Let me begin by confessing that I write this review from the perspective of a grown man who has moved a medium-sized box of Transformers action figures from house to house 19 times over the course of his life.
That said, I was a little disappointed by Transformers.
What’s great about the film is that it stays true to the original cartoon’s mythos and symbology, where the Autobots supplant Sam’s own parents in their roles as protector, guardian, advisor, and encouragers (rather than the “limiter” and “belittling” roles they end up carrying out, mostly accidentally, it seems). The Transformers’ actual shifts from machine to robot are visually impressive, although I’m going to complain a bit about Michael Bay’s grotesquely shaky camera work during the action scenes, which tends to blur these maneuvers into mere suggestions.
There are some gaping plot coincidences that occur in the film, most of which are “annoying” rather than “cosmic” because the entire film hinges on the plausibility of the coincidences (which are mostly implausible—aside from the fact that this is a film about giant robots from outer space—or laughable). There are also too many characters, and there was not enough Tom Lenk (Buffy alum who played both a henchman vamp for Harmony and Andrew of the Trio).
I also get annoyed by villains whose sheer desire is to destroy things for the sake of destruction. Although nihilism seems awfully villainous on the surface, it is also one of the great ideological paradoxes, much like the conventional notion of anarchy. This is the second time recently I’ve discussed the Iago figure in modern film, but here, the Iago of Megatron isn’t developed enough for us to fear him. Plus, didn’t Megatron originally transform into a handgun?
The film was also about 30 minutes too long, like every Michael Bay film ever made. With so many characters, he needs extra exposition to (barely) introduce them to us and to orchestrate some kind of mechanism that will make us care about them. But we never get to spend enough time with anyone except Sam, who is the only fully realized character in the film, to care if they live or die.
What I loved about the film was (shocking) Shia LeBoeuf. As an actor, I think he is always fully invested in his character and the story; he also captures the awkwardness of adolescence with aplomb. Most of the laughs he solicits are the best kind—we laugh because we’ve been there before. Plus, he’s adorable. And who doesn’t love adorable?
What was interesting to me about Transformers was how virulently anti-war it was, pointedly so, as evidenced by the mock-cameo by our Commander-in-Chief on AirForce One, who asks politely for some “Ding-Dongs.” More than that, though, Transformers wants to be an overt warning against the horrors of war, reminding us that there are no winners, just degrees of losing.
All that said, there are much worse ways for you to blow $10 and two and a half hours of your life. The film is visually stunning, it moves pretty quickly, and the action sequences are, per the Bay brand, intense and operatic—almost orgiastic. I was actually reminded of the episode of Ultimate Cage Fighter I watched recently—a post for another time—in which two shirtless, tattooed men tried to beat the living shit out of each other—in the missionary position.