Transformers

The Spoony One | Aug 10 2009 | more notation(s) | 
Transformers

A Review by Noah Antwiler

Michael Bay is a complete hack that should be fired off into space to an uninhabited planet where he can't inflict his movies on human beings ever again. This is, of course, well known. The man is essentially the American Uwe Boll, only much more successful because he's slightly smarter in choosing what licensed properties to ruin. Still, he's probably Hollywood's most reliable blue-chipper when it comes to box office earnings. His role as the king of the summer blockbuster is undisputed, as is his total lack of talent and vision. It's just that he manages to do just enough to put asses in the seats, usually by having extraordinarily large special effects budgets and casting amazingly sexy people.

Fans of the original television series were therefore smart enough to abandon all hope as soon as they heard that Bay was attached to the project, but loyalty to the series overrides all common sense and ill omens. I never liked the Transformers to begin with, but believe me, I know what it's like to walk into a movie, knowing full-well that it's going to suck but obligated to go, if only to represent the fan clan. It's a dark feeling, that silent prayer: you know it's not going to be any good, but please don't let it be as bad as you think it'll be.

"BOOM! Fwishhh! Then a slow-mo explosion!
Man, being a director is AWESOME!!"

The faithful might have even forgiven a bad movie if its heart was in the right place. Alas, Transformers is worse than being merely bad; it's flat-out wrong, made by a joker who clearly has no knowledge or interest in the source material. Without even this basic foundation, how can the film possibly succeed? This is not exactly Shakespeare. All we wanted was robots beating the oil out of each other, and apparently that was too much to ask. We're talking about a movie premise that can be adequately explained by having a four-year-old kid slam two plastic dolls together while making laser sounds, and somehow even a nitwit like Michael Bay screws it up. How is that even possible? The only thing anyone credits that moron with is his ability to slap together hideously overbudgeted, bombastic ear-splitting action sequences filled with explosions and sports cars. For once I thought his complete inability to comprehend or depict human emotions might actually work to his advantage in a robot movie. Silly me.

The man has somehow regressed as a filmmaker, to the point where every scene in his movies has become a self-parody. It's hard to tell his movies apart anymore; it's almost like he's made the same movie several dozen times with different actors. What a bizarre, frightening vision Michael Bay has, where everyone exists in a world that doesn't rotate, trapped in eternal twilight and pinned in a sweltering heat wave, sweaty and oily with the sun always directly behind them no matter which way they face. Everyone runs around in silhouette because of the blazing sun perpetually stuck just over the horizon. Every time someone gets out of a car or a helicopter (which they do as often as possible), it's in a slow-motion "glory shot" with the camera angled up so we can see the sunset behind them, preferably with rotors chopping out a low "whoof-whoof-whoof" in the background. I have no idea how Michael gets anything done if his idea of a full shooting schedule is "shoot for one hour at sunrise, take a twelve-hour lunch, shoot for an hour at sundown." The man's fixation with the so-called "magic hour" has long since graduated into a disturbing obsession.

My script for Transformers would have been a deck of flash cards with nonsense words like FWAM and KRA-KOOM! written on them, and somehow this is less-stupid than the script they ended up using. It's a script so misguided, so puerile and offensively moronic it's almost like the original author has no idea how to structure a screenplay at all. I've sprayed better screenplays in the toilet after a bout of food poisoning. It's abusively long, and yet almost nothing substantive happens.

I was frankly amazed that a movie entitled Transformers barely involves robots at all. Instead it focuses on humans, primarily teenage dork Sam Witwicke played by the somehow more ridiculously-named Shia LaBeouf (French for "where's the beef?") who improbably becomes embroiled in the struggle for the fate of the galaxy. It all started long ago when the nefarious Decepticons betrayed the Autobots and ravaged the planet Cybertron with constant warfare over a giant techno-cube that controls the fate of everything. In hindsight, the Autobots really should have seen this betrayal coming, seeing as how they're called Decepticons. Maybe it translates to something more benign in their robo-language.

Don't, you idiot!
That's the Hellraiser cube!

Anyway, they lost the MacGufficube and both groups of robots scattered to scour the galaxy to find it. Of course, the cube fell to Earth long ago, and this is where the plot stops making much sense. Sam's explorer ancestor discovers the Decepticon leader Megatron frozen under the Arctic Circle and somehow activates his "navigation system" which burns the coordinates to the techno-cube into the lenses of his glasses. I don't know what Megatron was doing in the Arctic Circle in the first place or why he allowed himself to freeze. I don't know why, if he discovered the cube's location, he didn't take it. I don't know why Megatron's navigation system is programmed to spontaneously laser-engrave these coordinates onto strange people's eyeglasses for no reason. And I have absolutely no idea how anyone comes to know that these coordinates exist on the eyeglasses in the first place, not the Decepticons, not the Autobots, not the U.S. Government. They figured all this out from a few grainy photos on eBay?

By sheer blind chance, the one Autobot on Earth, a mute Chevy Camaro named Bumblebee just happens to come into Sam's possession to protect him from the Decepticons' attack before anyone learns about the glasses in the first place. They might have saved themselves a lot of trouble if they'd just wired forty bucks into Sam's PayPal account and bought the glasses. You might figure it's a little hard to visit a P.O. box when you're a forty-foot kill-bot, but remember that the Decepticons do have a very annoying little robot gremlin who turns into a boombox, throws ninja stars, runs around generally spazzing out and muttering to itself like Gollum and Cosmo Kramer's love child hooked on double-espresso shots, and performs stunning feats of computer hacking by employing quantum computing techniques. I reckon spoofing a credit card would be pretty easy. But far be it from me to suggest ways to include less action in this movie.

This would be bad enough if Sam and his skull-splittingly annoying family were the only people we had to deal with. Unfortunately, Sam is only one of four simultaneous plot threads involving irritating humans trying to figure out what the Decepticons are up to. The others involve a squad of Marines in Qatar, Jon Voight attempting to organize the nation's defense, and a plot involving an Australian hacker girl attempting to decipher the Decepticon hacking signal that goes absolutely nowhere. Seriously, her entire plotline accomplishes exactly nothing.

Worse, Bay decided to shoot this entire movie as some disgustingly inappropriate raunchy comedy. I have never seen a movie where the human characters were specifically written to be as aggressively annoying as possible since Freddy vs. Jason. I'm not being sarcastic when I say it's almost like Bay wants us to cheer for the Decepticons to kill everyone, and wonder why Optimus Prime is so devoted to preserving human life when every human we see is invariably a shrill, mincing little cretin. I prayed for a full twenty minutes for Optimus Prime to run over Sam's parents and back over them repeatedly when the film decided to indulge in a lengthy conversation about masturbation.

Insert dipstick joke here.
Heh, I'd like to insert my dipstick joke there...

The entire first hour is spent engaging in rapid-fire slapstick, watching Shia trying to channel the sexual immaturity of Jason Biggs as he hits on his "high school" crush, an impossibly hot and trashy model who looks a full ten years older than him. It's just not funny when the height of 70 minutes of wasted comedy is Sam losing his pants and a Chihuahua addicted to painkillers. Can you think of a way to rob the plot of all emotional investment faster than Optimus Prime saying "my bad?"

There's a special circle of hell reserved for the pervert who decided to make us watch an Autobot urinate on John Turturro. I'm sorry, I simply can't countenance the idea of Autobot toilet humor. The sight of an actor of John Turturro's caliber, a man who spent a decade paying his dues in indy films, forced to play an "MiB" secret agent forced to strip to his secret superhero underwear while a giant robot evacuates "lubricant" all over him serves as a microcosm of Michael Bay's involvement in this movie: he pisses all over it.

Most worrisome is what appears to be some very un-subtle racial stereotypes that pervade throughout this movie, from the Ricky Ricardoesque Hispanic Marine who babbles endlessly in Spanish, to the heavily-accented "thank you, come again!" Indian call-center representative, to the rampant offensive African-American character templates that offend me as a pasty white man. Anthony Anderson is once again relegated to the same Goofy Screaming Black Glutton Comic Relief character he's played in nearly every movie he's ever been in, despite being an actor with proven skills. And of course, he's got a wacky sassy black mama. Bernie Mac cameos as a patronizing, full-of-crap used car dealer who also has a wacky "mammie" with attitude. Even the Autobot named Jazz is reduced to a broad stereotype: a screwball who constantly breakdances around saying things like "yo yo yo, let's kick it, dawg!" Optimus Prime claims that the Autobots all learned English from scanning the Internet. I guess Jazz spent most of his time watching BET on cable.

The only way we could have had these characters be more ethnically offensive is if we had them weeping over the ruins of a Popeye's chicken restaurant that Megatron had destroyed by throwing a tanker truck full of grape soda into it. And of course, who's the only Autobot to kick the bucket? Breakdancin' Jazz. Brutha never survives these movies, does he?

What little action there is in Transformers is very good, when you can see it. Bay is a real fan of the shaky-cam technique, in which everything seems much more intense when you rattle the camera around like a maniac during action sequences so people lean forward in their seats and give themselves a headache trying to make out what in the hell is going on. There's also a fight between Bumblebee and Roadblock that occurs off-camera because we're too busy watching Shia LaBoeuf get his ass kicked by a minicon while Megan Fox hacks at it with a Sawzall. Gee, thanks, Mike. How exciting could that other fight have been, anyway?

Even a Go-Bots fan would feel like his intelligence was being insulted by this travesty. A computer storage room in the middle of Hoover Dam fully stocked with loaded shotguns and a fully-functional flamethrower? Characters who can survive twenty-story falls and road rashing themselves across a hundred yards of asphalt at sixty miles-per-hour while firing a grenade launcher with perfect accuracy? An Autobot who spends most of the final battle getting his ass handed to him by Megatron, never seeming to remember that he has an energy sword like Voltron that he used ten minutes ago?

I always wondered about that. If Voltron or the Power Rangers always had this super-duper sword that could easily dispatch the monster-of-the-week in one hit, why do they bother with all the chop-socky in the first place? Just whip out the sword! Man, these giant robot shows make my head hurt.

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