Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Transformers return better, meaner and packing more punch

Two years and they are back! Was it worth the wait? Yes, if you are a die-hard Transformers fan. Two-thumbs up if you are into digital effects. Those who caught the first Transformers movie by Michael Bay and expect a continuation of the adventures of the robots in disguise with Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) won't be let down with 'Transformers:Revenge of the Fallen', but they might end up a little muddled. There are familiar faces like Sam's lovely girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox) and his parents Ron and Judy (Kevin Dunn and Julie White).

You will also be reunited with Major Lennox (Josh Duhamel) who remains a gun-toting US military commander and Agent Simmons (John Turturro) who reappears late in the movie as old adversary-turned-ally. The difference now is that the Autobots operate quite openly alongside humans, which is made clear minutes into the movie with a big whiz-bang battle in Shanghai.

A new secret US military operative called NEST, led by Major Lennox and his team last seen battling alien robots in downtown USA in the first Transformers movie, descend literally on Shanghai after a toxic chemical leak which oddly enough, reveals a hidden Decepticon.

This is the cue for the Autobots to appear in all their glory - from Optimus Prime making a spectacular arrival out of the sky from the belly of plane, as a new team including girl-fighters Arcee who transform from bikes and silver Chevy concept sportscar Sideswipe, take shape on the ground. They take on the bad guys Demolisher and Sideways with pyrotechnics and crushing metal galore. Given that the Transformers have a cult following from kids to adults who grew up with the Autobots and Decepticons as cartoons and action figure toys in the 70s, those who can be categorised as non-followers might get a little lost among the different robots and their disguises.

If you're a 'novice' it's best to bring along an 'expert' which in my case is an 11-year-old who must now receive his due credit as personal advisor on who's who among the Transformers. It was also fortunate that my young advisor had used some time during the school holidays to catch up on some 'essential' reading which provided useful background into The Fallen , a robot in need of power and energy.

The Fallen whom this movie revolves around, is the chief bad guy, not Megatron whom we all met in the last round and saw finally being dropped into the depths of an ocean. Through some eavesdropping the Decepticons manage to raise Megatron from his watery tomb as must be expected for a sequel and a majestic robot who rivals Optimus Prime.

It is at a meeting between Megatron and his master, The Fallen that we learn how the movie gets its name, and how everything falls into place. Unfortunately, all this comes mid-way into the movie after running through quite a mundane catch-up on the lives of the Witwickys.

The arrival of Sam at college is complete with nerds including room-mate Leo (Ramon Rodriguez ) who gets roped in as a new side-kick mainly for comic relief, and hot girls like Alice (Isabel Lucas) who is really tough and not-too-nice on the inside! It is here too that the audience will be bombarded with sexual references which were really unnecessary as they weren't even funny to most adults and awkward for the kids.

This earned 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen' a PG rating which covers intense violence and sexual references which can appear when you least expect it - such as from a tiny robot . Hopefully, the kids and kid-in-you will come away only remembering the awesome special effects which see the vehicles transforming into Autobots and Decepticons while on the move.

The super-charged battles between the Transformers that take place from the forests of America to the open seas and the plains of the Sahara are also spectacular. It was also rewarding to catch glimpses of military hardware including an American destroyer roped in for the closing sequence of the movie, sailing off into the sunset as Optimus Prime towers on the deck next to Sam. Although much of the movie revolved around Sam, Mikaela and the main Transformers such as Bumblebee, Optimus Prime, Megatron and Starscream, it was the second billing stars who shined.

The sudden appearance of Agent Simmons gave a good boost to the movie. John Turturro was flawless in delivering his character of a failed secret agent who remains sorely in need of redemption and being taken seriously, who gets to help save the day. New face Ramon Rodriguez also shows he can pull off some good laughs in his role as Leo who unwittingly gets dragged into the battle to save mankind.

Credit also goes to Kevin Dunn and Julie White who reprise their roles as Ron and Judy Witwicky with just the right amount of comedy coupled with a very realistic portrayal of that odd blend of parental overbearing-ness and love. While there were a total of 14 robots last time, in 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen' there are 46 robots of varying shapes and sizes according to the creative team ILM (Industrial Light and Magic).

The most memorable of the new bots in my books is Jetfire, the SR-71 Blackbird jet which was reactivated with a shard of the Allspark. The ancient Autobot that switched from being a Decepticon as it couldn't stand all the negative vibes, is equally endearing and heroic, while serving to pull the loose ends together. The younger crowds might enjoy the antics of Wheelie, a trouble-maker that proves worthwhile and Autobot Twins, Skids and Mudflap who are a pair of Chevrolet concept mini-cars.

Those who love Bumblebee will love the yellow Chevy Camaro even more in 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen' with its loyalty and tender side which the ILM team pulled off wonderfully.

Along with the special effects team, director Michael Bay did great justice to screenplay by Ehren Kruger, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman with an action-packed, robot-jammed movie that won't disappoint.

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