Film Reviews

Transformers Michael Bay

Rating - 3/10

There's a part of me that thinks there might be something wrong with me. I am 16. I am a boy. I grew up on Power Rangers and spent much of my youth punching imaginary foes that would sizzle and disappear like a video game just because you managed to hit them in the chest. And yet, here I sit, about ten minutes after leaving the theatre where I managed to squeeze into a few seats at a packed Transformers showing and I hated it. Transformers is a lot of bang for your buck, and what a flimsy buck it is.

I walked out of Zodiac yelling "best film of the year." I reveled in the cheeky fun of Grindhouse. But Transformers lacks the basic fundamentals of what sets a decent action film apart from the smart ones. Here's the secret: they don't have to be smart (or try to be, at least, throwing a bunch of military junk at the viewer or big words ala Paycheck or Déjà vu), they just have to work. It's what made films like Live Free and Die Hard and Crank work; the former and latter both had the zany, fun, "we know we're stupid" smartness that made them light, quick, and painless.

But Transformers, with its overblown, teenage boy wet dream exterior full of product placement and hot girls-err, girl (count: one), makes a mockery of its tried and true formula. At an overlong-by-an-hour running time (that's two and a half hours), Transformers exists on a plane where boys mumble and fumble around girls, adults are brainless to the point of questioning their mental stability, the military assumes that "Iranian scientists couldn't be that smart," and black people always live with and yell at their grandmothers (who, in turn, have a mean streak!). Don't forget the Hispanic soldier who is supposed to speak English!

The adaptation of the popular 80s Hasbro/Takara toy line, Transformers is the story of warring aliens, the good Autobots and bad Decepticons, who have come to Earth to find a cube that will allow whoever wields it to take over the universe. The only link to this cube is Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), the descendent of an explorer who found one of the Decepticons buried beneath the Arctic Circle in the 1800s. Of course, the Autobots are on the human's side and are here to help: one of them turns out to be Sam's new Chevy Camaro, appropriately named "Bumblebee." And then there's a bunch of military men (the forgettable and completely unnecessary Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson), the Secretary of Defense (a bored Jon Voight), and the quintessential hot chick-love interest with a record, Mikaela (Megan Fox). Don't bother learning their names; by the time the climax has ended, you really just won't care.

Michael Bay (at once overtly good at what he does and a complete sham of a director) can construct an action scene like it's no one's business; the problem is, he can't do much else. What passes for dialogue are just cheap one-liners not even worthy of Bruce Willis strung together with hopes of some sticking, none of which flesh out any characters. But Bay realizes what Transformers is and it's a two hour car commercial with cars that just happen to be alien robots. Go figure. This means there's little to no character development for the humans (I say humans because you sort of come to care for the robots, which is more than you can say for the usually quite competent Shia LaBeouf or the abysmal Megan Fox). But it's the special effects everyone's coming for, and boy is Transformers chock full of them. See robot chase robot! See robot shoot robot! See robot jump on building! See robot tackle robot! Repeat until boredom.

They're snazzy and photo realistic, almost breathlessly chaotic. But like action films before it, Bay figures chaos equals editing, a crippling blow to coherency. When Mikaela is introduced to Bumblebee for the first time, it's in the midst of a battle; it shows her getting angry at being thrown to the ground for no reason until the robot shows up in front of her. We don't see her reaction, just the following shot of her willingly jumping into the car that was just a second ago a robot. When Voight talks to the press and explains that a military base was bombed and there were no survivors, a wife is suddenly impacted with the news; three seconds later, she is quickly thrown away until a brief reunited scene tacked onto the end. Bay isn't interested in what his characters feel, just how his audiences react. (See Decepticon flick puny human! Hear the elicited giggles!)

A late scene in the film, where Mikaela is dragging along a helpless Bumblebee in a tow truck and stops to give herself a second to breathe, there's a pain to her eyes that suggest that she knows she is smaller than this, the world ready to crumble around her (courtesy of executive producer Steven Spielberg). Or, she could be, but Bay simply lets the sun accentuate Fox's features; we are not asked to read her facial expression, just to gape at her facial features. Oddly enough, that's how the whole film works.