Imagine you’re on a date with a breathtakingly hot babe whom you can’t wait to get out of her clothes and have fun with… But first, you have to listen to her as she talks about really boring crap and makes a lot of lame jokes, as the girl is as dumb as she’s hot. Still, after a couple of hours of this, you do get her in bed, she finally shows you all of her “special effects” and they’re as spectacular as you imagined. Then you have, well, not meaningful lovemaking, obviously, but some pretty intense meaningless sex. “Transformers” is basically that attractive but mindless chick and in reviewing it, I find myself in the same position as Jerry in the “Seinfeld” episode where his brain and his penis are playing chess.
It didn’t have to be like this. I still can’t understand how they managed to screw this up. From the get-go, when toy manufacturers thought it up in the early ’80s, the idea behind Transformers was brilliant in its simplicity. Boys love to play with toy cars, they also love playing with action figures: why not give them both at the same time? This was unsurprisingly a phenomenal hit, even more so as a cartoon series was launched to accompany the toy line, each feeding into the other to make both increasingly popular.
Beyond the nifty twist of having the characters transform back and forth from giant robots to cars or other vehicles (including planes, trucks, helicopters and even a big-ass metal scorpion!), the appeal of Transformers was more or less the same as countless other Japanese pop culture staples (Godzilla, Ultraman, Power Rangers, etc.) in which giant beings beat the crap out of one another, often leveling cities in the process. The last half hour of “Transformers” is just that, non-stop over the top action, as the (good) Autobots face the (evil) Decepticons while various people try not to become collateral damage. And who better to stage all this than Michael Bay, who’s made a career out of orchestrating ridiculously awesome (or awesomely ridiculous?) sequences of mass destruction.
But, again, to get to that kick-ass climactic battle, the metaphorical naked goddess bump and grind I referred to above, you have to endure almost two hours of boredom and annoyance. Why couldn’t they leave it at good robots, bad robots, rock ’em sock ’em? Sure, introduce a MacGuffin (a super mega powerful energy cube the two robot races are fighting over) and throw in a few human characters for good measure, but there’s no need for a big ensemble cast with half a dozen subplots.
I found Shia LaBeouf to be charismatic in a geeky-cool kind of way, but do we need all those idiotic scenes with his high school mates and his parents? I got a huge kick out of John Turturro (in an hilariously scenery-chewing performance) showing up in the second act as a government agent, but all the other dull, extraneous exposition delivered by Jon Voight‘s Secretary of Defense and his staff should have hit the cutting room floor. And while Bernie Mac‘s loud black guy shtick in his one scene early on is painful enough, it’s nothing compared to when they bring in Anthony Anderson for more (a lot more) of the same tired, unfunny shit. Similarly, was it obligatory to have not one but two Barbie-style female characters (played by Megan Fox and Rachael Taylor) that serve little purpose beyond looking sexy beside their male counterparts? As for the soldiers (Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel), they barely make an impression – their scenes feel like something out of “Starship Troopers”, minus the satire.
Most frustratingly, out of this whole cast, we don’t get a single truly badass hero. The LaBeouf’s okay, but he’s more Short Round than Indiana Jones, you know? What the hell, Michael, you couldn’t give us a Will Smith, a Bruce Willis or even a Ben Affleck? Well, at least we got the Autobots, Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Ratchet, Ironhide and Jazz, who actually display more personality than most of the actors (they have nothing on the Iron Giant, though). I tell you, as uneven as the dramatic and comedic stuff is (and there’s a lot of it), whenever Transformers are on screen, this is everything you could hope for in a summer blockbuster. The special effects are simply out of this world, as revolutionary as those of “Terminator 2” were back in the day. The transformation scenes are endlessly fascinating to watch and that final half hour is amazing, if sometimes confusingly frenetic. In other words, Bay Wiseman).
So, is “Transformers” worth seeing or not? Is satisfying your action-loving bits worth making your brain suffer? I’m still not sure of the answer, as these guys are still going at it: