Review: Transformers (2007)

There are certain things that are just objectively true. Water is wet. The sky is blue. The Pope is Catholic. Gingers have no souls. Michael Bay’s Transformers movies are incredibly bad.

And while the first live-action Transformers movie is not the mind-blowing trainwreck that many of its sequels would become, it’s still a terrible movie. It’s a bloated, sluggish mass of sexism, racism, ‘splosions and horrible comic relief, overflowing with characters that annoy me to the point of frothing madness. It’s a movie that seems to stretch forever until my patience is on the verge of snapping… but not quite dull enough to actually be called boring.

A teenage boy named Sam Witwicky (Shia Labeouf) finally gets his first car – a used yellow-and-black car that somehow blasts out the windows of every other car on the lot. No, it’s not possessed – it’s just an alien robot in disguise. Which is better, I guess.

At the same time, mysterious shapeshifting robots are attacking a U.S. military base on Qatar, downloading classified information and attacking various noble, two-dimensional soldiers. These hostile alien robots, known as Decepticons, are actually trying to locate and attack Sam because they want the old family heirlooms that he’s trying to sell on eBay. Specifically, they want a pair of old broken glasses that belonged to his ancestor. Yes, he thinks he can get a lot of money for broken antique glasses. Sam is not very smart, you may quickly see.

Fortunately, the details of this are explained to him by the leader of the good alien robots-disguised-as-motor-vehicles, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), who are on Earth to find a MacGuffin that is vitally important to both sides of their civil war. And the glasses are the key to finding it for… stupid reasons. However, Sam and his maybe-girlfriend Mikaela (Megan Fox) soon run afoul of a secret government agency that has known about the Transformers for a very long time. And, well, things get messy plotwise.

Michael Bay’s Transformers is one of those movies where almost everything seems to be wrong with it. The actual plot of the film is a bloated, lumbering, stumbling mass of incoherent conflicts that all eventually crash together, and it seems to last forever. It’s only about two and a quarter hours long, but it feels like being dragged facedown behind a slow-moving car on a ten-mile-long gravel driveway.

And it’s dripping with racism (the only non-buffoonish black person is a soldier), sexism (the camera does everything but lick Mikaela) and an uncomfortable level of military fetishization. The entire subplot about the soldiers in the desert could have been written out of the story, and we would have gotten a much leaner film. But Michael Bay has to crowbar soldiers in there somehow!

But the worst part of the movie is, I think, the characters. Michael Bay seems to write three kinds of characters:

  1. Noble and perfect soldiers.
  2. Hot girls who are really smart so objectifying them (“Criminals are HOT!”) isn’t creepy.
  3. Violently annoying idiots who do stupid stuff in order to be funny.

Those are the only kinds of characters in these movies. And that last category accounts for 95% of the characters, including almost all of the giant alien robots. Optimus Prime is presented as a wise and noble leader here, for instance, but he consistently bumbles through just about every situation – when visiting Sam’s house, he and the other Autobots stumble around causing as much damage and being as noticeable as possible. Because funny.

But the human characters are the worst perpetrators – entirely for the LOLZ, many of them run around jabbering and screaming, stuffing their faces with food and making annoying sex jokes. Shia Labeouf’s Sam is perhaps the most obvious example, since his yammering and shouting is front and center, but his parents are the most obnoxious examples. These are characters specifically made to be funny in their stupidity, but instead they feel like a cheese grater on my nerves. John Turturro’s character isn’t much better; he exists to be peed on by Bumblebee and lech on underage girls.

The best thing I can say about Transformers is that if you switch your brain off… all the way off… you might enjoy the explosions and sexy women. Might. A very big might. But if that isn’t enough to justify over two hours of movie, then this film will be Chinese water torture.

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