There seem to be three knocks reviewers are bringing up against “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.”
One: It is directed by Michael Bay, whose films are open sewers of ego and ineptitude. Two: With the exceptions of the main ones, all the robots look and act alike, and audiences can’t tell them apart during battle scenes. Three: The plot is incomprehensible.
The logical response to the last point is, who cares? Bay and writers Ehren Kruger (“The Ring”), Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (“Star Trek”) don’t care enough about the plot to even recap what happened in the first film. There’s a scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” in which information vital to Cary Grant is given to him by an American spy, but they are walking on an airport runway and, with plane engines roaring in the background, we can’t hear a word they’re saying. So much for the importance of plot points.
“Revenge of the Fallen” is a good vs. evil story. Optimus Prime, leader of the good Autobots, is killed and resurrected. Sam (Shia LaBeouf, “Eagle Eye”), a human who works with him, figuratively denies him three times before finding his inner planet-saver. Get it? Good.
The bad robots are called Decepticons. They want to find a machine, hidden on Earth, that will draw all the energy from the sun and pass it along to them. The Fallen is the alpha Decepticon who cannot return to Earth until Megatron, leader of the baddies, kills Optimus Prime.
All these guys are easily identified by their looks or coloring. Bumblebee, the robot that has been protecting Sam, and Starscream, Megatron’s minion are also recognizable. As for the others, not so much. But saying that the robot battles are boring because you can’t tell the combatants apart is like saying you lost interest in the International Ladies Nude Mud Wrestling Tournament because you couldn’t tell the French team from the Italian one.
Scenes of robots fighting are not about robots fighting; they’re about the astonishing animation, the vision bordering on genius, and the cubist whirl of colors and shapes in perpetual motion. There is beauty in the bellow of the blast, just as there is in the pyrotechnics.
The effects are spectacular, and we shouldn’t forget that spectacle is as legitimate a film genre as romantic comedy, Western or horror. In fact, movies began with spectacle “ trains roaring into stations, fanciful trips to the moon, even just the waving of tree branches in the background of an outdoor shot. They’re called “moving pictures” for a reason, and yet, we tend to dismiss them if their main attraction is movement.
Which brings us to Bay, (“The Island”) who is, along with Roland Emmerich and Brett Ratner, one of the most reviled directors in the business. Why? He’s a primitive, with more interest in visuals than narrative. Director Paul Schrader wrote recently that we have become a culture drowning in narrative. Even “reality TV” is mostly scripted. Perhaps Bay knows intuitively that he doesn’t have to provide much of a story, because we have so many of them in our heads already, we can just replay one that matches what we’re seeing on the screen and go from there on our own.
If you don’t have a battling-robots story to draw on, maybe “Transformers” is not the movie for you.
LaBeouf is not the only human in the film. Returning are Megan Fox (“How to Lose Friends & Alienate People”) as Sam’s girlfriend, and if ever an actress lived up to her surname, Fox is the one. She claims that these movies call on only about 7 percent of her acting range; maybe someday, a producer will care to find out.
Kevin Dunn (“Vicki Cristina Barcelona”) and Julie White (“Monsters vs. Aliens”) are back as Sam’s parents, struggling a bit with the fact that he is going off to college. White’s performance is just tall enough to steal every scene she’s in, without being so broad that she loses us. Josh Duhamel (TV’s “Las Vegas”) and Tyrese Gibson (“Death Race”) revive their roles as tough-as-nails combat soldiers, and the wonderful John Turturro (“The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3″) is back as Agent Simmons, only this time, he is on Sam’s team.
“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” is goofy fun. No, it isn’t a “good” movie of the “Introduction to Cinema Art” type “ its construction is crude and its script is often slapdash, but it does offer some unexpected beauty.