Not as PG-13 as we’d hoped, but still fun and entertaining. Next time, try not to hold back.
Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is your typical American teen ready to buy his first vehicle, but instead of a dream car to attract the ladies, Sam winds up with a beaten up late 70’s Chevy Camaro. Still, being in the right place at the right time helps him finally meet “dream girl” Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox), but it’s far from an ideal first meeting. Meanwhile, alien robotic lifeforms known as Autobots an Decepticons are secretly searching for a powerful object, and Sam soon learns that he and Mikaela are not only involved but have already been targeted.
If the synopsis seemed a bit lacking in setup, the film isn’t really much better. You see, this movie is all about Transformers, those cool little toys from the early 1980’s that turned into cars and jets (not to be confused with the low-cost knockoffs called GoBots.) In the cartoon skillfully engineered to sell the toys, Optimus Prime led the heroic Autobots in a struggle against the evil Megatron and his destructive Decepticons. All either side wanted at time was enough fuel to return to Cybertron, their home planet, before the other to reclaim it as their own, but it has been millions of years since either side had seen or heard from their homeworld.
None of that, however, really is in the movie, nor is there any real introduction of the heroes or villains except when it’s time to run from the bad guys or be saved by the good guys. These robots can turn themselves into vehicles for both stealth and combat advantage, but for machines that can seemingly alter themselves at will, they seem unable to repair themselves and even “die,” which really isn’t explained very well. Also, the creation of these self-altering robotic lifeforms seems to be mystical in nature, implying that any hunk of machinery could become one of these alien killing machines. Still, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Director Michael Bay took it upon himself and his team to not only make a Transformers movie but reinvent both the history, existential mechanics, and purpose of these giant robots to make it more audience friendly. The bad news is that he invented more than necessary and hinted at too many things that were never explained, but the good news is that it sure is fun to watch giant robots smashing up one another. Unlike the creators of the first Scooby-Doo, film who thought that modern audiences would somehow require a farting contest and a kick-ass Daphne instead of addressing why Scooby and Shaggy have the munchies all the time, Bay and his team know what we want from a Transformers movie: cool transformations, over-the-top chase sequences, and senseless destruction. All Michael Bay had to do is exactly what he’s good at not to screw this up.
In the end, however, getting exactly what you want neither seems very important or all that dangerous, so Transformers isn’t entirely memorable and only really hints at how cool it all could have been if taken up a few notches in the story. Of course, sequels were made for such things, and if nothing else, Bay has proven that he can seamlessly integrate giant robots with human actors and pack movie houses to watch it, so what harm could there be in a better script? Your core audience may have grown up watching Transformers, but they’ve grown up and can handle a little more drama than PG. Go for the R rating next time, Michael… you can do it!
(a two and a half skull recommendation out of four)