Just when we've been lulled into thinking a car is just a car and a plane is just a plane, the metal monstrosities of Cybertron are back in "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen." Where once only 14 robots bone-crushed our world and each other, now there are 46 of them on the prowl, morphing out of microwaves, motorcycles, fighter jets and more as they ready for a screeching showdown of titanic proportions in director Michael Bay's latest extravaganza of alloyed excess.
Shia LaBeouf is back as Sam, the precocious teen who gave hope to nerds everywhere in 2007's "Transformers" that they too could get the beautiful girl, if only they had the right alien species parked in their garage. Now he's headed off to college leaving behind said beautiful girl, Mikaela (Megan Fox), who spends her days working on cars and bikes by artfully draping herself across them in Daisy Dukes that make Jessica Simpson seem modest.
Bumblebee, Sam's Autobot guardian angel, a gentle metal giant whose undercover guise is a souped-up yellow Camaro, isn't going to college either, and B is none too happy about it.
Meanwhile, planet Cybertron is in trouble and the bad guy Decepticons are in a foul mood, still holding a grudge since the last movie when the good guy Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, won the day. War, we sense, will come soon. And does it ever, with soul-shaking, knee-quaking megaton force.
Though battles are "Transformers' " raison d'etre, before it's over, "Revenge" will collapse under the weight of far too many of them. With legions of Autobots and Decepticons now in the fray, lost is the simple pleasure, arguably the beauty, of seeing a couple of metal heads shred each other into a million shiny pieces.
In the last film, the Bot-Con battle was over "the cube," a metallic and encryption-based thing (excuse the technical jargon) called the All Spark that held great power and pixilated from big to small in some very cool ways. This time, the thing at the center of the conflict is "the matrix," which could lead you to think some of the hard edges of Cybertron's fighting forces might morph into smooth silvery sinews, but no such luck.
If anything, Bay, never one to bother with nuance, has packed even more wing nuts and wheels, rods and bolts, pressure plates and pilot bearings into these visually complex beings. Despite the millions it must take to construct them (even in CGI), they still have a junkyard, found-object look that has long entranced boys, filling toy boxes and Hasbro's bank accounts for years.
Though Sam's trying desperately to fade into the background of the college scene, it isn't really working out. There's that new blond Alice (Isabel Lucas) who's got him in her sights, the ominous warning from Optimus Prime in that deep, really convincing synthesized voice of his, that little mess of an unexplained "toxic spill" in Saigon that opens the movie and the massive metal carcass that's been dredged up from a thousand leagues under the sea. As is his lot in life, Sam is needed, the one person on Earth who can possibly beat the Decepticons to the matrix.
"Revenge" is strictly a man's world, really, a boom, boom, bang, bang fever dream of special effects. Yet in all this macho mayhem, it is LaBeouf's young Sam, slight of frame, sensitive and smart, who makes it all work.
Although there are female Autobots and Decepticons in the Transformer universe, they are rare and none make it into the movie, which is too bad because "Revenge" could sure use a woman's touch. The only significant female presence comes from Sam's slightly crazy mom (Julie White) and Fox, who despite wearing white skinny jeans as she stumbles across the desert and jumps through any number of crumbling buildings, manages to stay remarkably clean except for that fetching smudge on her cheek.
Machines and their machinations are clearly where the director's affections lie, leaving the emotional side of "Revenge" to flatline again and again. Still, the film, written by Ehren Kruger, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, is filled with enough of the familiar to likely satisfy many "Transformer" fans. John Turturro as the now disgraced Sector 7 agent is passing his days working in the family deli and gathering data on the Decepticons in his survivalist-style basement, and Josh Duhamel's Capt. Lennox is still heading his Special Forces troops. We've got big, bad Megatron in cahoots with the towering fearsomeness of the 10-story Devastator. Meanwhile, try as he might, Optimus Prime just can't keep things civil. Neither can Bay.
"Revenge" is in-your-face, ear-splitting and unrelenting. It's easy to walk away feeling like you've spent 2 1/2 hours in the mad, wild hydraulic embrace of a car compactor -- exhilarating or excruciating, depending on your point of view.
'Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen'
MPAA rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, language, some crude and sexual material, and brief drug material
Running time: 2 hours, 30 minutes
Playing: In general release