Transformers is a classic case of a movie where cropped close-up shots and fragmented quick-cut editing disorient the spectator beyond comprehension. This meant that for a lot of the film I didn’t actually know what was going on. Events developed from point A to point B without any discernible catalyst.
The filmmakers’ attempts to anthropomorphise the Autobots was not always successful. Trying to elicit sympathy and tears from the audience with an “emotional” backing soundtrack at Bumblebee’s capture did not really work, considering that really, he just looked like a big pile of machine parts getting smashed around. Now I agree that the Autobots were more likeable than the Decepticons, but this was mostly because they were placid and did nice things, and the Decepticons were mean and angry. I did like Bumblebee, but mostly because I kept thinking that it would be awesome if Melbourne’s Bumblebee trams turned into a benevolent alien robot.
The Transformers do have an interesting position in the cinematic catalogue of the metropolis. Although they are not superheroes, Transformers have a similar relation to the cultural fascination with the morphing of bodies into superbodies. But less impressively so. While superheroes defy the order and gravity of the urban grid — Superman with flight, Spiderman with web, Batman with an advanced armoured suit — the Transformers lack any special powers or intellect, it is merely their machinic bodies that equal the city in height and build. Scott Bukatman writes that, “The superhero city is founded on the relationship between grids and grace.” Transformers lacks the latter. While it visualises the city of Los Angeles it does not embody its spirit, and while so much of it is destroyed in the pursuit of the Decepticons there is no elicited sense of loss for a treasured metropolis. So while we should, while watching a film, be glad to partake in a suspension of disbelief, throughout Transformers I was just a little sad that I couldn’t imagine this happening in my world. The machines, and the metropolis, were just a little too impersonal.