Stories of Michael Bay’s shouting fits during the filming of Transformers have spread around Hollywood. It’s therefore not surprising that the blockbuster director’s outsized sense of everything is on par with massive though bloodless machine ultra-violence that fills the screen.
Transformers is designed as an insider movie made to order for fans of the ‘80s cartoon, toys, videogames and comic books about Autobots and Decepticons, two opposing gangs of gnarly metal-morphing robots that expand exponentially from cars, planes and tractor trailers into massive metal gladiators. Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) is the good-guy leader of the Autobots, who speaks in a condescending God voice intoning theme-line ultimatums and platitudes that might impress 10-year-olds, but could send cringes through adults concerned about the potential brainwashing effect on their children.
Amid a plethora of shameless product placements for American car companies, and a certain toy manufacturer, lies a bare-bones story about high school junior Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), the great-grandson of an Arctic explorer who retrieved a frozen gigantic evil robot called Megatron (leader of the Decepticons), along with a cube of “raw power” called an “Allspark” that the bots badly want. Endless noisy chase sequences and city-leveling titan clashes attend the CGI masturbation between good and bad colossal robots, as if there were a difference.
Rhetorical sloganeering stems from a pro-war bent that’s supported by the film’s parallel subplot, set in Qatar where U.S. military forces fight a losing battle against Decepticons disguised as helicopters or giant metal scorpions. The familiar sports maxim “no pain, no gain” is changed into an often repeated “no sacrifice, no victory” adage with considerably more zealotry. When an armed fighter tells Sam, “You’re a soldier now,” it’s agonizingly clear that the filmmakers are intent on gearing child audiences toward combat, although it’s unclear who or what they might be fighting.
As in The Last Mimzy, an entire family is hauled off to the pokey by a Homeland Security-styled team. In this case, it’s Sam’s mom and dad that are aimlessly arrested by John Turturro as the goofball Agent Simmons. The film’s poster tagline, “Protect/Destroy” resonates with America’s oxymoronic national and foreign policy.
And the story devolves into an urban battle climax where civilian causalities invisibly pile up beneath tons of rubble. For our trouble, we are anesthetized to the violence with plenty of bombastic music and a fusillade of crashing sounds albeit sans the screams of any wounded victims.
There are plenty of racist and sexist jabs interspersed throughout with dialogue about “Bros before hos,” and Sam’s car freshener spelling out “Bee-otch.” On Air Force One, a Bush-like President asks a female assistant to “wrangle him up some ding dongs.” Jon Voight slums as a Secretary of Defense John Keller who wants us to know that the robots are “way too smart for the Iranians.”
Even as a big spectacle popcorn movie, Transformers comes across as dumb-as-a-stump for all of its idiotic robot characterizations that make Jar Jar Binks sound like a genius by comparison. It’s a sickening force-feeding commercial frenzy to sell cars, toys and war in the same breath that it pawns itself off as “cinema.”
This is not cinema. This is acid kool-aid for children. Don’t drink it. MTW