Plot? There's a plot? You don't say! Directed by Michael Bay and co-written by the men responsible for Star Trek, ROTF is rumored to have something to do with a matrix keymajiggy that unlocks the sun-killing whoziwhatsis and the never-ending smash-up derby pitting Autobot against Decepticon. You may recall that its 2007 predecessor was a mostly capable commercial for Transformers toys and Bay's previous films, from which most of the iconography was lifted as the man continues to pay homage to his favorite filmmaker. (Has he ever made a movie without the image of fluttering American flags?) Transformers was actually Bay at his most surprisingly reflective and unexpectedly restrained — the domestic scenes involving Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and his parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White) felt particularly sincere — and also his most ingenious, as he merged man and machine in beautifully choreographed fight sequences and literally has us wondering, "How'd he do that?"
Well, he's done it again — it, and nothing more — and so the trick no longer dazzles. Which isn't to suggest that Bay's not entirely into it — there are scant moments when he seems to be paying attention, such as a sequence during which a resurrected Megatron (hoo-boy) kidnaps Sam and fills the kid's orifices with insect-like Decepticons who slither around his innards for a look-see. Bay's in touch with his inner Cronenberg during this lone, profoundly isolated moment, the one scene during which you can actually tell what's happening — and to whom, because he lets the gross-out speak for itself.
But why speak when you can scream for almost two and a half hours? Why go subtle when there's shit to blow up? Which is most of the problem: It's astonishing how exhilaration can give way to boredom in movies starring special effects. Even the leading man is annoyed: Where Sam spent the first film as a wide-eyed reluctant hero charged with saving the world with his yellow Camaro and weirdly too-hot girlfriend (Megan Fox, the sole survivor of the real Cybertron), here he's just bothered by the whole scenario (and that's well before the creepies crawl under his skin). The Autobots are now working for the government, rooting out Decepticons around the world (psst, one's doing heavy labor in Shanghai), and Sam just wants to go away to college — where, of course, he's saddled with an aggressively annoying roommate (Ramon Rodriguez) who accompanies LaBeouf and Fox for the for the rest of the movie, joy. But a respite's not to be — not when the Fallen's gotten back up after a 19,000-year rest somewhere in orbit around the earth, which he's looking to destroy, just because he can. Kind of like Michael Bay.