The hallmarks of any summer blockbuster are that it is big, loud, and – especially for those with the words “directed by Michael Bay” appended to it – dumb as a bag of hammers. Depending on your expectations for “Transformers,” rear-ending theaters this July 4th, you’ll either be ecstatic or horrified to learn that the movie hits on all three cylinders in convincing fashion.
It is most assuredly big and loud. The movie cost an estimated $150 million to make and it’s easy to see why. The robots themselves, noble Autobots and evil Decepticons alike, are wonders of design and computer animation. Purists will bitch about the flames on Optimus Prime or the fact that Megatron is no longer a Walther P-38 and Bumblebee is a Camaro instead of a VW Beetle (though the original version makes a cameo of sorts). These are relatively minor complaints when watching two giant outer space robots in a battle royale that runs the length of 20 city blocks. From the opening scene, an attack by a Decepticon named Blackout on a U.S. military base in Qatar which is honestly one of the most arresting action sequences I’ve seen in a while, the Transformers show themselves capable of causing massive amounts of destruction, all realized in vivid detail and DTS stereo sound.
Did I mention “outer space?” According to the prologue, narrated by Peter Cullen (who has returned to voice Prime for the first time in 20 years), the Autobots and Decepticons fought a protracted war that destroyed their home planet of Cybertron. The remaining combatants are scattered throughout the cosmos, searching for something called the “Allspark,” which will grant the owner the power to “transform” mechanical devices, in essence granting them life. A human teenager named Sam (Shia LaBoeuf) is the descendant of an explorer who discovered the first evidence of the Transformers’ presence on Earth, and holds the key to finding the Allspark. He comes under the protection of Bumblebee, who realizes Sam’s importance and summons his fellow Autobots to Earth to protect him from the Decepticons
Honestly, none of what I just wrote is all that important, and that’s where the dumb comes in. The so-called plot serves as the barest framework for the near-constant parade of robot a*s-kickery. In the meantime, we’re expected to endure the imposing Prime uttering non-intimidating lines like “My bad,” a slapstick heavy segment involving the Autobots trying to hide from Sam’s parents, and watching a Transformer take the robot equivalent of a leak on a human character. The lead army guy, played by Josh Duhamel, inexplicably ignores years of tactical training to attack a rampaging robot from the back of a motorcycle, and the American government has such trouble translating the Decepticon signal it’s forced to draft college undergrads, the most capable of which also happens to be the most attractive blonde in the contiguous 48 states.
This is Michael Bay writ Lane Bryant large. As in all of his movies, the military is lovingly portrayed, with Duhamel and the other soldiers depicted either firing their weapons in slow motion or against a sun which is always in the process of setting. Sam’s romantic interest Mikaela (Megan Fox), who is admittedly hotter than doughnut grease, is also constantly shot from low angles, a thin sheet of perspiration coating her perpetually exposed abdomen. There are car chases galore, with the added bonus that the cars actually turn into giant robots and pound each other into scrap. The back story is rehashed “Independence Day,” and – worst of all – there’s nary a hint of “The Touch,” the Stan Bush song that graced the 1986 animated movie.
To paraphrase Montgomery Burns: I’m no art critic, but I know what I hate…and I didn’t hate “Transformers.” This is a movie so brainless you may inadvertently find yourself going home from the theater and signing up for the NASCAR package on Direct TV, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say watching robots that can turn into cars and airplanes duke it out for two hours didn’t appeal to the dateless 14-year old in me. As long as you can avoid rolling your eyes at terms like “Allspark,” still more product placement (look for the toy version of the Mountain Dew Transformer at a Wal-Mart near you), and John Turturro in the worst role of his life as a smarmy government agent, you might actually enjoy it.
But that Stan Bush song really would’ve brought the movie together.