Last night I saw Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Now, when you go into a movie like that you're not exactly expecting a masterpiece. You understand that the limitations of the genre and, more crippling, the target audience combine to guarantee a mediocre viewing experience. But you hope that cool fight scenes and an interesting character or two shroud the essential shallowness of the film. This time? Not so much.
Transformers was not, at least, an unmitigated failure. The acting is tolerably done, which on the scale of action flicks, is practically Oscar worthy. I am not the biggest fan of Shia LeBeouf, but this movie plays to his strengths, and he is able to carry much of the film. The redoubtable Peter Cullen is a treat to longtime Transformers fans and recent converts alike as Optimus Prime. But the best performance is put in by Sam's parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White), especially Ms. White as the mother.
That is, however, part of the problem. Transformers seems to suffer from an identity crisis. The film has a strong comedic foundation, with both amusing scenes and witty one-liners. But these flashes of mirth seem, sandwiched as they are between meaningless metallic mayhem and overblown dramatics, stolen from another movie. Micheal Bay seems to believe he can transform his movie between action, comedy, and drama at will, but the transitions are stilted and ultimately detract from those parts of the film that work.
Fight scenes are supposed to be the highlight of an action film, but it seems that the modern trend illustrates a direct correlation between the amount of CG and the degree of dullness. It can be at times difficult to distinguish the silver Decepticons from each other (poor characterization of the villians is a general theme among the two Bey Transformers movies), and even when you can tell, you don't care to make the effort because it doesn't matter who just shrugged off the latest atom bomb.
I don't want to give away what, in an impressive illustration of ambition, aspires to be the plot, but it does such a good job of hiding that I feel compelled to mention that if you don't at least look for it, you might not find it (though I doubt you'll miss it). The portrayal of Megatron as a loyal and conspicuously obedient servant (and the continuing failure to cast Frank Welker, the original voice actor) would infuriate any true fan of the 80's cartoon. Soundwave is finally in this movie, but he's a freaking satellite, when they could have easily made him a CD player, and he doesn't sound like he used to either.
Sadly, even with all our technology and the ability to merge CG robots seemlessly with the real world, we've yet to make a Transformers movie superior to that from 1986. Perhaps even worse, this is also true of the soundtrack. However dated and (even at the time) annoying the mid 80's power ballads may be, at least the animated film had more than one song. Revenge of the Fallen pushes that new Linkin Park tune so aggressively you expect an advertisement for concert dates is coming next.
See it, if you have to. But don't expect any more than meets the eye.