For all its gloriously silly excess the first live action Transformers movie was a harmonic convergence of director and material. Perhaps for the first time Michael Bay was granted legitimate free reign to indulge his inner thirteen-year-old with high-octane carnage, vehicle porn, ‘splosions, and his pathological obsession with helicopters. Seemingly Bay was born to direct this franchise and he duly delivered a smash hit that was everything it needed to be; big, bold, brash, and very, very loud.

Revenge of The Fallen should by rights be Bay’s Empire Strikes Back, with the stage set for an all-action follow up that broadens the scope, darkens the tone, and even offers an Emperor figure (The Fallen) to stand alongside Mengatron’s Darth Vader. But just as it seemed he had found his place in the filmmaking world – helming $150 million toy adverts – paradise duly crumbles, and St. Michael delivers a plodbuster that’s chaotic, unfocused, lazy, and one that violates that most sacred of cinematic commandments – thou shalt not bore.

Opening with a brutal seek and destroy mission in Shanghai the newly forged NEST (an alliance between Autobots and Josh Duhamel’s marines from Transformers 1) team leave path of devastating collateral damage chasing down a Decepticon infiltrator. Believing the Autobots are actually part of the problem, Presidential company man Galloway (John Benjamin Hickey) orders the unit stood down just as the Decepticons rally for a pointed invasion in search of an ancient machine that will harvest vital energon (their power) at the cost of obliterating our sun.

Having upped the robot count from a dozen or so in the first movie to more than forty here, alongside most of the original cast, Bay is seemingly unable to marshal his troops effectively and quickly loses any and all control over the battlefield. Optimus Prime gets a much-beefed up role, but Ratchett and Ironhide are almost entirely absent. In their place are some frankly racist ghetto-bots known as “The Twins” who talk jive, fist bump and sport dangly gold teeth. A small army of robot critters is also scuttling around and at times it feels as if we’re just a Mogwai cameo away from a Gremlins homage.

Sam’s back, at an East coast school, and sporting a brand new nerd sidekick (Rodriguez) alongside returning John Tuturro and Megan Fox’s bare torso (occasionally we see the rest of her). Bay foolishly opts to integrate what should be the comic relief (Sam’s Parents) into the threat mix placing them directly in harms way, which completely disrupts the tone, dragging the audience from one emotional extreme to the other on rails. Comic relief needs to stay comic relief. As far as the MacGuffin is concerned the unfathomable Allspark is back alongside the equally incompressible Matrix of Leadership, the clues to the location of which exist inside Sam’s mind (yes, really).

To his credit Bay has dialed back the frames per second, which means you can actually discern what is happening on the screen. But given that each Transformer get at most one scene a piece (Prime, Megatron, and Starscream the exceptions), come the climactic showdown you’ll be lucky if you can even tell them apart, never mind be invested enough to root for one over another. Even the movie’s Big Bad, The Fallen is only vaguely identifiable, let alone threatening. And having taking an inordinate amount of time setting up this climactic smack down Bay then has the Autobots disappear almost entirely so he can deliver yet another gushing tribute to the overwhelming might of the US military, with endless slow-mo swoops of tanks, artillery, and of course, helicopters.

Crushing our hopes and dreams under a giant metallic hoof, Bay has delivered a sequel that’s bloated, badly paced, and unforgivably long considering what little story actually resides within this unregulated audio-visual soup. It’s not even bad it’s just boring. In the end Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is just so middle-of-the-road, if it doesn’t get out of the way quickly it will likely be hit by a truck (that then transforms into a walking, talking racial stereotype).

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Tuturro, Ramon Rodriguez
Director: Michael Bay
Runtime: 150 Minutes
Distributor: Paramount
Rating: PG-13

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