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Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Directed by Michael Bay
Rated PG-13

A couple decades of human history down the road and this will be looked back on as "classic Bay." Whatever that might mean is a debate for another time.

The Really Bad

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

There's no denying Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen has problems, most of them the exact same problems that bedeviled the first movie, released a scant two years ago.

For some reason, it's in vogue to load up PG-13 action comedies with loads of genitalia references and sex jokes. They're hardly ever funny. Was the humping dogs joke really funny to the writers? Two of them, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, wrote the first Transformers as well as this summer's Star Trek. A third, Ehren Kruger, came on board after non-classics like Blood and Chocolate. How about the Decepticon humping Megan Fox's leg? Funny? Really?

There are also some massive gaps in logic. For example, how can a large portion of Shanghai be destroyed by a wild chase between Autobots and Decepticons and not get any serious media coverage? It's relegated to YouTube knock-off sites with debates raging over the authenticity of the citizen-journalists' footage. Could somebody from Xinhua maybe take a photo of the aftermath? Please?

But that plot point goes to serve the movie's primary conceit: Amid all the monstrous mayhem pounded out by the Decepticons, the Autobots have formed an alliance with the U.S. military to weed out the badbots which have, somehow, been living anonymously among the human populace.

And another question: How is it a sliver of the cube from the first flick, stuck in Sam Witwicky's clothes, can burn through the entire upstairs floor, only to be stopped by the kitchen table, where its electric charge enlivens a bunch of countertop appliances like a pack of Gremlins at 12:01 in the morning?

Yeah, the movie has problems.

The Good

But it also has some really good, fun stuff. This is a big, noisy, brash summer blockbuster and it is entirely unashamed of those aspirations. It's all over the map in terms of time, space, geography, political conservatism and liberal humor.

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Yes, Megan is a fox
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
One of the cool new Decepticons in Revenge of the Fallen
Photos: Dreamworks/Paramount Pictures

This unwieldy, 150-minute gargantuan works best when it gets down to the loopy action and puts the toilet humor behind. After muddling through a meandering first half that tries to develop a long-distance romance between Mikaela (Fox) and Sam (Shia LaBeouf) after he heads off to college, the story becomes more involving as the meat of the story, such as it is, presents itself:

There's a bigger baddie than Megatron named The Fallen; he's the first Decepticon and he wants to destroy Earth because he can't stand humans. That hatred's the reason for his fall from grace back around 17,000 B.C.

This back story leads to a pretty nifty storyline involving ancient Egypt and the Pyramids of Giza, with a nod to The Orion Mystery. The puzzle here isn't complicated enough to require the skills of a Robert Langdon. No. Sam Witwicky's brain will do – and that's precisely what The Fallen wants in his nefarious plot to destroy the planet. Sam, by some astonishing osmosis, has absorbed all the knowledge of the cube.

The Matrix of Leadership

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen also manages something of a coup: It's quite possibly the first major movie to make reference to President Obama's administration. And it's not entirely positive. There's a little jibber-jabber about the use of diplomacy to reason with the Decepticons (and, quite possibly, to simply give them what they want: Sam's brain).

It can't be forgotten this is "simply" a Michael Bay movie, but there is the tantalizing thought that maybe, just maybe, amid the salacious humor and ear-splitting hard rock there's really something more thematically subversive – and relevant – going on here.

One of the thematic weaknesses of the first movie was its failure to capitalize on the whole technology/weaponry/civilization angle. This time around it's at least touched on a wee bit when it's revealed the U.S. alliance with the Autobots extends only to sharing intel and not weaponry. Optimus Prime warns the president's messenger humans simply can't handle the weaponry, they'd destroy themselves.

That's one thread in this misshapen fabric that does make sense. And the ominous question from Optimus Prime challenges a request for the Autobots to leave and take their war with the Decepticons with them.

What, O.P. asks, if the Autobots leave and U.S. intelligence is wrong? What if the Decepticons want something else from Earth besides the destruction of the Autobots?

There's plenty of juicy subtext that could be mined in some of the ideas bandied around in the two Transformers movies. It's a shame, though, that shock-value jokes like John Turturro dropping his pants and Sam's mom getting strung out on pot cookies weigh more heavily on the scribes' minds.

• Originally published at MovieHabit.com.

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