I saw it at midnight on Wednesday night (meaning the wee hours of yesterday morning) along with fellow bloggers Phillip Arthur and Matthew Federico. And I am compelled to echo the sentiments that just about every reviewer on the planet is saying about this movie: that it's far too long, it's much too juvenile and there's way too much to expect a viewer to take in.
I anticipate that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is going to become a textbook example of how a movie demands good editing, because there's a ton of material that could have been left on the cutting room floor that would not only not be missed, but would have made for a much tighter and more enthralling film. Some of this stuff was just plain embarrassing to watch: Sam's mom hopped-up on marijuana-laced brownies is but one of them. Other elements should have never progressed beyond the conceptual stage... and I'm thinking mostly of Skids and Mudflap (or as many are calling them, "Car Car Binks"). Seriously: Skids and Mudflap are the very worst thing to happen to the Transformers franchise in the history of anything. A lot of people are wondering aloud if these two Autobidiots are meant to be stereotypically racist. Whether they are or not, Skids and Mudflap should have never been given such an obscene amount of screen time. Regardless of anything else, these two characters offend good taste in ways that Mel Brooks barely did with Blazing Saddles. What the hell were screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (along with Ehren Kruger) thinking?! Hard to believe that these two 'Bots sprang from the same brilliant minds that gave us Star Trek last month.
(I'm not even gonna go anywhere near Devastator's testicles...)
But mostly, I think that much like Spider-Man 3 a few years ago, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen suffers from an excess of plot and character.
Imagine the sequels of the Pirate of the Caribbean series - Dead Man's Chest and At World's End - smooshed together into a single motion picture. That is what Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is: one movie that should have been divided into two. It starts off well enough, with Optimus Prime (again voiced by Peter Cullen) describing the events of the past two years and how the Autobots have formed a covert team with the United States military to hunt down Decepticons that have come to Earth. And right off the bat, director Michael Bay is pouring on crazy helpings of his trademark "Bay-hem" style: lots of dizzying 'splosive action that should have utterly broken Industrial Light and Magic's CGI render farm. The opening fight between the Autobots and the huuuuge Decepticon Demolishor is a sequence of well-orchestrated carnage indicative of how this movie is solidly better than Terminator: Salvation, the most recent blockbuster that I had seen in past weeks. There is quite a bit of thoughtful "building off" of the mythology that the first film began, and I liked that. One thing that I appreciated in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is how this movie finally addresses some questions that have been around since the Transformers first hit the scene a quarter-century ago... like how Transformers are born, hatched, whatever. And I think that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is wildly successful at showing us a world-wide conflict between the Autobots and Decepticons (several people in the audience cheered when they saw that the Autobots were driving through North Carolina on the military's map).
But about an hour into the movie and it's glaringly certain that there's too much mythology being hurled at us to take in for one film. The most obvious aspect of this is the sheer number of Autobots and Decepticons overwhelming each other. The original Autobot characters from the first movie? They are barely in this one. We finally get to see Arcee, but she and other female Autobots are hardly noticeable. Soundwave (voiced by Frank Welker!) has a fairly important presence, but I thought we should have seen him take a more active role among his fellow Decepticons. Concepts from the earliest canon like the Pretenders and the Matrix of Leadership and the Space Bridge and more assault the viewer's mind and if you haven't been indoctrinated in Transformers terminology, I can see how it's gonna be very easy to be lost in it all.
This is a movie that should have been split in two, with a Transformers movie for this summer and one for the next. And I know right where the divide should have been at, but won't talk about it here for fear of spoiling it for those who haven't seen it yet. Let's just say that something of a Transformers "tradition" takes place that would have made for an excellent cliffhanger to be resolved in another installment.
There were too many Transformers in this movie. The effects in this movie are nothing short of jaw-dropping. I just wish that there had been fewer Transformers to spread more of the visuals around. Devastator - the combined form of the Constructicons - is the most complex digital model that Industrial Light and Magic has ever made. Too bad we don't get to see the individual Constructicons in action: they're pretty much just sitting vehicles that merge into one colossal robot... without ever getting to see their individual 'bot forms! The final battle at the pyramids between the Autobots and Decepticons has so many Transformers that hardly anybody will be able to pick out who's who.
So far as the humans go, I thought the carbon-based characters were pretty good, but again: a lot of their scenes should have been cleanly excised away from this film. Sam and his wacky family carry over well from the first movie (apart from Judy Witwicky's reefer-crazed rampage) and if you liked John Turturro's character of Simmons in the first movie, you'll be glad to know that he's back and with a bit more to do in this one.
Overall however... I'll have to say that I liked Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen enough that I'll probably want to see it at least once more in the theaters, even though I definitely recognize that it could have been a better movie had it received more editing and fewer robots. The lesson of this movie could be that "special effects do not a character make". Let's hope that the next Transformers movie will bear that in mind.
And what says me about Steve Jablonsky's score for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen? Loved it! Jablonsky really built upon and explored further the themes that he did for the first movie. I gladly bought his score from iTunes yesterday and have been listening to it ever since.
Anyway, in the end: I'm not going to jump on the "Bash Revenge Bandwagon" that this movie is having to endure across the media. I won't say that it's a "great" movie either like The Shawshank Redemption or even Star Trek. But I will say that warts and all, I sincerely came out of seeing Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen much as I did from seeing Transformers two years ago: thoroughly entertained.
What more could one ask of a summer blockbuster? :-)