- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Revenge of the Fallen,” wants us to think about the big questions in life. Should man embrace his fate or run from it? Can love survive distance and temptation? Will an audience ever tire of giant robots fighting one another while the U.S. military throws everything in its arsenal against other giant robots?

The answers, in order: Embrace fate; Yes; Good grief, yes.

Clocking in at almost 2 1/2 hours, “Revenge of the Fallen” feels interminable. Heaven help the poor souls who see it in an Imax theater, where there’s a longer cut with even more robot-on-robot action. The unnecessary length is a shame because Mr. Bay has solved the biggest problem that plagued the first movie: its general incomprehensibility.

Note: I’m not referring to the plot. The story of “Revenge of the Fallen” is markedly more difficult to follow than its predecessor. The righteous Autobots are still fighting the evil Decepticons, the remnants of which are searching for a pair of lost items that will combine in some way to create a device that will destroy the sun and turn it into cyber-energy that will revitalize the Decepticon race.

No, the plot is pretty tough to understand. What Mr. Bay has improved upon are the action sequences. The climactic battle in “Transformers” was chaotic, cluttered and only semicoherent - the shots were simply too short and the action too frenetic for the naked eye to follow.

This time around, the average shot is longer, the fights are more seamlessly edited, and the camera’s spastic movements have been calmed, allowing the audience to develop a visual frame of reference and follow the robotic mayhem without the aid of Dramamine. Also adding clarity are simpler settings for the battles - an empty factory, a forest and the desert surrounding some Egyptian pyramids - allowing for less tricky CGI work and less distracting backgrounds.

Unfortunately, the climactic battle goes on forever and doesn’t even begin until long after we’ve reached the emotional center of the movie - Optimus Prime’s (voice of Peter Cullen) rescue of Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) in the aforementioned forest. The final showdown between the military, Autobots, Decepticons and Witwickies in the Egyptian desert drags on and on.

What about the human component? Mr. LaBeouf plays his normal inoffensive self, a little nerdy and a lot in love with Megan Fox. John Turturro and Ramon Rodriguez provide able comic relief. The voice work by Mr. Cullen, Hugo Weaving (Megatron) and Frank Welker (Soundwave/Devastator), among others, is adequate.

One possible source of controversy: Autobots Mudflap and Skids, a pair of twin robots voiced by Tom Kenny, sport noticeable inner-city accents and are adorned with gold caps on their teeth. At one point, they’re asked if they can read some ancient runes that keep popping up. “Nah, we don’t really do much reading,” one of them replies, much to the chagrin of the black portion of Monday evening’s preview audience; there were audible boos after that line.

It’s reminiscent of George Lucas’ decision in “Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace” to give the dimwitted, pidgin-English-speaking Jar Jar Binks a heavy Jamaican accent or the conniving trade-guild members Japanese accents. Expect Mr. Bay or executive producer Steven Spielberg to be pressured into apologizing to the NAACP (or Spike Lee) before the year is out.

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TITLE: “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”

RATING: PG-13 (sequences of sci-fi action violence, language, some crude and sexual material, and brief drug material)

CREDITS: Directed by Michael Bay

RUNNING TIME: 140 minutes

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