Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

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What the hell even is this.

Michael Bay’s philosophy goes something like this. “Did you like it when I playfully slugged you in the arm? Then you’ll LOVE it when I PUNCH YOU IN THE FACE!” If you thought a 25-foot robot was cool, you’ll think a 50-foot robot is TWICE AS COOL! (Math confirms it!) If it’s funny to see two dogs humping once, just imagine how funny it will be to see it A SECOND TIME!!

This is a man for whom the words “wretched excess” have no meaning — indeed, for whom all words have no meaning, unless they are shouted over the din of a helicopter or tattooed on the lower back of a stripper. Bay directs with a gleeful love of senseless destruction and a casual disregard for human life, a grown-up 13-year-old who doesn’t care if his story makes sense, who doesn’t care if his characters are interesting, who doesn’t care about anything other than making giant things blow up.

“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” picks up two years after “Transformers” left off. The U.S. military is secretly working with the Autobots, led by Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen), who can change from a semi truck to a robot and back again in under two seconds, except when it’s more dramatic to do it slowly while the camera swoops around him and the horns in the orchestra blare, in which case the transformation takes more like 15 seconds. They’re tracking down and killing the remaining Decepticons, puzzled that the bad space robots are still here, considering the thing they came to Earth to find — the Allspark — has been destroyed.

Wouldn’t you know it, the Decepticons are looking for something ELSE this time. I anticipate a third, heretofore unmentioned artifact will be their target in the next sequel. And wouldn’t you also know it, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is the key to finding it.

Sam is just heading off to college on the East Coast, leaving his chesty, barely clothed girlfriend, Mikaela (Megan Fox), behind in L.A. Don’t worry, though: As soon as Mikaela learns Sam’s life is in danger, she hops on the next plane and is in his dorm room before sunset the same day, a remarkable feat of travel given the distance and time zones being covered. “Have any strangers given you anything suspicious to carry onboard?” the Southwest Airlines representative asks her at the ticket counter, because that’s TOTALLY what they ask when you fly. All of this, by the way, is after Sam’s mother (Julie White) accidentally eats some pot brownies and runs around his college campus in a hyperactive freak-out before tackling a Frisbee player on the lawn, and after Sam meets his tech-geek roommate (Ramon Rodriguez) and learns he’s a successful entrepreneur, a fact that the movie never mentions again.

The Decepticons learn the whereabouts of some of the things they’re looking for by having Soundwave hack into a U.S. government satellite in space. This is an obvious solution, yet apparently it took the Decepticons two years to think of it. No doubt they were busy designing some of their new agents, which include a sexy female robot that I’ll call the Seducticon. She fits right in at Sam’s school, a college seen frequently in movies and known as Hot Chick University.

The Autobots have been busy devising new toys to sell — er, characters to explore — too. You may have already heard about a pair called Mudflap and Skids, illiterate, dopey-eyed, buffoons who speak in exaggerated hip-hop slang. One of them has a gold tooth. They are the “urban” (read: black) characters, as well as the comic relief. We’ll call them the Amos&Andybots.

Bay is the kind of filmmaker who will boldly create something utterly incoherent, then somehow make you feel like you’re the jerk for pointing it out. “Duh!” he seems to say. “Of course it’s incoherent! I meant to do that! Aren’t you enjoying the loudness??” And while the loudness is periodically entertaining, it just becomes white noise after a while. Bay wants to impress us with how BIG some of the robots are, then shoots himself in the foot by never pausing long enough to let us be impressed by their grand scale. He seems to think that slowing down for a minute, even to take in the view, would be a sign of weakness. No time to enjoy yourself! Gotta keep moving!

It’s that lack of confidence (or, possibly, ADHD) that makes Bay let the thing run for 2 1/2 hours — because more is better, after all. But he’s so intent on giving us more of everything that he neglects the elements that would make that “everything” more satisfying. We’d feel a lot more tension and excitement over the plot if Bay would develop the characters into figures we cared about (and if they didn’t just randomly disappear once the movie was done with them). We’d be much more invested in the action if he would sit still long enough to let us SEE it. We would be thrilled by the story if Bay had chosen to tell one that was smart and clever.

Fans of “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” will probably describe it the same way as they described its predecessor. “It’s not meant to be Shakespeare!” “It’s not supposed to be ‘Citizen Kane.'” “Sure, it won’t win any Oscars….” “Leave your brain at the door!” “Lighten up, it’s a popcorn movie!” All of these defenses — which sound more like excuses — are true enough, but they overlook an important fact, which is that testosterone-fueled summer blockbusters can be fun AND smart. It’s not an either/or proposition. Since so many films have proven this, why settle for one that treats its audience like idiots? I can’t speak for you, but I know I deserve better.

D (2 hrs., 29 min.; PG-13, a little profanity, abundant action violence and general mayhem.)