The cars – are they here to help us or destroy us? Not an idle question in these carbon-conscious times, and Michael Bay’s ’splosiongasmic ’botfest could, at a stretch, be parsed as a grand-scale id-fantasy of America’s doomed infatuation with the internal combustion engine: both goodies and baddies look sexy as hell, and both leave destruction in their wake. You could even tease an oil-anxiety subtext out of the film’s overseas settings: a spot of blowback in the Middle East and a salutary warning against exploratory polar digging.
As in the ’80s cartoon series/corporate promotional tool on which the movie is based, Earth is the battlefield for two tribes of ancient alien robots who can shape-shift into items of our technology. (They also seem to have developed a kind of robo-parkour.) The evil, spiky Decepticons and the friendly but, in this version, equally spiky Autobots are slugging it out for control of a magic Rubik’s Cube; caught in the middle is high-school kid Sam (Shia LaBeouf), who inadvertently picks up a battered Autobot at a secondhand car lot and develops an even bigger crush on it than he has on the girl from history class (Megan Fox).
Sprawling, hardware-heavy, gung-ho with a streak of cruel humour, ‘Transformers’ is a Michael Bay movie, all right. It’s also about as nimble as a 30-foot behemoth with fried navigation circuits, lunging and lumbering from misfiring comic set-piece to messy pitched battle, landing the occasional bullseye along the way. John Turturro is good value as a sleazy spook but you’ll search in vain for anything like characterisation elsewhere, especially among the robots themselves. Less than meets… you know.