When Hasbro gets a production credit, you probably shouldn’t expect a deep, introspective, emotionally fulfilling cinematic experience. Combine that with direction by Michael Bay, and you have the movie-going equivalent of eating all of your little brother’s Halloween candy. It’s nutritionally empty and, after you come down off your sugar buzz, you feel guilty about enjoying yourself.
While everyone involved but the special effects teams will probably keep their Oscar acceptance speeches on ice for another year, the truth is that Transformers succeeds in being exactly what it tries to be. Of course, when you aim low, hitting your target is often just a matter of gravity.
I’m not going to bother with the plot. It’s about giant fighting robots that can disguise themselves as cars, trucks, airplanes, helicopters and, for all I know, hedge trimmers. The main character, Sam (Shia LaBeouf) is a nerdy high school kid with eyes for the impossibly hot Mikaela (Megan Fox), but when it’s time to get a car, his skinflint dad sticks with a piece-of-shit 30-year-old Camaro, which also happens to be a giant robot from space in disguise. It seems that the robots want something that Sam’s grandfather brought back from the Arctic during the Hoover administration, which Sam just happens to be trying to hawk on eBay.
There is also a team of Air Force Special Forces in Qatar, led by Captain Lennox (Josh Duhamel), who were the targets of the first attack by the bad robots, known as Decepticons. (Hey, dumbshits, don’t you think calling yourself “Decepticons” might clue people in that your motives are less than honorable?) Lennox has a newborn baby back home. Unlike old war movies, carrying a picture of your baby around in a Michael Bay movie is practically a shield of invincibility. The rest of his men might as well be fitted with red shirts anytime, however.
The paper-thin story is equal parts Independence Day, General Motors commercial and a Godzilla movie. Of course, I’m not talking about that 1998 Roland Emmerich/Dean Devlin abortion, but a proper “Japanese guy in a rubber suit” Godzilla movie. Things blow up, innocent civilians get crunched and the Secretary of Defense (Jon Voight) looks like he’s about to pop a vein. There’s also a more-than-top-secret government agency led by a manic John Turturro, who inherited Brent Spiner’s “embarrassing self-parody” role from Independence Day.
Most of the actors do the best they can with characters who have less of a inner life than your iPod, with the possible exception of Voight and Turturro. They give about 210% when 150% would have been fine.
To his credit, Bay has somewhat tamed the stylistic overkill that made Armageddon such a seizure-inducing headache. It’s still hard to get a good look at the giant robots during the action scenes, but at least you can leave the Dramamine in the medicine chest.
I think people who panned this movie are missing the point a little. You can’t judge Transformers by the same yardstick you would use for a normal movie that actually tries to be coherent. This is the cinematic equivalent of one of those stunt shows on the Universal Studios tour. It’s just a light show that is supposed to keep your eyes and ears busy while your brain takes a couple hours off. In that respect, Transformers succeeds. Just don’t expect to remember the plot more than an hour after you’ve seen it.