I cannot begin to describe to you how much I loathed Transformers, but I shall attempt to find the words.
But first a confession. I hate Michael Bay's films (Bad Boys, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, The Island). Still, I badly wanted to like Transformers. I hoped against hope that it would be good. I made a concerted effort to wipe away all vestiges of my knee-jerk repugnance to Bay's oeuvre. After all, I thought, the usual reasons I detest Bay's films—they're big and loud, with skimpy plots, showy car chases, massive explosions, testosterone-fueled action, etc.—might actually be just the things Transformers requires.
Yes, I am one of those 30-somethings who grew up playing with the original Hasbro toys. And yes, I used to love to watch the fantastic animated TV series in the '80s. While the animation certainly doesn't hold up 20 years later, Transformers' spirit is unchanged. They were cool then and they're cool now. All to say, I came to this film as a legit fan.
Bay and his team go to great lengths (and time) to make Transformers a human story first. The everyman at the center of this story is Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), an average 11th-grader eyeing his first car and using it to impress girls. What Sam doesn't know is that there is much more than meets the eye about the beat-up old Camaro he drives off the used car lot. Sam doesn't realize how right he is when he comments that the car seems to have a mind of its own. In fact, it does. The car is actually the Autobot Bumblebee, a vanguard sent to protect the young man who unwittingly holds the secret (within a conceit far too ridiculous and silly to even try to explain here) to an eons-old galactic civil war—the AllSpark cube, a monolith of extraordinary power that crash-landed on Earth a century earlier. Exactly what the AllSpark is and what it does is never really explained, other than that it animates anything electronic into malevolent killing machines.
But Bumblebee isn't the only robot in disguise looking for Sam. The Decepticons have found him too, and soon he is caught in a tug of war between the Autobots and Decepticons. Before it is all over, the war will spill out onto the streets of Los Angeles, and Optimus Prime will be pitted against his nemesis Megatron in a titanic battle of good and evil that will decide the fate of the entire planet.
Transformers begins strong. The voice of Peter Cullen, aka Optimus Prime from the '80s cartoon series, opens the film—a spine-tingling moment for fans of the cartoon series. Unfortunately, it is the last such moment. Everything begins to unravel the second the Autobots reveal themselves to Sam and begin speaking. They are jaunty and playful, speaking in jive and hipster speech that, they tell us, they learned from trolling the Web. They come off as parodies of their original cartoon selves, incompetent clowns who bumble around like ridiculous circus performers.
Even gallant Optimus Prime is reduced to mouthing ridiculous one-liners. "My bad," he says sheepishly when stepping on a piece of Sam's father's landscaping decor. While this clownish behavior would seem ridiculous coming from any of the titanium behemoths, it is especially troubling to see that even Prime does not escape unscathed. Are we seriously supposed to believe these are the same all-powerful beings who are here to save our world? Bay sacrifices whatever sort of credibility the film might have, substituting cheap laughs for substantive characterization. The film never recovers.