Before a single reel of film had unspooled on the original Transformers , executive producer Steven Spielberg was confident enough to predict there would be “many, many more” adventures for Hasbro’s clanking ensemble of robots in disguise.
“But,” he added, “we’re going to make the best one first...”
Two years on from Michael Bay’s jaw-dropping original, Revenge Of The Fallen proves the Beard right - but only just.
It was always going to be a tall order for the sequel to replicate its predecessor’s wow factor, stoked as it was by twenty years of fanboy expectation and CG magic that made childhood imaginings flesh.
But Fallen so frequently approaches the first pic’s all-out awesomeness, and even occasionally surpasses it - notably in an opening blitzkrieg in Shanghai and a forest face-off between Optimus Prime and three Decepticons impressive enough to merit comparison with King Kong ’s multiple T-Rex smackdown - that it's this close to being the perfect summer flick.
The problem is, it’s the parts you remember, not the whole.
Bay may have upped the ante, taking his ’bots on the road (New York, Paris, the Pyramids), into space and even back in time (courtesy of an Apocalypto -like prologue set in 17,000 BC), but he hasn’t managed to assemble his components into a coherent mechanism.
Nor does his inability to keep his camera still or go two minutes without blowing shit up help, the hyperactivity reaching its nadir during a drawn-out climax in the Egyptian desert.
But Fallen has much to admire. It's at its best in early scenes showing Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf, likeable as ever if hardly stretched) trying to balance college life without hot girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox) and carrying a brain-frying secret that makes him key to evil robot The Fallen’s plan to wipe out the world.
Bay baiters will be in hysterics when he ostentatiously nods to his own oeuvre with Pearl Harbor ship-sinking, Armageddon metropolis destruction and a Bad Boys II promo on Sam's dorm room wall.
But fans of The Bayhem will have their eyes on another poster in Sam's room - the Cloverfield one-sheet, which betrays the glory at the heart of the flick. It's a thrill-ride, plain and simple. And it delivers.
For all its faults, Fallen is genuinely more enjoyable than the summer’s other giant-robot picture Terminator Salvation . In contrast to McG's portentous, po-faced tone, Bay works in a likeable strain of knowing humour that makes the two hour-plus running time fly by.
The extended metal-on-metal punch-ups are cartoonish but, thanks to the game-raising CGI, utterly convincing. That bit in the trailer where Optimus hangs off the giant robot? That's the first scene.
But, like McG, Bay also steers his franchise down a creative cul-de-sac, leaving its heroes - human and non-human - facing an uncertain future.
Over in Hollywood, Spielberg is no doubt still convinced that the series can run and run. After this, you won’t be sure where a sequel will come from... But you'll want one.
Old folks may find the relentless sensory assault a little draining, but the bangs, ’bots and bombast ensure Fallen has everything Transformers fans will want and expect.