Transformers, Aug. 07


Although beloved by its passionate and nerdy fan base, Transformers was simply a clever and often crass way to get little boys to want robot toys. In this way, Michael Bay is the perfect director for the live-action reboot of the eighties franchise. Much maligned by “film buffs” (which usually means people that really like The Shawshank Redemption, The Usual Suspects, and American Beauty), Bay has made a career of making flashy, vacant, and gleefully offensive tent-pole films. At his worst (Pearl Harbor, Armageddon), Bay and his films are cringing wet-dreams of patriotism and pyrotechnics, exhaustive and leaden fantasias of cynical focus-group marketing. At his best (the Bad Boys films), Bay displays a jaw-dropping juxtaposition of technical mastery and tastelessness. Consider the climax of the great Bad Boys II, where Will Smith and Martin Lawrence plow their bright yellow Hummer through the shanties of Havana, screaming “Yeah! That’s what I’m talking about!!” Tell me, which international art director or darling at Cannes has made a more vivid and succinct visual metaphor for American foreign policy in the 21st century?

Transformers presents Bay with his most honest and legitimate opportunity to shun the tired, dewy ramblings of humans and focus on the things dear to his heart: blowing &%*#! up. The script and plot line of Transformers is predictably (in all ways) ludicrous and fairly boring. A teenager (Shia Labeouf) buys a used Camaro that turns out to be a robot from a distant planet. Then there’s a cube of energy whose location is imprinted on the teen’s grandfather’s glasses, blah-blah, etc. Point is, there’s a lot of truly mind-blowing scenes of good robots fighting bad robots. If that doesn’t sound appealing, there’s really no reason to see this movie.

Despite its near two-and-a-half-hour run time, Transformers, unlike, say, the Harry Potter series or The Lord of the Rings, is so goofy, so populated with manic, mailed in performances, break-dancing robots, and bad jokes, it has a shaggy dog charm that makes its long run time more pleasant. Perhaps this is why audiences are responding to the film—it’s nice to see a big-budget summer extravaganza that knows what it is. At the same time, Transformers can never be as transcendentally entertaining and bad-ass as something like Batman Begins. But you know what? It’s Transformers! Even as much as I loved it as I tyke, I still knew it was pretty dumb.

In a certain way, I’m pro turning completely corporate, commercial entities like theme-park rides and toys into movie franchises. It’s more honest. The bottom line is these films are about the bottom line. B