Transformers (2007)

Transformers first published by EyeForFilm

“Cool, mum!” says the little boy in the passenger seat of a car as above him two towering robots fight each other, in the process destroying anything (vehicles, pylons, the freeway itself) that gets in their way. The mother, needless to say, looks less pleased.Little boys are certainly one target constituency for Michael Bay’s Transformers, while the other is adult males who were little boys in the mid-Eighties when the shape-shifting mechas first appeared as Hasbro action figures, tied in with their own comic books, cartoon series and even an animated feature (Transformers: The Movie, 1986) from which Peter Cullen returns to voice Optimus Prime. Anyone else, however, is likely to be shaken but not stirred by this loud, busy, jingoistic corn-fest from the director of other such loud, busy, jingoistic corn-fests as ArmageddonBad Boys II and Pearl Harbor. Transformers is classic Bay, which is to say it is high-octane nonsense for those who suffer from permanently arrested development. The fact that it is a big-budget blockbuster based on a toy really says it all.

A US base in Qatar comes under devastating attack from an “inbound unidentified infiltrator” that kills almost everyone there as it tries to break into the military’s mainframe. Meanwhile back in Los Angeles suburbia, a mildly geeky teenager named Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) has just bought his first car, and is making his first tentative moves on the girl of his dreams, Mikaela (Megan Fox). There is more, however, to his 1976 Chevy Camaro than meets the eye – and Sam will soon realise that the yellow rustbucket is in fact Bumblebee, the first of five transforming, alien Autobots to have come to earth in search of their lost life source, the Allspark, before their rivals, the Decepticons, can get their destructive, power-hungry robot hands on it.

On hand to help (and occasionally hinder) are Secretary of Defence John Keller (Jon Voight), two survivors of the Qatar attack (Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel), a computer analyst (Rachael Taylor), her hacker friend (Anthony Anderson), and the shadowy Section Seven led by Agent Simmons (John Turturro) – but when it comes to choosing between good (as embodied by Autobot leader Optimus Prime) and evil (Decepticon leader Megatron), and even saving the world, in the end it is all down to Sam, who must quickly ‘transform’ into a responsible adult and learn the value of sacrifice.

In much the same way that conventional weapons barely dent its automated anti-heroes, Transformers is big and brassy enough not to be perturbed by any brickbats that reviewers try to hurl at it. With its calculated combination of wide-screen spectacle and a teen empowerment storyline, the film’s demographic comes ready-made, and is unlikely to prove particularly vulnerable to critics’ carpings. Still, if you are not in search of your inner boy, Transformers is far from ideal as a viewing experience.

Not only does Transformers inherit from its source a premise and mythology that are frankly preposterous from the outset (autonomous automata spontaneously generated by a glorified Rubik’s cube, anyone?), but its absurdity is made even worse every time the Satanic Megatron and Christ-like Optimus Prime open their mouths (“Humans don’t deserve to live” – “They deserve to choose for themselves”). Such cereal-packet theology suggests that, over and above the elusive Allspark, what these mechas (and their screenwriters) are really desperate to find is some specious subtext to elevate, or at least ground, all the effects-driven mayhem. It is a mission doomed to fail.

Worse still is Bay’s management of the spectacle that is the film’s real raison d’être. The robot transformations, utilising state-of-the-art computer-generated imagery, are phenomenally impressive the first time they are seen, and the second, and maybe even the third – but then they grow stale, like an overfamiliar toy that has been taken for granted and is soon to be discarded, making way for the next generation’s playthings. As a film that showcases the very latest technological effects, Transformers boasts great packaging, but has little inside to justify all the gloss. And the climactic battle sequence on LA’s streets is so overbusy and undermotivated that it becomes easy to lose track of (not to mention interest in) what is going on from one moment to the next.

What rescues Transformers from total robo-annihilation is the comedy of its script, crammed with pop-culture references and hilarious throwaway lines to fill in the awkward pauses between each epic battle. It is, however, a pity that not more of the dialogue was audible amidst all the sound and fury. Still, if you are looking for a film that effortlessly marries Eighties nostalgia with Noughties techno-anxiety to create a fast, engaging, witty and over-the-top thrill-ride to please all ages, then your prayers will be answered this summer – unfortunately for Michael Bay’s tepid offering, though, they will more likely be answered by the far superior Die Hard 4.0

strap: Michael Bay’s technophobic/apocalyptic epic keeps metamorphosing between sci-fi, action and comedy with puerile sound and fury

Anton Bitel