Director Michael Bay
Cast Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Jon Voight, John Turturro
“I’m hear to make sure it’s LOUD!” booms Michael Bay, introducing the London press screening of Transformers. Boy, does he get his wish. From the opening sequence – a robot attack on US troops in the Middle East – the Dolby thunders through the auditorium at brain-meltingly high volume. And did it improve our viewing experience? Hard to say because, even though this reviewer (and others around him) was forced to jam fingers in ears during the louder moments, the film’s problems would be apparent even if you were profoundly deaf. It is, in short, unwatchable trash.
Bay is famous for knuckle-headed movies but Transformers makes Armageddon look like Solaris. There’s a scene in Bay’s last effort, 2005‘s The Island, that sums up his approach to filmmaking – he has a mildly interesting sub-Logan’s Run sci-fi plot but, as soon as he can, he gets our heroes onto the expressway and starts throwing huge dumb-bells at them from the back of a lorry. Transformers is that scene writ large.
You don’t expect much in the way of subtly from a movie about warring giant mechanoids but this plumbs depths of dumbness Hollywood hasn’t visited since Tomb Raider. The filmmakers’ first mistake was to take it too seriously; there’s far too much po-faced pseudo science and portentous witterings about ancient civilisations – all to explain why alien robots should make the implausible decision to disguise themselves as motor vehicles (all, this time round, designed by General Motors).
Not that the film is totally devoid of humour. Coen Bros. favourite John Turturro provides decent comic relief as an officious government operative (“They’re NBTs – non-biological extra-terrestrials. Try and keep up with the acronyms.”) and there are a few lines from the robots themselves that raise a titter (“The boy’s pheromone levels suggest he wants to mate with the female”).
The plot is, of course, utter bilge, centring on the two robotic sects need to capture the mythical cube called the AllSpark. The clue to its whereabouts are etched on the glass of a pair of spectacles belonging to teenager Sam Witwicky (LeBeouf), who inherited them from his great-grandfather. When he auctions them on eBay, robots good and evil come calling. The AllSpark, by the way, turns out to have been found by the US government (they built the Hoover Dam specifically to hide it, apparently) so the map’s importance becomes irrelevant.
But you don’t watch a Michael Bay flick for story, character development or emotional resonance – he’s all about action. For all his duds (Pearl Harbor, The Island) he’s made some fantastic popcorn chompers; The Rock (1996) is a classic of the genre and even received an Oscar nomination (for Best Sound, which must have pleased sonic-obsessive Bay no end). But Transformers even fails as an action movie.
Though it begins well, with doughty US soldiers attacked by an unknown foe from beneath the dunes, it degenerates as soon as the robots have revealed themselves. The CGI might be state-of-the-art but the cuts are so fast and the narrative so jumbled that it’s impossible to get a handle on what exactly is happening, and to whom. Come the final battle, complete with collapsing skyscrapers and a risible homage to King Kong, audiences are liable to be in a state of utter bewilderment.
Die-hard fans of the toys or the animated TV series will get an initial thrill from seeing their heroes on the big screen but even they won’t be able to escape the niggling feeling that this is a disappointing load of old poop – The Phantom Menace for the Transformers generation.
This review first appeared on the FilmFour website in 2007.