When last we saw noted auteur Michael Bay, he had just shat upon the world The Island, a film so insipid you could use it to scour paint off your walls. Still, it apparently impressed none other than Steven Spielberg so very much that he donned his Executive Producer hat to work with Bay on his follow-up, Transformers, the feature version of an animated series from the 1980s. That series was essentially just a long-form toy commercial, and the movie is essentially just a long-form GM commercial, and that leads to a certain relaxing of standards apparently, for Transformers has a 62 at Metacritic, 60% at Rotten Tomatoes, and the general impression that it's noisy, dumb fun. I know I shouldn't put on airs, being nought but an 'umble blogger, but the idea that a seemingly large number of people find this movie "fun" makes me suspect that I might well be the only person alive who hasn't gone completely insane.

Fun? Wait, I can do that better: Fun?! Maybe, given an extremely funny sense of "fun." To me, it's much less fun and much more a test of stamina. When, dear Jesus when, did summer movies become so ungodly long? In the absence of any better target, and because of my general desire to slag it, I'd like to blame The Lord of the Rings trilogy, which proved that you could move appalling sums of money on 3+ hour movies. I can remember back in the day when the extraordinary running times of Godzilla or Bay's own Armageddon were were taken to be signs of those movies' hubris; nowadays, a film like Twister seems positively dainty at 113 minutes.

The expanding running time of the modern blockbuster is the most obvious symptom of a general loosening of storytelling discipline. The cinema is one of the very few durational art forms - it takes place over a specifically prescribed period of time - and therefore one of the very few to specifically include restraint as part of its aesthetic (we can refer to an "indulgent filmmaker," and know what that means, but what would it mean to be an "indulgent painter?" Or an "indulgent writer" - that would describe Joyce and Finnegans Wake more than any other work and any other author, and that's universally regarded as a masterpiece). I'm well aware that I specifically defended Sam Raimi's lack of restraint in regard to Spider-Man 3, and maybe I was right or maybe not, but Raimi's indulgence is but a pale shadow of the overwhelming frippery that Bay and his screenwriters Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman allow to seep into Transformers.

At its heart, the story goes like this: young Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) receives a battered up Camaro, which he learns is an alien robot named Bumblebee, one of five "Autobots" on Earth trying to find the Allspark before their enemies, the Decepticons, can use its power to destroy humanity. Standard Geek-Teen Romantic Subplot ensues with the gorgeous Abercrombie-esque gearhead Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox), who exists solely to dick around with the pimply 13-year-olds that will comprise the film's chief audience.

Now that could be the dumb fun that so many claim that it is, although probably not under the bombastic hand of Michael Bay. But for a reason known not even to God, that wasn't enough and so the film has been inflated to bursting with all sorts of weird random crap that makes no sense in relationship to anything, including itself. Transformers manages the rare feat of being a movie about alien car robots that somehow feel needlessly excessive.

It's almost as though the film was cursed whereby if an idea got pitched, it had to be put in the final cut. And not just ideas pitched for this project, but two or three others; by my count there are discrete "geek teen romance," "killer CGI robots" and "mysterious government paranoia" movies all unspooling more or less in tandem. At least two of those movies suck goats, but I'm not sure which two. All I know is that the film lurches from rancid comic bits to noisy and confusingly-edited action bits with just enough moments of dewy-eyed wonderment that you never quite forget that the EP, in a better life, once directed Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Also, John Turturro appears for no reason that I will ever comprehend, and makes no effort to hide his disgust for the script while turning in the worst performance of his entire career.

Also, there is a 20-25 minute subplot involving the most beautiful 18-year-old hacker in the world (Rachael Taylor), I imagine just to dick with the 13-year-olds some more.

It's the comic bits that most bother me, simply because I'm not sure if they're supposed to be ironic, or playfully silly, or lustfully amusing. I'm here talking about the scene where the Autobot Ironhide unscrews a cap rather near his crotch and leaks lubricant all over a character (yes, Michael Bay has given the world a pissing robot joke, in a $150 million summer movie). Or the scene in which the Autobots flail around Sam's yard hiding from his parents and acting generally like an even less funny version of the Ritz Brothers. Or Bumblebee's apparent delight in playing thematically appropriate pop songs to help Sam get horizontal with Megan. These - and Lord knows that's not an exhaustive list - are the moments when I went from thin-lipped boredom to slackjawed horror. All I know is that at the point that Bumblebee spontaneously and pointlessly upgrades himself to a bright shiny new 2008 model Camaro, to the notes of "Battles Without Honor or Humanity"* is the point that I looked at my watch, saw that it had just barely crept past the one-hour mark, and I had to acknowledge that the film had beaten me.

Because that's the only goddamn trick in Michael Bay's book: beat the audience insensate, and then count on enough of them assuming that making it all the way to the end and being mostly dazed in the process is the same as "enjoying" it. That doesn't make a movie, it makes a workout. There's just too much crap being flung at the wall, some of it sticking, some of falling, some of it bouncing back, most of it dropping in mid-air and falling with a squishy plop sound. Transformers is like being dropped in the center of an atom; from the right perspective, everything has some sort of concrete form, presumably, but inside there are just chaotic bits flying about with no seeming pattern, and occasionally things wink in and out of existence for no clear reason, that has something to do with quantum. But it hardly adds up to a movie, and it certainly doesn't add up to "fun."

I am positively aggrieved that this film has a 62 on Metacritic and (at 7/3/07) 8.3 at IMDb. Especially when we're only six days removed from Live Free or Die Hard, another "shit goes 'splodey" movie that has mostly coherent, legitimate humor, and a population of actual human beings, even if most of their actions were CGI-enhanced. Transformers is drudgery, a sensory attack that drives us into tiny little fetal balls on the ground, whimpering that we must have liked it because the car effects looked cool.

Well, fine, they do look cool. Amazingly cool. Maybe even the best CGI effects I've ever seen. But goddammit, at some point that stops being a privilege and becomes a right, and I think I want to argue that after Gollum in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers basically perfected the art form, movies don't get points for just having good visual effects. They have to use that CGI for good effect, and I will never acknowledge even the possibility that Transformers does such a thing. It is noisy and assaultive and so, so stupid. Michael Bay long ago perfected the art of lambasting the audience into submission; but never has he had such a wide and varied gallery of fanboys feebly praising him for doing so.

P.S. And neither "The Touch" nor the evergreen "Transformers Theme Song"? Bullshit, I cry!

Reviews in this series
Transformers (Bay, 2007)
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (Bay, 2009)
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Bay, 2011)
Transformers: Age of Extinction (Bay, 2014)
Transformers: The Last Knight (Bay, 2017)