Michael Bay’s Transformers is the loudest movie I have ever seen. And yet, despite the crushing decibel level that threatened to send blood flowing from my ears, I nodded off. Twice. It’s a curious beast indeed that can be action packed, high octane, and fever pitched, yet remain a stupefying bore from start to finish. Despite the claims that the summer blockbuster has been reinvented and re-energized, this is simply the same old thing, nicely coated with a nostalgia that might only go back a few dozen years. It’s very strange, these people barely out of their twenties waxing poetic about the beloved toys of their youth, as if the Reagan era could only be recaptured by examining sepia-tone photographs and dusty archives. That’s not to say that Transformers weren’t the ideal toy for a growing boy. Combining a love of outer space, fast cars, and, in a later incarnation, dinosaurs, Hasbro knew exactly how we wanted to spend our free time in the years before we discovered dad’s Playboys. But who on earth sensed that these clever toys were due for a resurrection? Sure, the big-screen cartoon from 1986 had no business being the final word on the subject (despite pulling Orson Welles away from his wine for a bit role), but had there really been a serious push by anyone other than Hollywood cynics in need of a new market to exploit? I can only imagine what this mine sweep of the worst decade for pop culture in our history will dredge up, but I’m sure as hell not betting against Cabbage Patch Kids Redux.
Above all, Transformers is the ultimate cock movie. It worships the phallus in all of its forms, even the steel-plated variety, and is so teeming with masculine urges and fantasies that it nearly explodes in righteous orgasm every other frame. First, it selects as its hero a young nerd, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf, the “it” boy of the moment), a goofy loner type who has the good fortune of not being all that nerdy in that he’s reasonably appealing and wants to be like the popular kids by owning a hot car. He knows that it’s the ticket to quality pussy, what with girls being so easy to trick into the sack and all. As expected, he lusts after the sizzling Mikaela (Megan Fox), a vapid vixen who just happens to be the girlfriend of the football team’s captain, as well as the go-to gal for all things automobile. No word on her skills with an Xbox. After his father pitches in a few thousand bucks, Sam gets the car of his dreams, which just happens to be the Camaro that will forever shape his destiny. So before we even get started, we have a kid every young man can relate to, a cool ride all the gearheads can get wet over, and a set of tits that is the object of his (and our) fantasies. It’s the requisite setup for the usual Michael Bay pyrotechnics, set to a thrilling score of jingoistic excess that may never be equaled in our time. Though I hear a sequel is already underway.
A film this bloated doesn’t really warrant a play-by-play, but rest assured that all of our good friends are back: Optimus Prime (voiced by Mr. Trailer Peter Cullen), Megatron, Bumblebee, and Jazz. They all have their unique talents, I suppose, though with the usual Michael Bay sandblasting approach to editing and composition, they all seemed like a blur of bullshit to me. Despite what a cavalcade of nerds will no doubt be telling me in the weeks ahead, these machines didn’t really have distinct personalities, outside of Prime’s directive that “no humans are to be harmed.” As for the rest, they like to piss on bad guys, complain about ugly dogs, and fight to the death, but all things considered, they are still dehumanized hardware. I know I’m in the minority on this one, but it’s not all that easy for me to get a hard-on over a semi. Sure, it’s a virtual feast for the eyes and loins, but I prefer the face-to-face, hand-to-hand variety of combat, not the bloodless warfare of enraged circuitry. Ah, but it’s all too clever, for warfare is now too difficult to romanticize when limbs cascade from the heavens and the burnt husks of our boys clutter the airwaves, so if it can be fetishized at the level of our weaponry, then our young can soon be shuffled back into our recruitment decks. All young men love a good fight, but at no point are they to believe that they won’t walk away from battle. Inflicting casualties is still the soldier’s trade, but a sense of invulnerability is the only way to ensure a compliant and effective warrior.
The robots are, of course, central to this training film, uh, adventure story, but more important is the spotless account of military life. Not only are our fighting men heroic, tough, and rugged, there isn’t a scandal or civilian atrocity to be found. This is the military we always thought we had, only to see that trailer park refuse like Lynndie England had suddenly redefined the terms. Sure, the Pentagon maintains the highest level of secrecy (aliens buried beneath Hoover Dam?), but now we have a Secretary of Defense (Jon Voight) who smashes glass, takes up arms, and kicks more ass than a thousand deskbound bureaucrats. The whole picture of government is a striking fantasy, but as with all dreams of the silver screen, how else to envision what we really want when the shades are drawn? We’re tired of stalemates, holding the line, funding fights, and occupations without end. Now, more than ever, the American cock wants to save the world with flair; no ambiguity, no compromise, and no second chances. You can see awesome little toys all you want, but here, pounded into our skulls like so many jackhammers, is a new sense of Independence Day. If we can’t control the Iraqis or the terrorist threat without liberal panic, then by god, we’ll crush the living hell out of them uppity tanks, helicopters, and Mountain Dew soda machines that are their stand-ins. Oh, and there’s that evil cop car, emblazoned with the words “To punish and enslave.” Hell, it might as well have been carved in Arabic.
As for the Cube and Allspark and saving the earth from ruin, it all runs together as action movie gibberish, as no one on hand cares for anything else than watching shit get blowed up real good. It was nice to see downtown Los Angeles get reduced to ash and flame, but the destruction was so sanitized that we are left to believe that the morgues and hospitals didn’t experience even the slightest uptick in business. Fuck, even as Prime shot through entire office buildings, the scampering people inside seemed to step aside just in time, likely returning to work in a matter of hours. As such, it’s the coward’s release, as every erection can be maintained in a guilt-free environment. For all that we know, Bumblebee was the only one ever in trouble, and even his death would be little more than waking up one morning to a dead battery. But if there isn’t death, there’s the expected level of gay, never more so than when Prime instructs Sam to put the cube on his chest and get behind him. Trust me, Prime’s tone makes it sound more ominous. And of course there’s the time an Autobot “unzips” himself and provides a much-needed golden shower for John Turturro. Sure, Sam gets the girl (must all films of this sort end with our hero making out on the hood of a car?), but as he wants to keep Bumblebee around (and on a short leash), I imagine Mikaela is not long for his world. And even when flesh is replaced by metal, two big lugs wrestling for supremacy is nothing more than channeling lust into an acceptable form. As always, human being or machine, men fight in lieu of fucking. It governs our universe much like the law of gravity.
But whatever. Transformers is a dumb movie for a dumb citizenry for a dumb time of year. It hasn’t the sense to be shorter than Ben-Hur, and it screeches with a vehemence often confused for entertainment. No one’s asking for Shakespeare in the round, but surely we can do better than this. It’s brainless, thoughtless, witless, and dull, which are all the necessary ingredients to ensure a $300 million domestic take. But it’s a world we seem to need at the moment. Black men are sassy when sexy, jolly when fat, and always bursting with homophobia. Chicks are half-nude and vulnerable, and when a hot Australian babe is asked to portray a computer expert, she displays enough leg and breast to dismiss all doubts as to her real purpose. Qatar is explained as being in the Middle East not once but twice, which is likely the geography lesson we’d need for Iraq, even at this late date. Geeks fuck, jocks crumble in the face of clever barbs, and a line like, “Freedom is the right of all sentient beings,” can be uttered without a tongue being anywhere near a cheek. It’s a regeneration through violence, a revenge fantasy, and a massive dose of Viagra for our collective impotence. Even if we claim to love the sheer silliness of it all, we must always ask ourselves why. Escapism still resonates, and mindlessness is no excuse for armchair bloodlust.