Good ideas for toys do not make good ideas for movies. Take Transformers, for instance. As toys, they’re ingenious: robots (!) that turn into cars (!), planes (!) and guns (!!!). In one fell swoop you’ve itemised every pre-pubescent boys’ dreams. The robots divide into goodies and baddies (as they must, according to the Lore of the Playground) and they proceed to beat each other up (because what else would pre-teen boys’ want them to do? Get a mortgage?). If you’re lining up merchandizing for a big Hollywood movie: hallelujah! But where’s the movie in all this? Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen does not provide a plausible answer.
In a brief, nonsensical prologue, we’re told that the Transformers have lived among us (and beaten us up) for eons. Sure, there’s no record of giant robots in human history, but that’s because the robots transformed into wheels, and chariots and a whole host of other wooden objects (don’t even bother thinking: “aren’t they made of metal?”) to keep their existence secret. In the present day, the good robots are friends with a teenage boy and his hot-bodied girlfriend. They also seem well-disposed toward the U.S. military. Adopting a ten-year-old boy’s version of a healthy lifestyle; the good robots fight, die, come back to life and make engine noises.
Director Michael Bay was born to make this movie, but that doesn’t mean he can make it any good. Bay just doesn’t aim any higher than a ten-year-old. He’s quite content to concentrate on explosions and CGI robots doing awesome things. The characters in Transformers are on a par with pre-teens acting soldiers. So the girls play kiss chase while the boys shoot each other and throw themselves in the air. The robots have all the personality of can-openers, so it’s no use looking to them. When Bay is forced to slow down for a moment, he keeps his camera circling, like a kid playing musical chairs. There’s no suspense in a Michael Bay movie because suspense would mean waiting for something to happen. Instead, Bay opts for constant stimulus, giving Transformers a Pez dispenser pace.
The trouble for the actors is that they’re interacting with toys. Not Toy Story toys (i.e. toys with inner lives), but crappy plastic toys. Even in the 1980’s cartoon series, the robots were (albeit stereotypically) delineated. Here, they might as well transform into price tags. Not one robot is ever developed beyond the “I turn into this” stage; which is a shame, because – as WALL-E proved – it is possible to feel something for a CGI robot. Poor Shia LaBeouf spends most of the movie looking up (as though what’s above him matters). He’s not awed by the robots, he just reacts the way a ten-year-old thinks a ten-year-old would: part blasé, part he-man.
His co-star, Megan Fox, is out-acted by her lip gloss. Even the part of “hot-bodied girlfriend” defeats her. She’s in the movie to provide the sex, but she’s an air-brushed idea of what men want. The standard Fox scene has her draped over a motorcycle or running in slow motion (without a sports bra). She’s adrift most of the time, as if the boys she’s playing with didn’t know what to do with her. Since there is no sex in the movie, her role is superfluous unless she’s required to jiggle. But then again, what part is there for a girl in giant robot movie? Transformers is like the men’s equivalent of one those movies where Sandra Bullock gets hitched.
Transformers: The Movie came out in 1986 (the year Megan Fox was born). For any boy under twelve, it was mind-blowing. Almost half your favourite robots died. The leader of the heroic Autobots, the legend (admit it: your surrogate father figure) Optimus Prime, died. To you, it was awesome. But you were ten. You thought The Garbage Pail Kids had artistic worth. If you watch Transformers: The Movie today, you realise it’s just a bunch of robots shooting each other to a soft rock soundtrack. Half of them die because Hasbro wanted you to buy new toys. It’s good marketing, not a good movie. This was never a premise anyone over ten was supposed to care about.