Transformers film review: MICHAEL BAY and the Transformers are Less Than Meets the Eye – loud, bombastic and all shades of “wow mumma!”
MICHAEL BAY probably likes to think that he’s a popular visionary, talented at taking nutty concepts and turning them into smash-hit movies. From Alcatraz, to Pearl Harbour, to the Island, to the intergalactic tombs of Bruce Willis and the Armageddon crew, sets and settings differ but MICHAEL BAY’s essential ingredients remain the same. Expect ludicrous plots, massive budgets, state-of-the-art special effects, sexy ladies, unrelenting chase scenes, happy endings and whatever other elements best serve to epitomise the word “blockbuster.” In line with the logic of his movies, MICHAEL BAY probably likes to have his name spelt in capital letters. Why spell in bland, puny, uninteresting type when you can spell in big, bold, f-off type? The reason as we all know is because spelling in capital letters is a dumb and illiterate thing to do – and MICHAEL BAY deserves to have those two words emblazoned on his forehead.
On the subject of D & I we have (in the left hand corner, weighing 150 million U.S. dollars) the spectacularly ridiculous Transformers. This movie represents an ominous milestone: the first time MICHAEL BAY dipped his fingers in the honey pot of popular nostalgia. Adapting from a TV show that somehow became a sentimental favourite (probably because of the merchandise), MICHAEL BAY’s Transformers advertises toys for adults instead of toys for kids. Spot the product placements for Nokia, X-Box, General Motors, E-Bay and Panasonic. There is also a baffling reference to his own work: in the throes of a hellzapoppin action sequence one character yelps “this is much cooler than Armageddon!” Is MICHAEL BAY so deliriously deluded that he actually thinks the general public consider that movie cool? Message to BAY: you’re so vain you probably think this review is about you (don’t you?).
Transformers explains with typically bombastic BAY ballyhoo how the purchase of a teenager’s first car can lead to him saving the world. Sam (Shia LaBeouf) scores a new set of wheels which turns out to be a (cue metallic sounding TV jingle) robot in disguise. Through some predictably loopy plot leaps – including his connection to a famous explorer – Sam gets thrust into the centre of a war between those towering titular Transformers. Before they transform the Transformers look suspiciously like human inventions, and after they transform they look suspiciously like humans. Regardless, they are from the planet Cybertron and are dichotomised into good and evil camps: there are the benevolent, human-protecting Autobots and the despicable, Gestapo-esque Decepticons. They are fighting for the Allspark, a gray cube that supposedly wields unprecedented power to whatever robot gets their metallic mitts on it.
Rising Hollywood star Shia LaBeouf contributes a solid performance in the central role. LaBeouf, who starred in Disturbia and will soon be seen in the long-prophesised new Indiana Jones movie, has an affable middle-of-the-road appeal and keeps his cool while everything around him self destructs, sometimes literally. Transformers is best when it mingles goofy sci-fi with adolescent concepts like doing chores, going to school and getting a girlfriend, and LaBeouf nudges BAY in the right directions, though he’s clearly in way over his head. Jon Voight, as the head of U.S. security, walks around in a daze, presumably reassuring himself that it will all come together in the editing room. Sadly, the great John Turturro is there to pick up his pay cheque.
Stephen Spielberg bought the rights to Transformers a long time ago but opted out of directing. The poster tagline for Transformers reads “Their War. Our World,” which with slight modifications reads “War of the Worlds,” and that’s often what this movie resembles: a bunch of aliens blowing stuff up while humans fruitlessly add some missiles and munitions to the kerfuffle. As executive producer Spielberg must share a portion of the blame for the madcap movie migraine that is Transformers, because handballing a project like this to a director like MICHAEL BAY is like giving Dracula control of the blood bank. BAY sinks his teeth into every fangle at his disposal, screaming “more! More! More!” from the director’s chair like a fat greedy kid in a chocolate factory. Explosions? More! Chase scenes? More! Aliens? More! Planes? Tanks? Guns? Rockets? Crumbling buildings? Crew-cut soldiers? MORE! A parental figure should have been standing next to him saying “no Augustus, save some for later!” because MICHAEL BAY somehow finds a way to turn excess into boredom and action into fatigue. At two and half hours Transformers vastly overstays its welcome; the protracted final action scene is the proverbial never-ending packet of Tim Tams because it just keeps replenishing itself. At the butt end of a running time comparable to Schindler’s List and Dances With Wolves it’s too much, too late, for too long, and that’s a shame because some spectacular effects and choreography get lost in the quagmire of BAY’s unrelenting indulgence.
MICHAEL BAY probably lives in perpetual fear of being boring, but not all the cocaine-lined hand mirrors in Hollywood can sustain the delusion that Transformers is an interesting movie. Nobody was expecting High Art, and a snappy and entertaining Transformers movie probably would have sufficed. This is not a movie that is marketed for children. Instead it is a movie that infantilises audiences and treats us all like primary school students suffering from severe learning disorders. By the time the huff and puff and sound and fury subsides, by the time the brain-numbing bedlam concludes, you would be excused for thinking that the learning disorder is called – you guessed it – MICHAEL BAY.
Transformer’s Australian theatrical release date: June 28, 2007