I’d like to meet the person who genuinely finds Transformers exciting. I’d like to know how the person’s eyes and brain are wired. I’m legitimately curious. Like all other Michael Bay films, Transformers sets up potentially exhilarating action sequences and then stomps them into tedium with a combination of unscannable editing and inept camera placement. Is it a generational thing? Are my eyes too old to process the genius here? Do the people who love Michael Bay’s movies find films like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Aliens, and the original Die Hard too sedate and visually bland?
Critics who’ve registered a formal complaint about Transformers have been lambasted left and right by the fanboy community, who tell us to stick to Citizen Kane and sensitive art films. Let me be clear: Not one of us developed our love for movies by watching Tarkovsky or Antonioni. We grew up on Disney, Star Wars, Saturday-morning cartoons. We know what expectations to bring to a movie like Transformers, thanks very much. And by any standard, the movie is lumpy, hectic and impersonal, and the kids who are now growing up on movies like this deserve a lot better.
Shia LaBeouf, the current It Boy, just about rescues his small wing of the movie. He’s playing a smart kid (not geek-smart or book-smart, just a kid who can think fast on his feet) who finds that his new Camaro, jointly paid for by Dad, is actually a Transformer named Bumblebee. Bumblebee is an Autobot, or good Transformer, and he and other Autobots have come to Earth in search of the Cube, a mystical bit of hardware that must not fall into the claws of the Decepticons, or bad Transformers. LaBeouf makes his scenes bearable by reacting to all this as a normal person would, though God knows he doesn’t have much help from his castmates, either robotic or, in the case of Megan Fox as his school crush, slightly less robotic. LaBeouf invests his performance and even his throwaway lines (like his repeated “No nononono!” whenever something disastrous happens) with an urgency that Bay would’ve done well to learn from.
There are many sad attempts at humor, often involving clownish black people (Bernie Mac, Anthony Anderson), sometimes involving the innate goofiness of giant robots trying to hide themselves outside Shia’s parents’ house. At a couple of points, crappy heavy-metal kicks in on the soundtrack during a chase scene, and I actually sat up in my seat a bit, hoping for a sign that the movie was about to go all the way into ‘80s cheese. Sadly, the chase scenes are as stubbornly mishandled as everything else. A lot of people spent a lot of hours and money to create the battle sequences, only to have their work ruined by Bay and his three editors. The last act of Transformers could have been filmed in someone’s backyard for two dollars with close-ups of toasters being bashed into each other. For all I know, toasters are what we’re watching. The climactic face-off between Optimus Prime and Megatron clanks by in a blur of metal and motion.
Forget the racism (including a jive-talking Autobot and a nose-picking Indian phone jockey); forget the near-total lack of human interest (I don’t know why John Turturro is in this movie, and I don’t think he knows either); forget the Cuisinart editing; forget the ridiculous running time (two hours and twenty-four minutes); forget all the lore and all the expectations. Why is this, a movie about good giant robots fighting bad giant robots, so punishingly boring? How can you possibly screw that up? How could $150 million buy such a lackluster-looking film? How could two (credited) writers sit in a room and not know that what they were writing was neither entertaining nor funny? Finally, how could people so enjoy Transformers that they actually applauded (at the show I went to) and take the time to compose sneering rebuttals to every critic who didn’t like it? Is there some mass hypnosis going on? I don’t get it. I honestly don’t.