A live-action movie based on a 1980s cartoon? Even if I loved Transformers as a kid (and the original show has aged surprisingly well), I didn't have much hope for Pearl Harbor director Michael Bay to translate this children's property into a successful summer blockbuster film.
Yet after hearing positive word-of-mouth for Transformers, I allowed my expectations to be raised… and therein lay my downfall.
For anyone mentally above the age of, say, 30, and is therefore unfamiliar with this franchise, here's a synopsis: the Autobots and Decepticons, from the planet Cybertron, are benign and malevolent robots that disguise themselves as Earth vehicles. In this film, they've come to our planet to recover the Allspark, the non-sentient cube of unknown origin that first breathed life into their mechanical bodies. Control of the Allspark will grant its wielder mastery over all robotic life, whether it be used for niceness or bad.
If that had been what the movie was really about, it might have stood a chance. Unfortunately, its true focus is its two sexually-charged, teenaged protagonists (Shia LeBeouf and Megan Fox). In fact, Bumblebee's first mission is apparently to help the guy get the girl, which sets the tone for interspecies interaction: when dealing with humans, the Autobots are as thick as molasses. An agonizing scene wherein they are supposed to wait outside while LeBeouf retrieves a pair of eyeglasses from his parents' house plays host to immature and unbelievable behavior of both 'bots and biologicals. I suppose I should take into consideration the fact that we actually see the Autobots arrive on Earth during the time frame of the movie, meaning they've had no opportunity to acclimate to local culture (except what they claim to have gleaned from the Internet).
Continuing the anthrocentric trend, the film's primary antagonists are not the Decepticons, but the government. John Turturro and his henchmen can't tell a good guy from a bad one, so they indiscriminately assault and arrest whatever mechas they come across. Turturro's schizophrenic character is poorly written as some sort of schizophrenic good cop/bad cop who randomly, snidely remarks about how he's made horny not by Megan Fox, but by her criminal record.
As a result of all this biological interference, the robots (isn't that what we came here for?) have very little opportunity to be anthropomorphized. Their personalities are barely developed, with the likes of Megatron, Starscream, Ironhide, and Jazz given few scenes and even fewer identifying characteristics. And though I don't question the quality of the CGI that brings these robots to life, I do take exception with the decisions made of how to use it. Though the cars and tanks are easily distinguished from each other, their robot forms are not as easily identifiable, except for the bright colors of Optimus Prime or Bumblebee. And robots should never, ever have lips. At least the words (if not the dialogue) are satisfactory, with the original Optimus Prime, Peter Cullen, reprising his role. It's tolerable that we're missing Frank Welker as Megatron (and Orson Welles as Unicron).
It's a good thing I didn't review this film for Computerworld.com, as the technological terminology was just deplorable. What kind of virus is a "spider-bug"? How can a DNA-based virus hack a computer faster than a regular one? (Later, the Decepticons are referred to as "Non-Biological Entities". So much for DNA.) And since when is hacking detected by listening for audio signals? Is this CIA or SETI?
Ostensibly, this film is about a boy who discovers giant robots and gets caught up in their large-scale battles. For those reasons, I can imagine loving this film as a kid, just like I did Masters of the Universe, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. And though I'm still sufficiently immature to enjoy the original cartoon, this modern day remake doesn't live up to its animated predecessor.