Saturday, 21 November 2009

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Think of the worst film you've ever seen. Go on. Now imagine one ten times worse. Then think of one twice as bad again. Congratulations; you're getting closer to appreciating just how mind-rottingly appalling Michael Bay's 'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen' is but just in case you're tempted to rent or buy it just for a laugh or because, like me, you thought the first one was okay in a noisey sort of way, let me try to talk you out of it for the sake of your own sanity. Sometimes I'm willing to suffer through these things so you don't have to. I'm that sort of a man...

So yes, I admit it; I enjoyed the first 'Transformers' movie a couple of years back. It was loud, brash, unsubtle and it was basically about a bunch of robots based on toys (thanks, Hasbro!) hitting each other as a bunch of humans run away around their feet. It was too long, of course, and I had to rush to get to get back to my car in the multi-storey car park which was closing at midnight but....oh, sorry, gone off the point a bit there. But 'Transformers' movies do that to you; you tend to wander off and think about something else because, let's face it, there's naff all to really think about in the films themselves. But the new one, though...oh, that takes it a step further. Mindless can be okay, mindless can be fun; but when mindless becomes insulting, when mindless becomes genuinely offensive in almost every way imaginable , then we've got a film in trouble and, in Michael Bay, a film-maker who's lost control of his own critical faculties and who, it appears, has now decided to treat his audiences like utter imbeciles.

So what's the plot? Damn, I was hoping you wouldn't ask... 'Revenge of the Fallen' picks up more or less where the first film took off; the human race and the Transformers co-exist uneasily but when the hero of the first film, the ridiculously-named Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf who throughout the entire film wears the look of a man who has realised that signing on for this moronic sequel was A Very Bad Idea Indeed) leaves home for college, leaving his implausibly pouty mechanic girlfriend Mikaela (the spectacularly-wooden Megan Fox) behind to pine for him. Sam, it appears, is in possession of a fragment of some extra-terrestrial McGuffin which, it transpires, is the key to a huge doomsday weapon hidden in the pyramids in Egypt (obviously) which can destroy the Earth and blah de blah. Some big toy robot in space comes to Earth, smashes stuff up and, miraculously, the cast (including Sam's witless comedy relief parents) all end up in Egypt where they run around screaming and covering their ears. The end.

It's not just that 'Revenge of the Fallen' has the sort of storyline a three-month old infant would have dismissed as too unsophisticated, it's that, special effects apart (and let's face it, special effects are really the sole raison d'etre of films like this), the whole production is just utterly misbegotten. For a film which is really aimed at kids the script is often grubby and inappropriate (look, the irritating little robot is humping Mikaela's leg and saying "Say my name! Say my name!"), the humour is tired and asinine (Sam's Mum gets high on drugs at college, what a hoot!) and two streetwise jive-ass Transformers are probably the most racially-offensive non-existent motion picture characters since Jar Jar Binks in some 'Star Wars' film or other. The first hour of the film rushes by in a blur of mild disinterest but when John Turturro's conspriacy-theory character reappears from the first film and Sam's pointless college sidekick tags along for the ride and swiftly becomes more annoying than everyone else in the movie, we can see that here's a film which is spiralling horribly out of control, going nowhere fast and very, very noisily.

And ultimately, it is all about the noise, the sound and fury signifying nothing at all. All the way through the film things explode and hurtle through the air, robots clatter and crash together in scenes edited so tightly it's hard to work out what's doing what to what else (even if we cared) and the final robot mash-up in Egypt, hugely spectacular and a triumph for CGI as it is, is probably the most boring and unengaging action climax to a film I've ever seen.

In some ways it's odd that I loathed 'Revenge of the Fallen' so passionately. I usually like a bit of mindless pap from time to time (not ITV-mindless, though...that'd be going too far). But this one just loses it; it's too soul-less, it's too cynically-contrived and it's far too obviously the work of a director who cares nothing except for his reputation as the man who makes lots of things go 'bang' in the cinema and who,sadly, thinks that's still enough. The real horror is that this film has been one of the biggest Box office hits of the year, raking in much more than its predecessor. What caa you say? All I can say is, for the love of all that's holy in your soul, just body-swerve this one if you value your brain cells. It really is a dreadful, dreadful piece of work.

The Discs: Yes, yes, it all looks clean and lovely on DVD and the sound design is astonishing (although maybe it's just my TV set-up but a lot of the explosions seemed a bit...quiet, drowned out by the sounds of metal things clanking about the place). Disc two is bursting with featurettes about the making of the movie but I'm rather more interested in why they made it so, unless they promise me they won't do it again I really can't bring myself to look at the extras. If you take the plunge on this stuff, knock yourselves out.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is released on DVD and Blu-Ray in the UK on November 30th 2009. Buy Moon instead.

GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra
Now this is more fun; equally inane in its own way but far, far less offensive than 'Transformers'. Being British I know little about the whole American GI Joe thang apart from the fact there used to be toy ads in the back of Marvel and DC Comics in the 1960s and 1970s, courtesy, once again, of those nice people at Hasbro. Thanks, Hasbro. Retooled and refashioned for the flash-bang generation, 'GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra' must surely have cost nearly all the money in the world to make. Over a hundred minutes rush by in a dizzying whirl of frankly genuinely jaw-dropping special effects, from the armoured attack at the start of the film, the incredible chase through the streets of Paris which ends in the spectacular destruction of a well-known Parisian landmark, aerial chase sequences and an undersea dogfight battle which effortlessly out-Star Wars 'Star Wars', the whole thing punctuated by a stream of other big action/fight sequences to create a film so outlandishly extreme and over-the-top that only the most churlish (usually me) could put up any reasonable resistance against its brash charms. I wouldn't say I loved it but it's a real ride of a movie.

You'd be right to be wary considering the film is directed by Stephen Summers - I'll just say 'Van Helsing' and you'll know why I recommend caution. Fortunately Summers has rediscovered the mojo which made the first 'Mummy' film a big blast. 'GI Joe' is full of the energy and twinkling humour missing from too many of these sorts of films these days - and amidst all the spectacle there's actually a bit of plot and some halfway decent characters too. Stop me from fainting...

Weapons manufacturer McCullen (Christopher Eccleston - from Dr Who to this, Chris?? What the Hell happened??) – soon to be known as Destro – tries to frame NATO for the theft of his own metal-eating nano-bot rockets. The elite Special Forces group known as G.I. Joe becomes involved and almost before the credits have faded a military convoy led by officers Duke and Ripcord is hijacked by the evil Baroness and her men, thwarted only by the sudden appearance of Scarlett, Snake-Eyes and Heavy Duty, titular GI Joes, blazing away with a dazzling array of fanciful super-futuristic weaponry. Duke and Ripcord ingratiate themselves into the group on a mission to retrieve the missles before Destro, Baroness, Storm Shadow and the soon-to-be Cobras can use them in a devastating attack on major cities around the planet in their quest to take over the world!! Yikes!!

Sounds like nonsense, don't it? Well, it is, obviously. But it's done with such charm and gusto and so much genuine spectacle it's hard not to be swept along by the rush of it all, and even harder to want not to. Eccleston is a glorious bad guy, steely and hard-edged and, just for a change, the lead characters are actually given some sense of humanity via a slowly-unfolding backstory as the audience learns of the complex web of relationships which has found them on opposing sides for all sorts of opposing reasons.

There's not a lot else to be said for 'GI Joe' except that it's fun and it's enjoyable and it's a perfect wintry rainy afternoon movie. You will 'ooh' and 'ahh' at the special effects and despite the fact we all know by know this is all done by computers you won't be able to help yourselves wondering just how they Hell they did it all without bankrupting the Earth. Leap into this one expecting a thrill ride and not a deeply-cerebral movie experience and you won't be disappointed.

The DVD: A handful of 'making of' and 'FX' featurettes and a glorious DVD transfer. Bet the Blu ray will look mighty fine too.

GI Joe: The Rise of Cobra is released on DVD and Blu Ray in the UK on December 7th 2009

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