Transformers (2007) / Action-Sci Fi
MPAA Rated: PG-13 for violence, brief sexual humor, and language
Running time: 144 min.
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Jon Voight, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Rachael Taylor, Anthony Anderson, John Turturro, Michael O'Neil, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Peter Cullen (voice), Bryan Cox (voice), Hugo Weaving (voice), Bernie Mac
Director: Michael Bay
Screenplay: Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman
Hasbro's action figures are dusted off for one more go around for a feature film, with the last effort coming in the animated Transformers: The Movie in 1986, which has gone on to become something of a cult favorite for many fans of the toys. I'd venture to guess that there will be two camps that come away liking Transformers, with the most obvious being those die-hards who are rapt with ecstasy that their childhood fave toys are being given one of the biggest budget releases of all time. The second camp must obviously be some film critics who feel the need to kowtow to the loyal fan base of the toys, not wanting to appear unhip for dumping on what is probably one of the biggest mega-turkeys to be unleashed as the summer's biggest hit in quite some time.
I once underwent a root canal that took about two hours. That experience was not only lesser in terms of time than the turd turned in by director Michael Bay (The Island, Bad Boys II), but it was also infinitely less painful to endure. Bay continues to make films as if he has an 8th-grade mentality, which means that the guys with guns are cool, the girls with guns are hot, and everyone else is some sort of comedian who finds the need to quip moronically, no matter how deadly the situation may be. It takes its sweet time to finally get into the middle of the action, but don't mistake the first 45 minutes as resembling that thing we movie fans like to call "character development". No, it's more like a steady beat of "dumb, dumb, dumb", as Bay sets the proper tone to deliver an hour of action extravaganza that you need to be lulled into near-drooling idiot status to find even the slightest bit of interest in. A surgeon general's warning should grace the posters warning of potential brain damage that may occur through Bay's barrage of stupidity. Of course, once you're in that state, you're more likely to give Bay and his films the repeat business he keeps seeming to get movie after movie.
I have to admit that even I succumbed to feeling my intelligence sucked out of the room, as I watched literally scene after scene of mass mayhem and destruction fly by for the film's second half and had absolutely no idea why I should care about any of it. Sure, the robots keep talking about how the fate of humanity hangs in the balance, but I never really had a clue as to how it really amounted to much, or why humans never really seemed to take all of what they are witnessing to be the most cataclysmic event in world history. Surely, ultimate proof of alien existence alone would have every reporter and news agency in the world converging on the scene, especially when the military appear to be poised of a major invasion. I guess Paris Hilton must have been out of town, so they were all called away on assignment.
I could continue to kick the crap out of Michael Bay and the mental diarrhea he calls Transformers ad nauseam, but I'll take some time out to throw together a plot line. I should mention that I am going to try my best to strip away all of the laughable parts, though that may be asking the impossible.
Eons ago, a once peaceful world called Cybertron erupted into war when the evil Megatron and his Decepticon followers fought against the Autobots, whose leader is Optimus Prime, for control of a mighty cube called the Allspark. After much fighting, the Autobots decide the best course of action to make sure Megatron never gets his metallic hands on it is to get rid of it into the vast universe, where it ends up on the planet Earth. Megatron goes after it.
The film comes back to modern times, where an teenage boy named Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf, Surf's Up) is peddling off his explorer grandfather's wares on Ebay, one of the items happening to contain the location of the Allspark, found during one of his expositions. Sam doesn't necessarily want to sell off these artifacts, but he needs the money to go in with his father to buy a car. The only thing he can afford that still has a coolness factor is a beat-up old Camaro. The Camaro just so happens to be an Autobot in disguise named Bumblebee, who becomes Sam's immediate friend and protector.
Meanwhile, other robots are making their presence felt around the world, as the Earth is set to become the ultimate battlefield between Autobots and Decepticons for the fate of the Allspark, which also means the fate of Earth and the humans who have dominion over it. They come after Sam, as they have apparently been keeping track of things through the constant perusing of the internet, and they are particularly keen on one of Sam's listings on Ebay and have come to collect. Sam's on the run for his life, with a new girlfriend (Fox, Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen) in tow, as he battles evil Decepticons and government secret agents out to take him into custody.
There are many attempts at humor within the lengthy run time of Transformers, but the only laugh I could muster was a rather semi-unintentional one by creator Michael Bay to pat himself on the back for making cool movies for virginal dweebs. One of the characters sees the destructive force come down to Earth, gets on the phone to a friend and exclaims, "This is way cooler than Armageddon!". Of course, that was a Michael Bay film, which shows he does have the semblance of a sense of humor, although his taste in what constitutes a "cool" film is entirely in question. One need not even hear that line to know this, as Bay has made a career out of generating noisy, overblown, and incoherent pieces of eye-candy to give young boys undergoing major hormonal changes their first sexual stirrings by providing big guns, bigger explosion, cheesecake pin-up girls and the dorky guys who love them.
Other gags are downright embarrassing, such as the hackneyed way Bay tries to inject not-so-subtle allusions to the old cartoon series and the marketing of the toys. At one point, Sam tells the object of his desires that she's attractive to him because she's "more than meets the eye", one of the lines of the famous "Transformers" song from the 1980s. The script by the team of Orci and Kurtzman (MI3, The Legend of Zorro) is absolutely dreadful, although from Bay's standpoint, at least it never makes the fatal mistake of having us think it is trying not to be intentionally moronic. It really does help to know early on that we shouldn't bother making sense of any of it.
The action scenes are a-plenty, although what should have been the film's saving grace ends up being another liability. It's not only rather futile to keep track as to just what's going on during these scenes, not only because Bay never generates much interest in them, but also it's downright impossible. Autobots and Decepticons rage wildly over urban landscapes, causing major destruction of buildings, highways and other man-made infrastructures, grappling and launching destructive attacks. The problem is that Bay doesn't like any shot to drag on longer than two seconds (unless it is done in extra-"cool" slo-mo), never giving us much of a chance to establish just which robot is launching an attack, what side it is on, and what the intended target/reason for the attack is until another building crumbles in extra-"cool" fashion. The people in the streets are merely there because they're too dumb to know to get out while they can -- or perhaps I mean the people in the theater audience...
I have to say that Transformers might hold the record for the most times I found myself looking at my watch during a film. It's not that I had anywhere else to be necessarily, but the only solace I could find was in knowing that each tick of the second hand brought me that much closer to the film's ending. There's just no reason for this film to take nearly a half hour longer than most would to tell the same story. The set-up is done in about two minutes, followed by a cavalcade of needless supporting characters and situations that distract us, rather than push forward the plot. FBI agents bust into the house of one of these useless characters, played by Anthony Anderson (The Departed, Scary Movie 4), in which he yells at them that his grandmother won't like them trampling over her rug. Bay would rather give us these choice little comedic moments that dare to take any of these characters as real people. John Turturro (The Good Shepherd, She Hate Me) plays a tenacious government agent who is forced to take off his clothes for reasons that aren't all that convincing, only to reveal he wears embarrassing underwear. About the only underwear more embarrassing that the ones he sports will be the ones they will inevitably make for this film's fans. Talk about birth control devices in disguise!
There's so much that's difficult to explain about Transformers that I can't even get a grasp on just where to begin. The explanations of the robot origins and powers are so iffy that they generate even more of these questions than they ever bother to try to answer. Bay appears to be equally befuddled. His only tactic seems to be to try to placate his teenage audience through smash-ups and pile-ups and feats of derring-do. In between, he stumbles through scenes that are either stupid, needless, or in the worst of them, maddeningly insulting to anyone not in an already vegetative state by the gargantuan sights and sounds of the best noise and carnage that one can fling on the screen and out of each reverberating speaker.
For all of my griping, Transformers, the movie, is exactly in keeping with the nature of the toy line itself. It's mass-marketed commercialism hocked toward barely-pubescent boys who don't care that the back-story makes little sense when there are such wonderful new objects to play with. Anyone who has ever picked up one of the Hasbro toys could tell you they are ingeniously made, and kind of entertaining to change back and forth between barely-recognizable robot and familiar piece of machinery. My recommendation for any looking to shell out 10 bucks on a Transformers product is to just buy one of the toys instead. The minute or two you spend admiring its design contains far more interest and entertainment than anything you'll find in this 144-minute excursion into chaos and monotony.
If there's something deeper to the Transformers, I've obviously missed it. Of course, it's hard to find anything as "more than meets the eye", when you find your eyes nearly impossible to keep open.
-- Followed by Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) and Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
©2007 Vince Leo