explosions, you will not be disappointed.
• I'll never object to a Rainn Wilson cameo (which I didn't know about, and so was pleasantly surprised by).
• I didn't know Maxim magazine had started their own college, but that appears to be what Sam wound up at. Let's call it LadMag U.
• "The twins" (and no, I'm not talking about Megan Fox's tendency to wear low-cut tops). You may've heard about these two Autobots: Mudflaps and Skids, a couple of ghetto-fabulous robots throwing around street slang, sporting a gold tooth, proving functionally illiterate, and generally providing "comic relief." Some call them racist caricatures; I just call them unnecessary.
• Speaking of the comic relief: fart jokes, leg-(and other things)-humping dog/robot jokes, "ew! parent sex!" jokes, old people/robot jokes, "testicular torture" (term ™ Dann Gire) jokes, drug use jokes... I didn't really feel a lot of that was appropriate for my younger nieces and nephews who were with us...but then, the movie is rated PG-13, so I really can't blame anyone but my sisters for that one.
And now, the bad:
• Flimsy characterization: Sam and Mikaela were more or less functional as hapless everymen ("everymans"?) reacting to situations bigger than them. Everyone else, human and robot, was pretty much a cartoonish caricature. It's like lolcat captions — "Good robot is good;" "Bad robot is bad;" "Goofy man is goofy"...these were not so much characters as they were one-note character tics given life. And, of course, none of the characters showed any actual growth. No hero's quest in this story, no sir.
• "Because I said so" plot: The Fallen can only be beaten by a Prime...why? Archaeologists never discovered these HUGE ADVANCED MACHINES beneath millennia-old structures...why? Sam (I keep wanting to call him Sparkplug) knew his plan would work...why? The shard Sam found — and thank god they never put those clothes through the washing machine in the intervening two years, huh? — was activated then...why? The plot is almost entirely driven by scenes/events that have to happen because the story needs them to happen, not because it actually makes sense for them to happen.
• In the first film, the U.S. military were shown as superbly competent, professional soldiers who responded to a situation readily and effectively. In this film, the U.S. military (or at least the secret branch of it assigned to work with the Autobots) is depicted as a gung-ho boys' club with little regard for those who don't agree with them and even less interest in protocol or chain of command — all this while jaunting around the world, conducting large and destructive military operations on foreign soil (and China and Egypt, no less...I can't see any reason they would object to that...).
• A literal deus ex machina resolution — if one of the major storylines is resolved by Sam going to Robot Heaven and being handed the means of success by robot ghosts/gods, the storyline was not properly thought out to begin with.
• One of the things I loved about the first movie was the way the robots moved: not like big clunky machines, but like sleek, athletic animals that could adapt their bodies at the smallest level to respond to the environment they were in — they climbed and swung like monkeys; slinked and slid like cats. (Except when there was humor to be found in them not doing so, of course, but generally.) In this movie, though, I didn't get that, except for in a few scenes.
• It bothered me how subservient the Autobots were throughout the movie. Not just "willing to accede to the wishes of the people whose planet we're on" subservient, but "treated and behaving like a tamed pet" subservient.
• The Fallen's plan/"revenge." First off, I'm not exactly clear who The Fallen was getting revenge on. The Primes who stopped him were long gone; the humans had nothing to do with his defeat or exile; he didn't seem to particularly care about the Autobots, except insofar as they were in his way... I know there was a scene where Megatron and The Fallen discussed this, but that discussion didn't really stay with me, and looking back at the plot I can't really piece it together from context clues.
But okay. Okay. So The Fallen wanted to follow through on his millennia-old plan to transform the sun into energon so he could build his army of Decepticons and...take over the galaxy or something (it's never really clear what he intends to use his army for). But destroying the sun would kind of mess things up for the solar system — y'know, the group of planets that The Fallen and his army-to-be are on.
(And, come to that, why didn't The Fallen just set up on Mars or Venus all those thousands of years ago? Wouldn't have had to deal with the pesky native life that way... Ah, but there's another "because I said so" moments: if he had gone to another planet, we wouldn't have had a story. Ergo, he came to ours.)
• Oh, by the way...apparently, the Witwickys are poor, and Sam is the first of them to go to college. Revelation of which had me turning to Jen and whispering, "Then how the hell do they afford that house?!?" Seriously: I live in an area rife with McMansions, and most my neighbors would be jealous of the house Sam's family has in these two movies.
Whew! I do go on, don't I?
To sum up: This is not a good movie. This is not a smart movie. And it sure as heck isn't a short movie. It has very few redeeming features, a laughable plot and a more than occasionally intellectually insulting story, two-dimensional characters, and an apparently complete disregard for the way anything actually works in anything resembling reality.
But if you go in knowing all that, and expecting the movie to be a laughable hack job...and if you go to a showing with a large audience, most of whom are adolescent boys (or their adult man-child equivalents of either gender)...then you'll probably have an okay time.