By John Anderson
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
With its fascist sensibility, assortment of smutty asides, illiterate gold-tooth-wearing homie robots and the hero's brainless mother, much of "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is simply despicable. So complaining about one's physical discomfort seems petty. But given the relentless din, the Leni Riefenstahl-inspired music and the headache-inducing visuals, OSHA should probably be investigating the conditions under which human beings made this thing. Or the conditions under which they watch it.
And this is from someone who liked "Transformers." Sure, it was a clanking, clanging, rock-'em, sock-'em robot slugfest, but with a human element that was surprisingly real. Shia LaBeouf held his own alongside his 14-story co-stars, Megan Fox added fleshly decor and the whole thing was kind of funny. Although the action was huge, the feeling was intimate: For much of the film, Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) was trying to keep the existence of the enormous, shape-shifting Autobots a secret, so there was not only situational comedy -- there was also a sense that the audience was in on a well-meant conspiracy.
Not so this time. The whole wide world -- and more -- is in on the "Trans 2" experience. Or soon will be. Since the absence of the Allspark, or life force, has made the Autobots' planet uninhabitable, they've moved in with us like unwelcome relatives and have been working with the U.S. military. Why are aliens always working with the military here? Why not Venezuela?
Anyway, the Autobots and the Army are looking for rogue Decepticons, and keeping the world safe. But not for long: The ancient origins of the Autobots and evil Decepticons -- including a literally satanic mastermind known as "the Fallen" -- will come to the fore, with Earth, the sun, the pyramids and Sam's fledgling academic career at what as well might be called Nymphomaniac Supermodel University all on the line.
As with so many sequels, anything that worked in the first film is ratcheted up to overkill. To say the film is too loud or relentlessly violent misses the point: We watch movies like this for noise and violence. But what's wrong here is that there's so much swirling, relentless action, indistinct robot characterizations and over-caffeinated techies loose on the special-effects machines that the movie, in mere seconds, achieves incoherence.
If the viewer has no sense of what or where anything is, then he or she has no physical investment in the chaos that director Michael Bay and exec producer Steven Spielberg are trying to impose. Hence, no thrills. It's a paradoxical movie, ultimately: There's too much of everything, and too little of anything.
Is there a story? LaBeouf and Fox are back, of course, although Sam is off to college, while Fox's Mikaela stays home to rehabilitate her ex-con father. Sam's inability to tell Mikaela that he loves her provides the romantic tension.
The first shot of Fox, on the back of a parked motorcycle, posterior pointed toward the sky, is an indication of how she'll be used -- as scenery enhancement, and an argument why the human race deserves saving. LaBeouf is perfectly serviceable, although, like his lumbering metallic friends, he probably should be oiled now and then.
Still, Bay and Spielberg and the rest of their co-conspirators have apparently decided that humans are of so little consequence that they can be relegated to the props department. "Trans 2" is really an animated film -- the Autobots and Decepticons are not integrated, visually, into a live-action world, as they were in the first film; because they are so ornate and supposedly sophisticated, they inhabit their own cartoon universe, into which people occasionally wander.
To suppose that there is an artistic philosophy behind "Trans 2," or even an intelligence, is to suppose a lot. But the aim would seem to be the creation of a world in which massive machines and tiny humans coexist. This, the moviemakers have not done.
In the current documentary "Food, Inc.," American gluttony and ill health are portrayed as being the result of a corporate force-feeding of a passive population. Such tactics aren't limited to food: At an inexplicable 2 1/2 hours, "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" is subscribing to the institutionalized conclusion that Americans don't care what you feed them, as long as the portions are dangling off the plate.
In its chattering, noisy, malnutritious excess, "Trans 2" is the studio version of a genetically modified, growth-hormone-enhanced chicken. Consume at your own risk.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (150 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for sexual content, vulgarity, intense action, crude humor and drug content.