Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Rachael Taylor, Tyrese Gibson, Jon Voight, Anthony Anderson, John Turturro, Peter Cullen
Directed by: Michael Bay
What is it about the summer movie season that completely rots the brains of the general public, turning their expectations to mush and their judgement to shit? I’m not just talking about the simpleton yokels that will make Norbit a hit at any time of the year, and are probably flooding to the theatres this week to see Meet the Spartans. I’m talking about decent movie-going folk, who have at times exhibited good judgement, yet still get fooled by the big dumb action of summer fare, helping Transformers earn over $300 million domestically without embarrassingly hanging their heads in shame. Is it that it’s too hot to think? Or maybe the joy of wearing light clothes and soaking sunlight well into the night puts people at such a state of euphoria that nothing can bring them down.
I guess I’m missing out on the party, but I simply cannot understand how anyone could watch Michael Bay‘s latest opus of soul-sucking commercial calculation and not feel anything but depressed by the level of cynical manipulation being force-fed to them over the course of two hours and twenty-four minutes. I realise I may be exaggerating here because the wounds are still fresh having just finished watching the movie, but right now, I have to say that this is the dumbest fucking movie I’ve ever seen.
I’ll admit that I never had much desire to see this movie, which is probably self-evident given that I’m just getting around to seeing it now. But I did grow up watching the cartoon and playing with the toys, which were amongst my absolute favourites as a child. In fact, I still remembering being devastated watching my favourite character (Prowl) being callously killed off in the animated Transformers: The Movie. Looking back on it, I think it may have signalled a moment of recognition in my nine-year-old brain that it was time to stop investing so much in the characters I watch in cartoons, since those who created them didn’t seem all that invested themselves.
It’s funny, because I get the impression that for many of my generation, that moment never came. Sure, they eventually put those toys away as girls got prettier and such, but the nostalgia they feel for the toys and shows of their childhood is so powerful that they’re willing to buy it all back at exorbitant prices on eBay, and are willing to overlook how aggressively stupid this movie is.
Here’s a question to those fans: when you were looking forward to seeing your beloved childhood toys on screen, did you hope it would be in a movie where they’re continually used as comic relief? That the central figure in the movie would be the annoying kid from the cartoon that wasn’t even a toy? That your kick-ass memories of space-faring robots take a backseat to the romantic comedy antics of said kid? No, you weren’t; I know you weren’t. You were looking forward to big fucking robot fights. Now what if I told you that this movie you’ve been looking forward to since you outgrew your Optimus Prime underoos has, by my count, about 2 hours of scenes that don’t involve big fucking robot fights? Would you still be psyched, or would you be confused about how a movie about robots that are also cars could somehow even last 2 hours total, much less fill them out with stuff other than the Autobot versus Decepticon action you so dearly crave?
This is probably the part when people reading say to themselves, “what was he expecting, Shakespeare? Not everything can be Schindler’s List“. Which isn’t the point at all. It is possible to make good, exciting movies without completely sacrificing intelligence and quality. The original three Star Wars movies were exciting and popular without being dumb. So was Indiana Jones. And Jurassic Park. And all sorts of other movies where you don’t have to qualify them as “brainless fun” in order to enjoy them. Which is what bothers me so much about Transformers and its popularity, it’s that when the public continues to lower its expectations, then you can bet those who make movies will be listening, and will continue to lower the bar to meet those expectations.
Not that I can imagine them getting any lower than a movie that takes a break in the middle of desert fighting with alien robots to throw in a lame bit about outsourcing call centres, features robot golden showers, or has the military come up with the brilliant plan of leading the relentless killing machine enemy away from their secluded base and into a heavily populated city. There wasn’t a genuine moment to be had in the entire movie, with everything coming through the well-polished filter of Michael Bay and the team of Universal Studios and Hasbro executives who made sure every element would test well with audiences, from the polished new Camaro down to the plucky love interest who fixes cars while wearing flimsy tank tops. I actually had to take a break in the middle of the movie to watch something else, for fear that the very act of watching it was making my brain ooze out while I wondered how a movie could some how manage to impinge on the artistic sanctity of what used to be half-hour toy commercials.
I eventually sucked it up to take in the final hour, hoping to at least be entertained by the promised big fucking robot fighting scenes. Even here, where Bay’s reputation for making big explosion movies should have paid off, the movie was completely disinteresting to me. It didn’t help that the robots were infused with less personality throughout the movie than they had been in the 30-second commercials that used to air in the middle of the half-hour commercials that were the cartoons of my youth, meaning that I really didn’t give much of a damn about who prevailed during the fights. Which was helpful, given that the spastic transforming movement between the brightly painted good guys and dark coloured bad guys mostly prevented me from telling any of the characters apart.
So that’s it for me. The next time I hear about a movie that you have to turn your brain off in order to enjoy it, I’ll just leave it to those more capable than I of doing so.