By Charles Cartagena
In Michael Bay’s second installment of the Transformer’s live-action series, Revenge of the Fallen, Optimus Prime leads the audience through an opening flashback thousands of years into the past, when life on Earth is threatened for the first time by visiting Decepticons.
Prime, voiced by Peter Cullen, takes the audience into the present day where it is learned that the Autobots are now part of a tactical group under an American government called NEST.NEST’s sole purpose is to find and destroy the Decepticons.
This second film builds on many of the aspects that made the first film a raving success: big action, superior special effects and complex fight scenes. With $50 million more to spend than in the 2007 film, Bay includes many action sequences and characters in this sequel that were absent from the first installment. This cramping of characters and events, however, leaves little room for character development or plot ties, as many of the new Transformers are strangers to new and old audience members alike. For example, Arcee, a group of three transforming motorcycles, is given no explanation or back-story (like many of the new non-human characters) and is simply plugged into complex action sequences but does very little for the film outside of a brief and minor “wow” factor.
Plot finishes third behind special effects and big robots hitting each other. Even the more notable action sequences — such as the epic opening scene in which Optimus Prime is air dropped into a firefight involving humans, Decepticons and Autobots — seem less than fulfilling as they do little to raise dramatic tensions or tie the audience into an emotional conflict.
Other big-budget action sequences leave a similar sense of disappointment as many are simply anticlimactic. A scene that comes to mind is when the deceased Megatron, voiced by Hugo Weaving, is resurrected. A large portion of the film builds toward this exact moment and anticipation is enhanced by the incredible guard the U.S. government has placed over Megatron’s corpse. The audience sees hundreds of aircraft carriers, gunships and cruisers patrolling the watery grave of the fallen Decepticon leader. When this guard is finally broken, it is done so with little detail and a paltry screen duration of a few fleeting moments. There is no dramatic or emotional substance linked to what should be a pivotal event.
Getting past the aesthetically impressive action sequences, which leave much to be desired from a plot standpoint, the film’s characters are also lacking. The performances by the film’s human characters are incredibly cartoonish and often over the top. It is hard to hold these performances against the actors, however, when the writing and direction is the cause.
The film shoots for humor as its main supplement to adrenaline-charged action but fails to hit its mark. Many scenes geared toward comedic relief are simply out of place, distracting or disturbingly stereotypical and borderline racist. Two non-human characters, Mudflap and Skids, embody the poor character development and writing this film contains. Speaking in loud, obnoxious and stereotypical Ebonics, these “urban” Autobots are constantly violent toward each other and could not be more offensive toward the minority community. Their pointless and grating exploits are good representations of the film’s overall failed attempt at humor.
Overall, the lack of plot leaves the audience unengaged for most of the film. The film’s 144-minute length leaves a window for awkward and inconsequential images to play out in between large explosions, robot brawls and Optimus Prime’s nuggets of on-screen dramatic emotion and complex feeling. Ultimately, the most emotional reaction this film will draw from a viewer comes in the 144th minute when the credits finally roll to assure viewers that the ordeal is over, and this realization comes with a sense of accomplishment: We have survived.