I want to say right up front that I had fun watching Transformers, from the opening titles — “Dreamworks Pictures and Paramount Pictures present, in association with Hasbro ...” — through the marathon robot smack-down climax and Spielberg-style coda. I had fun even while noting the screw-ups by director Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Bad Boys II) and, hoo-boy, there are major screw-ups. I’ll detail what’s wrong with Transformers in two or three paragraphs, but I feel the need to linger on the positive a little while longer.
Transformers is big on spectacle and slam-bang action, with way-cool robots and a simplistic storyline peppered with humor, an epic for 8-year-olds of all ages. It’s based on a line of Japanese toys brought to the United States in the ’80s. Kids loved the toys, which transformed from vehicles to powerful-looking robots with some twisting and turning. A cartoon series designed to further hype the products became a Saturday morning hit.
A few words about the plot. The war between two groups of sentient robots, good guys known as Autobots and the evil Decepticons, has come to Earth, with both sides trying to snag an all-powerful cube that is somewhere on our planet. A number of humans get involved, most notably an 11th-grader named Sam (Shia LaBeouf), whose newly purchased beat-up yellow Camaro is actually an Autobot.
Enough about the story, let’s move on to the failings. Although the special effects are very impressive, too many of the action scenes are visually confusing. Bay and company opt to go right into the middle of the battles, whizzing and whirling all over the place in dizzying fashion. They establish a strong sense of movement that fits with the loud music and rumbling bass lines, but I want to watch the fight scenes, not careen through the middle of them.
There are lots of people and robots in the movie, but precious few of them have any personality. Of the good guy Transformers, leader Optimus Prime is suitably noble, if a bit bland. The bad guy Transformers are generically evil, although I did appreciate them calling themselves Decepticons. How refreshingly frank! If only our political parties showed such truth in labeling. Wouldn’t the elections be more interesting if the Republicans and Democrats changed their names to the Greedy Thugicons and the Ineffectual Whinebots?
But I digress.
Most of the humans are nondescript. Only LaBeouf makes an impression, and he has much more chemistry with his Autobot Camaro than with ally/love interest Megan Fox. Would it have killed the writers to have invested the characters with some character? To let Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson be more than plastic soldiers? Or to provide closure for an amusing subplot involving computer experts Rachael Taylor and Anthony Anderson? Even for a movie based on a line of toys and a cartoon, Transformers is underwritten. Still, despite the lumbering story, the oft-incomprehensible action scenes and the crayon screenplay, I had fun.