My son does not own any Transformer dolls. I'm sorry, make that Transformer action figures. But if he did, upon my return from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, I would have taken these Hasbro toys outside, placed them under the wheels of the car and driven back and forth across them until they were ground into dust.
My motivation would not be revenge for the lost hours I've now devoted to the Transformers (well, maybe a little). No, if this sequel taught me anything, it is that vigilance is required where these pesky robots are concerned. The Decepticons had supposedly been vanquished in the highly successful 2007 Transformers, but here the bad robots all were again, invigorated anew. It seems someone forgot to sweep up after that movie's climax, leaving a shard of the precious knowledge-giving Cube on the clothing of teenage hero Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf).
He didn't wash that sweatshirt, because when you've helped one set of alien robots defeat another, you need a memento. But he shakes it out while preparing to leave for Princeton, unintentionally rebooting the whole conflict. The shard infuses him with great genius the Cube being the source of all alien-robot knowledge making him, once again, the Decepticons' main quarry. And once again, it takes director Michael Bay 144 minutes and a tremendous amount of firepower and heaving bosoms to re-vanquish the Decepticons. Even then, it still seems highly likely that the worst of them, a black hulk bearing an uncanny resemblance to Mont Saint-Michel (yes, the French island town) will live to see a third movie.
I suppose in my driveway antics, I'd run the risk of squashing an Autobot, one of the good robot aliens, as well. If either Mudflap or Skids, a pair of new characters who speak in an appallingly offensive ghetto patois, were my victims, I could live with myself. The world doesn't need more versions of Jar Jar Binks. But what if it were the Autobot leader, Optimus Prime? Optimus truly cares about the future of the human race, unlike the Obama Administration, which Bay represents as so prissy and antiwar it just wants the alien robots off the planet. Bay's Obama would probably drive his Prius over Optimus if he had the chance. But no problem; if you still had your hearing in the deafening home stretch of Revenge of the Fallen, you'd know that just about any chunk of metal can be brought back to life by merging the Matrix with its Spark. (I'm fairly sure this process has nothing to do with Keanu Reeves. As for the Spark, without benefit of the Hasbro manual, it's impossible to say whether it is of the plug family or something more ephemeral like Chi.)
Ehren Kruger, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman share the writing credit for this astonishing mishmash of Hasbro advertising copy and every movie in the good-vs.-evil ilk. But Revenge is director Michael Bay at his purest: gleaming machines, humans that glisten with an omnipresent layer of sweat, dozens of locations and a story line so messy it borders on the abstract. He's even given one of the Decepticons testicles (brass, swinging). The whole experience is like having your nose pressed into Bay's manly armpit for 2½ hours.
I somehow missed Bay's first Transformers two summers ago. I'd like to think I magnanimously stepped aside to give some eager young male colleague the pleasure of reviewing it. Perhaps I feigned illness. Watching it on DVD this past week, I found it more fun than I expected, and loads better than the sequel. I even became almost fond of Bumblebee, the Autobot/Camaro who functions as Sam's pet and protector, even as the premise of vehicles morphing into robots continued to seem preposterous to me. But I had to admit, the conceit was also undeniably impressive in its attentiveness to the interests of small males. Some of the Decepticons even look like dinosaurs, which borders on pandering to 5-year-olds. If Hasbro could engineer such an adaptable delight, why not a toy for girls that is both an Easy-Bake oven and a princess?
Which brings us to Mikaela (Megan Fox), Sam's polymer princess, whom Bay treats as if she were last month's Penthouse Pet, with a mixture of disdain and need. "You're hot, but you ain't so bright," one robot tells her, and you wonder if it is speaking the boss's mind. Later, it humps her leg. Throughout all this, Fox appears stoic, perhaps because she's concentrating on keeping her lips permanently parted and wet (she looks as if she's been interrupted in the midst of dining on lobster with drawn butter). Mikaela is worried about Sam going off to college, and she should be: Princeton is rendered as a Playboy mansion with dorms. The movie's main romantic tension revolves around the fact that she and Sam still haven't said "I love you" although they have had sex. We know this because Sam's mother Judy (Julie White) heard them. She divulges this information while high on a pot brownie she accidentally ate on Sam's first day at college.
Please don't judge Judy. The whole Witwicky family speaks at warp speed, so it is a challenge to make out all that they say (LaBeouf in particular is like John Cusack on amphetamines), but Judy and her husband Ron (Kevin Dunn) are the movie's main sources of comic relief. Or maybe my affection for them had deeper psychological roots. Maybe I saw them as my allies. The movie is like the play date from hell, the kind where a crew of children reduce your home to rubble and conduct endless bouts of loud war on the living-room floor while you ponder the propriety of opening a bottle of wine. On occasions like that, another set of parents, no matter how irritating, can be as welcome as Optimus Prime rising from the dead.