Transformers is the movie Michael Bay was born to make. A quick review of his ... ahem ... filmography shows a profound apathy toward human emotion or complexity. Armageddon and The Rock do, however, revel in Bay's trademark fetishes: military hardware and big-ass explosions. So, who better to make a film based on a line of toys, where the main characters are all vehicles?
How much you dig an action flick that sees giant robots blowing up each other (and everything around them) will depend on your ability to lower your IQ to that of a can opener. As the opening shot makes clear, Bay expects you to do just that: A military helicopter flies above rolling desert sand and the subtitle reads, "Qatar The Middle East." Or did you think it was Qatar, Indiana? Though a giant robot movie should be all velocity and vacuity, it shouldn't assume its audience is stupid.
The Transformers plot is beside the point, and yet Bay still manages to botch things by injecting a too-serious tone and introducing too many plotlines. With its trio of merging stories, did Bay think he was making the giant robot version of Syriana or Crash?
The first vignette concerns a troop of soldiers in the Middle East who've survived an impressively staged attack by a mysterious helicopter that turns into an evil robot. Tanks fly through the air, a giant mechanized scorpion hunts down the survivors and none of it has much to do with anything. Still, the effects are cool and things blow up a lot. No such luck with the second plot thread, which follows an Aussie bombshell cryptographer (Rachel Taylor) who discovers why the bad robots are hacking into government computers. With such Shakespeare-worthy lines as "There's only one hacker in the world who can crack this code!" we're introduced to donut-eating Anthony Anderson who ... well, it's never clear why he's in the movie, except to provide a little color.
Which leaves us with the horny but awkward teen, Sam (Shia LaBeouf in a role Matthew Broderick would have played 15 years ago), who buys a beater Camaro and ends up with a giant space robot. Before revealing itself to be Bumblebee a good-guy Transformer said car first helps Sam score with a foxy but troubled classmate (Megan Fox). We soon learn that two armies of giant space robots the Decepticons (evil) and the Autobots (virtuous) are searching for a mechanized cube called the Allspark. Turns out Sam's great granddad discovered its location and his antique glasses point the way. That sets the stage for 60 minutes of explosive robot-on-robot action, as heroic Optimus Prime and his mechanical posse brawl with dastardly Megatron and his techno-baddies.
As expected, $150 million buys myriad fancy pixels and explosions, and Bay delivers an avalanche of eye-popping effects. Cars, trucks and planes shift and transform into elaborate killing machines and blast the hell out of each other. Their stentorian declarations are on par with the finest pull-string toys, lacking all personality or wit. (Unless you want to count the startling racist depiction of an Autobot called Jazz, who actually says something like, "Yo-yo-yo, whassup? Autobots in da house," while flipping around like a monkey. Jazz is the only casualty on the good side.)
Despite the idiocy, Transformers entertains. Much credit goes to the engaging LaBeouf, who interacts credibly with mind-blowing computer effects while his reactions and sense of comic timing are note-perfect he earns laughs from the thinnest material. And Bay keeps things chugging and little time passes between steroidal battle sequences; Transformers delivers enough seizure-inducing bombast to fill an entire summer of blockbusters. If you're waiting for its DVD release, you're missing the point. Big, loud and silly, Bay has created the cinematic equivalent of a muscle car.
Sidenote: VW and Porsche wouldn't allow their vehicles to be used as Autobot characters because they oppose their products being used to promote "war toys." U.S. automakers have no such reservations.
Jeff Meyers writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.