I’ve been decepticonned! The trailer would have you believe this is a taut-but-dumb action thriller. A gung-ho, popcorn-tastic guns ‘n’ robots movie, with copious explosions, fast cars, and edge-of-the-seat scares. Not so! In fact, it’s a kid’s movie. No wait: it’s a slapstick comedy… No, wait…
To be honest, I don’t think it can decide what it wants to be, and in the process it squanders a great premise and ruins a potentially excellent film. The biggest problem is the pacing, which is all over the place. The opening Decepticon attack on the US army base in Qatar is superb, although I felt they could have saved the big ‘reveal’ of the enemy until a little later. Unfortunately, the film then turns into a high-school comedy for half an hour, and in the process any sense of urgency and tension completely evaporates. Don’t get me wrong, there are some genuinely funny moments here. The unpronounceable Shia LaBeouf does a great job of playing likeable loser Sam Witwicky, and Megan Fox… Well, she pouts and looks pretty, I suppose.
The film’s other weaknesses are the plot and the characters. Now, I know what you’re thinking: this is a Michael Bay film — what do you expect? But the problem’s not that the characters are two-dimensional (they are) or that the plot’s ridiculous (it is). No, the big issue for me is that there’s too little time spent developing either of the two other plot threads. It’s unbalanced, so you get very few scenes of the army guys from the start, or even the hacker geeks in the Pentagon. As a result, the film feels a little lopsided, and in fact it left me feeling that with more judicious editing of the high-school comedy sections, it could’ve been a contender for blockbuster of the year at least.
By the time John Turturro‘s ill-advised slapstick government agent is thrown into the mix, it’s all gone a bit pear-shaped. It’s his job to do the backstory exposition — who are the Transformers, and how did they get here? — but it’s already been done by that point, by Optimus Prime to Sam and Mikaela. Nevertheless, we get it again, further delaying any sense of urgency and — more importantly — hardcore mech-fighting action!
Speaking of which, there are far too few scenes of robot-on-robot stomping action for my liking. You get the initial army base attack with Blackout, a short fight scene between Bumblebee and Barricade midway through, then nothing until the admittedly awe-inspiring Megatron vs. Optimus Prime climax. But when it finally arrives, it’s all uber-tight angles and fast cuts, so even then I was left feeling faintly dissatisfied.
Reading through this review, it all sounds fairly harsh. It really isn’t that bad; there are fun moments here, and parts of the final battle on the streets of New York are breathtaking. Go and see it, and decide for yourself, but don’t expect what was promised in the trailer. That’s a different film — maybe the sequel.