Robot Wars

Michael Bay's headache-inducing style does in the otherwise decent 'Transformers'

After seeing Transformers, I battled myself over whether I liked it or not. Seriously: I had little arguments with myself. In the end, I reverted to my general rule of thumb: If I have to battle myself, I probably didn't like it, and I just need to man up and admit it.

So I didn't really like Transformers, and here's why: For starters, I've never been a fan of the thing about the alien robots turning into cars and then back into robots. I was a Star Wars geek. My little brother, while also a Star Wars geek, actually dug the Transformers, and he tried to convince me that the stupid '80s cartoon movie was actually good. He lost that war with me, which made us even, because I'd insisted The Lord of the Rings animated feature ruled, while he thought it sucked. (In retrospect, he was right.)

On top of my general distaste for Optimus Prime and all he stands for, there's director Michael Bay: He has been known to give me a headache from time to time. I actually enjoyed his last two movies (Bad Boys II and The Island), because he seemed to be getting some of those Michael Bay-isms under control. His rapid-fire editing, the shaky cameras and that asinine 360-degree shot of people standing still and looking skyward in awe--these are just a few of his tactics that irk me. Well, that kind of Bay moviemaking comes back with a vengeance with Transformers, especially in the last half-hour.

This is how the wacky plot goes: For centuries, some sort of organic robots have been squabbling over something called the Cube, or the Allspark, or whatever the hell it is. It contains some sort of energy force, and it wound up on Earth. Two robot divisions--the nice Autobots and the evil Decepticons--are renewing their fighting ways on our planet. Meanwhile, Sam (Shia LaBeouf) buys himself a car, not knowing that it is actually an Autobot. So he finds himself involved in a huge robot war, simply because he wanted a set of new wheels to impress girls.

This film does contain some good stuff. The Transformers, robots in disguise, are well done and fun to watch, as long as Bay is keeping the visuals under control. LaBeouf is a great leading man, injecting a boneheaded action movie with some decent comedy and charisma. Megan Fox is fine as his leading lady, and Jon Voight does some awesome stunt work as a defense secretary with a talent for kicking ass. John Turturro is also fun in a strange comedic performance. He comes off like he's well aware the movie is moronic, and he'll be damned if he takes the proceedings seriously.

I just wish Bay had walked into his editing room at some point and said, "All right, perhaps we're getting carried away here. Let's just calm down, have us some soup and think of ways to assemble this without inducing headaches." I can tell you that some of the CGI work with the Autobots is outstanding, and a sequence where a Decepticon attacks an army unit works nicely. But far too often, I found myself wishing that Bay would slow things down so I could take a good look at what was on the screen.

Ultimately, Bay's over-the-top, frantic moviemaking did me in. I was on the fence until the climax, which is a full-blown cinematic mess. The action is impossible to follow, and the conclusion of the big robot smackdown between Optimus Prime and Megatron is a major, abrupt letdown.

If you are a die-hard Transformers fan and loved Bay's Armageddon, this movie is for you. If you fail to see the allure of robots that turn into cars via spastic editing, stay away.