And I say it that way because it damn sure isn't my Transformers.
Okay, I'm afraid this review is going to have to be mostly explanation and context. First off, I'm not a knee-jerk Michael Bay hater. I liked "Bad Boys". "The Rock" is possibly in my top 10 favorite action movies. I...actually missed "The Island". But whatever, I'll even defend "Armageddon" as the natural evolution of big eye-candy explosion movies. The point is you, I, he, and all of Hollywood know what he's good at and what he's bad at. Haters just want him to make different movies. Whatever. I'm not defending Michael Bay as a genius, or even an artist, I'm just saying that he knows how to make the kind of movie he likes, and I can respect him for sticking to his comically over-sized guns.
With that said, I shuddered when I heard he was making "Transformers". You see, as much as it might seem that my childhood is still alive and well, in 1986 it was at least grievously wounded, because "Transformers: the Movie" came out and freakin' killed Optimus Prime! And that forced me to grow up and put away my toys (sometimes). Sure, I kept watching the new series where they were in space and had crazy robots that transformed into nothing even close to a recognizable vehicle, but my heart wasn't in it that much. And I certainly didn't follow it much later into "Transformers: Beast Wars". So what I'm saying is, I'm a classic Transformers guy. Optimus Prime is my leader, not Rodimus Prime or whoever they have now. And as such, Bumblebee is a Beetle, not a Camaro; Optimus Prime does not have lips, and Megatron transforms into a gun, not some sort of futuristic jet (And yeah, I know there were always scale problems with the size of him as a robot and the size of him as a gun. There are also scaling problems with a car transforming into a robot that's taller than a house). And I really hate to be the guy who gets hung up on those details. I didn't mind it when Spiderman's webbing was organic instead of his invention. I didn't mind the absorbing man being the Hulk's father. I didn't mind Superman having a son with Lois Lane (although there was plenty more to mind about that movie). But this is just an indication of how much Transformers meant to my childhood that I still carry these hang-ups around 20 years later. In fact, pretty much none of the Destructicons looked right--all too pointy. I guess that's supposed to look scary, but I just kept thinking all those pieces would break off way too easily.
And for that matter, Optimus Prime with flames painted on the sides--what the hell? In retrospect at least, what I really loved about Optimus Prime is that the semi truck is an icon of good old hard-working blue-collar American values. I wonder how much of my respect for the mythical blue-collar American work ethic comes from Optimus Prime. But if you paint flames on the side and it becomes the symbol of a poser--a truck driver pretending to be racecar driver. And that's just wrong--Optimus Prime is no poser. In fact, in retrospect his lack of lips in the cartoon gave him a wonderful sense of stoicism (that and Peter Cullen's voice, who thankfully reprises his role).
And a third point. For me, the Transformers were toys first and a cartoon show second. Looking back, the cartoons were actually pretty cheesy. Although I do still like to use the line "Autobots, transform and roll out!" on occasion--and they got that wrong in the movie, he just said "Autobots, roll out!" The point is, I'm kind of a geek, and I liked playing with the toys just to figure out how they put something together that will actually transform from a robot into whatever. They were actually for the most part very clever toys. In the cartoon, the transformations were pretty silly, they'd hover in mid-air and parts would swing around and they'd make the iconic sound and then they were transformed. So I was looking forward to seeing how they'd bring the best special effects technology to the transformations. And the new answer is...it's way too complicated. Instead of a dozen moving parts, these guys have thousands. Sure, it looks cool the first time, but pretty quickly it becomes overwhelming. Bumblebee the toy was just about as simple as you can get, but in the movie it's still a thousand moves to transform him. Just once, I'd like to see a transformation that's strictly according to the Hasbro toys, because the guys who designed those toys were pretty damn smart.
Oh yeah, and along the lines of the toys, pretty much none of the Decepticons looked right--all were too pointy. I guess that's supposed to look scary and less human/more monstrous, but I just kept thinking all those pieces would break off way too easily.
Okay, so that's enough context. I think you can understand the parts that bugged me that really say more about me than about the movie. So how does it actually work as a movie? It works exactly like a Michael Bay movie, for better or worse. Things blow up real good. There are big transforming robots running around and fighting. There are some half-clever gags (the "Armageddon" reference, the "more than meets the eye" line, etc.). There's a couple political bits that I smiled at--you don't see the President's face, but you see his socks and hear a George W. Bush impersonator ask for ho-hos. The humans are basically there to watch the robots fight, only Shia LeBouf is given enough to do to really even be called a character, and it's a matter of personal taste whether you find him sympathetic or just annoying--I thought he was okay. The plot is the thinnest of McGuffins--we have to get the blahblahblah before the Descepticons do because it has the power to yadda yadda yadda...and that would be bad! And the moral that all sentient life deserves a chance and there's more than meets the eye with everyone is at best, blandly inoffensive.
So in the end, it was 2.5 hours of silly dumb near-fun that kinda stomped on my childhood a little. But hell, I survived the Go-Bots, I'll be fine with this.