Film Review: Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Autobots battle Decepticons, with Planet Earth at stake. Thunderous, chaotic sequel actually improves on the original.

A sequel to the 2007 worldwide blockbuster, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen forms the second part of a planned trilogy based on the once-popular Hasbro action figures. Director Michael Bay's typically obsessive attention to detail and uncanny command of mayhem help make this a much more engrossing movie than the original. With better special effects and a storyline that's easier to follow, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen should soak up huge returns at the box office.

Back from the original are Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), the teen suburban hero who became an Autobot liaison through his used Camaro, his ridiculously hot mechanic girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox), and his amiably goofy parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White). Sam is off for college on the East Coast, leading to tearful goodbyes and extended comic skits staged so awkwardly they are alarming. It's a bad sign when the reliably professional White is reduced to shrieking and flailing her arms.

Fortunately, the main thrust of the plot concerns a new attempt by the evil Decepticons to destroy our sun by reassembling the dreaded Allspark. The only thing holding them back are the Autobots, led by Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen). But a new regime in Washington wants the Autobots off our planet, no matter what the consequences. Sam, his new roommate Leo (Ramon Rodriguez) and Mikaela are drawn into the middle of the Transformer war, becoming targets of international authorities as well as the Decepticons.

Apart from the lame romantic and comic interludes, the plot of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is taut, fast-paced, and as realistic as its "battle of the junkyards" premise can get. The action, which veers from Shanghai to Paris to a ruin-strewn desert somewhere between Egypt and Jordan, takes place on a colossal (and deafening) scale, with what looks like entire geographic zones laid waste. The varied settings let Bay essentially rework bits from earlier movies: a bit from Gremlins here, Aliens there, even a reference to Pearl Harbor. A chase through a college library outdoes one LaBeouf faced in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull; Bay also riffs on some of the nastier moments in executive producer Steven Spielberg's Minority Report.

It's easy to pick apart Bay's directing style: a short attention span with dramatic issues, a tendency to lean too heavily on pyrotechnics and volume, gung-ho politics, etc. But Bay's vision—his sense of composition and editing—works even when his scenes don't. His pounding pacing in the action scenes is flawless, even when the screen is awash with motion too blurry to decipher. And he finds the details that give his imagery real bite, like the contrails from a jet as it takes off from an aircraft carrier. Or a helicopter that shears the top from a palm tree as it crashes, its pilot slamming into the windshield.

The combination of animation, special effects and CGI is so adroit that the Transformers not only appear organic, but develop recognizable personalities. Whether you like warring robots or not, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen makes the third part of the trilogy something to look forward to.