Okay, I know everyone in the world holds a nostalgic fondness for those famous transmogrifying merchandis–I mean, robots known as Transformers. While that may justify another Michael Bay movie in the eyes of the studio, it does not merit kind words when the movie simply reeks of the stench of product placement and silly writing gone amok. Hell, the entire movie is product placement, from the title on down to the main attractions, the CGI robots from outer space.
And while impressive in their presentation, they do nothing to lighten the load that is the corny script or the pathetic excuse for a story. While (good) acting can sometimes cover flaws in a script, here the acting only draws attention to the script's deficiencies, which granted, are almost entirely because the premise is based on… well, a bunch of action figures from the eighties. Are the eighties really worth bringing back in a slick new package with the words "A Michael Bay Film" surrounding the title?
Let's face it, Bay has never been one for subtlety, and Transformers is a study in brashness without justification. The movie is hardly cohesive. The plot centers around the Autobots (the good guys) and the Decepticons (the bad guys) searching for something called the Allspark, a quasi-mystical energy source that derives its power from the Cube, a world-creating device from which the Transformers world sprang. When Megatron, the evil leader of the Decepticons, wrested power for himself, causing the Cybertron planet to be destroyed, the bots were scattered throughout the galaxy. Megatron himself followed the remnants of the Allspark to Earth, where he crash landed in Antarctica, only to be discovered by Captain Witwicky, an explorer, upon whose glasses is writ navigational code leading directly to the Cube.
Fast forward to present day, where Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and his father purchase Sam's first car — a crummy '79 Camaro. The car starts acting like Captain Howdy with a penchant for cheesy '70's love songs, pushing Sam into giving the girl of his dreams, Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox), a ride home where he, being the ultra nerd that he is, (doesn't he own any Transformers action figures?) makes a fool of himself.
Let's face it, this isn't a movie where plot really truly matters. It's enough to note that Sam's car is really Bumblebee, the beloved Autobot sans voice box. Using a Bat Signal to call the other Autobots down to Earth, Bumblebee pulls Sam right into the biggest intergalactic robot battle since C3PO and R2D2 had a domestic dispute.
There's quite a lot of action, as one might expect, and it's all impressively accomplished through CGI. The battling bots make all sorts of mayhem in and around city buildings and parking structures, in the desert of Qatar, inside secret government facilities (located inside the Hoover Dam, of all places), and along busy freeways. Bay is no slouch when it comes to these sequences, and the integration of live action and effects is completely seamless. It better be, because everything that might remotely make sense is discarded, and we are treated to an absurd amount of distressing dialogue, ham acting (even from veterans like Jon Voight and John Turturro), and plot holes the size of Bay's budget.
Oh well, like I said, we shouldn't expect Shakespeare. But is it too much to ask for somewhat feasible location changes? Going from Los Angeles to the Hoover Dam, and back again in roughly ten minutes is pretty ridiculous, even for super-fast, physics-defying robots from space. Then there are the mid-flight stops and turns, executed without regard for physical constraints such as friction (or lack thereof), not to mention the extreme nature of transformations in these metallic behemoths presupposes new molecular structures heretofore undiscovered by man. But even forgetting all that (because hey, we're talking about giant talking robots from space here), the climactic battle is decided when once again, the villain decides to talk instead of just kill the good guys right out. When are bad guys going to learn that just ends in disaster?
Then the product placement. It's aggravatingly in your face. There's no pretext for making a Mountain Dew vending machine turn into a Decepticon, but it's there, folks. And a Nokia cell phone becomes a nasty little gadget with cool mini guns and a spider body. Cars, trucks, helicopters, jet fighters, big rigs, tanks — they're using the George Lucas playbook — now selling your childhood to your children.
Shia LaBeouf. How did this guy get so much Hollywood love in such a short amount of time? He's on Even Stevens one week, and suddenly he's in I, Robot, Constantine, Transformers, Indiana Jones 4, and he looks positioned to become the next Tom Cruise, the way he's headed. How does he net such roles? He's not the most handsome guy, but it's hard to deny his on-screen charisma. Overacting, yes. But heaps of charm.
Megan Fox. Is a fox. A stone fox. Maybe too foxy. Michael Bay spends several minutes moving the camera in close along her sweaty abs in what surely amounts to dumb brunette exploitation. All well and good for the teens watching the film and the teen stuck inside Michael Bay's head and other body parts.
But she still can't act.
She makes the giant CGI robots look good. And I'm talking about giant robots who learn to talk using the "World Wide Web." One of them must have visited the Jive talk conversion tool, because he's got something akin to hip-hop meets Shaft. And Optimus Prime. Well, okay, we'll give him his due. He's a bad-ass, as he should be.
I'll admit my weakness for criticizing a well-received movie, especially a summer blockbuster such as Transformers. I also recognize that my complaints aren't going to be shared by 99% of people who see the film. Perhaps it's just the place I'm in. It's very cold and lonely. But there's a bit of satisfaction in it. It means I still have standards. Or self-loathing, it's hard to tell at times.
The entire time I was sitting there watching, I couldn't help but think that there's nothing wrong with nostalgia and good memories of times past. It might even be fun to pull out those old Transformers toys once in a while, show 'em to your kids, if you have them. If you don't, you soon will, and that'll help remind you how old you are. Then throw everything back into storage. And when you watch the cartoon, remember, it's bad, but it's only a cartoon. From the Eighties. THE EIGHTIES. I'll repeat, just to make sure you got that. It's a Cartoon from the Eighties.
Is that really something you want to see up on the screen in live action? Because this has got the larger-than-life stamp of Michael Bay on its cover, and some things, like Paris Hilton, should never have that kind of coverage.