Hooray for explosions! Michael Bay follows up his 2007 big-screen adaptation of the Transformers cartoon/toy franchise with the 2009 sequel Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. This installment is an even bigger spectacle than the first one, which is saying a lot for a movie about giant robots that turn into cars. It does fall prey to some of the same flaws as its predecessor -- namely that no film based on a toy needs to be two and a half hours long. But if you enjoyed the robo-spastic ride the first time, then you should be happy with this movie, too. And if you complained that the first movie was trite and lacking in character development, then you probably shouldn't even be reading this.
The basic premise of the story is, of course, the same as in the first movie: a race of mechanical aliens called Transformers inhabit the earth, blending in with human society when they so choose by changing from their massive, humanoid-robot forms into cars, trucks, planes, etc. The good Transformers, who believe in truth, justice, and GM products, are called the Autobots, while the evil Transformers, who for various reasons would like to kill all humans, are called the Decepticons.
This movie differs from the first one mostly because it focuses so hard on the fictional universe's apparently huge mythology. While Decepticon leader Megatron (Hugo Weaving) and his sniveling aide, Starscream (Charlie Adler), continue to spearhead a destructive campaign against the earthlings and their Autobot protectors, the main villain is a character called The Fallen (Tony Todd), who's taken from the comic. Once one of the original 13 Transformers, the former titan is now a zillion-year-old Giger-esque baddie who hangs out on what looks like a reused "machine world" storyboard from the Matrix movies. His glowing red eyes are set on moving to the earth's surface, however, where he can suck all the energy out of the sun.
Other than him (and a sometimes indistinguishable collection of new robotic faces, who usually get only one line in before the scene's over), Transformers 2 centers on the same group of characters. There's Sam (Shia LaBeouf), a college freshman who enjoys a vague "chosen one" status among the Autobots, and Mikaela (Megan Fox), his insanely hot girlfriend, who wears false eyelashes while repairing cars in the family body shop. There are also Sam's parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White), who inexplicably show up to add needless mushiness to battle scenes, and Major William Lennox (Josh Duhamel), who does a good job of running around looking cut -- as there was no room to otherwise expand his character.
But, once again, the real star of the show is Optimus Prime, voiced by original voice actor Peter Cullen. The legendary head Autobot is given a lot more screen time in this movie, and features prominently in many of the manic action sequences, some of which make use of the Transformers' stature for a cool Godzilla-type effect (and some of which involve giant robots fist-fighting). Either way, Prime is likely to lead particularly excitable audiences toward momentous, hyper-adrenaline-fueled applause.
Not to get down on the other bots (the ones you can keep track of are sweet), but Optimus Prime does a lot for Transformers 2. Particularly for kids who grew up in the flicker of weirdly earnest '80s cartoons, Optimus Prime is stamped in the collective unconscious, a monomyth of the epic hero that plays in the back of your mind like the guiding spark of a zillion-megawatt light bar, custom mounted to the grille of God's own monster truck. You don't even have to be an old-school Transformers fan to pick up on the mythos -- he speaks in nothing but searing quips and infinite wisdoms, and he turns into a kickass Mack truck. So, even if Optimus Prime isn't your mental template for the warrior-king archetype, he still steals the show, and makes Transformers 2 more than just passable.