The movie opens with an extended monologue by chief autobot (that is, good robot) Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen, heretofore best known as the voice of Eeyore in countless Pooh cartoons): "Earth, birthplace of the human race. A species much like our own, capable of great compassion and great violence. ... Our worlds have met before." As giant robots stomp cavemen, onscreen text advertises that the year is 17,000 BC. The good news is that the next 19,000-plus years go by quickly, with Optimus even filling us in on what's happened in the interim since the last Transformers movie. (Pretty much what you'd expect: Noble autobots and scrappy U.S. soldiers have allied to fight sneaky decepticons.) Had the movie proceeded at this pace and level of omniscient narration, it might've resembled a loud, but quick-moving, book-on-tape.
Instead, we are painstakingly reintroduced to teen autobot-buddy Sam Witwicky (Shia Labeouf), now preparing to go away to college. We watch as a metal shard left in his clothes during the last movie brings his parents' kitchen appliances to life--Gremlins, by way of Williams-Sonoma. We see him explain to Bumblebee, his heartbroken Camaro/companion, that he can't bring him to school because freshmen aren't allowed to have cars. We travel with him to campus, where his mom (Julie White) accidentally eats a hash brownie, and tackles some kids playing Frisbee, and--where was I? Only 20 minutes in? Please, God, say it isn't so.
Bad robots come looking for the shard, and for another shard the U.S. military did a risibly poor job of securing, and then for some alien codes that the first shard implanted in Sam's mind--codes which, among other effects, cause him to misbehave in an astronomy class taught by Dwight from "The Office." Sam also learns the invaluable lesson that when a supermodel-level hottie starts stalking you on your first day of freshman year ("So how about tonight you pretend I'm your girlfriend"), there's sure to be lethal circuitry hidden under her micro-mini. If it sounds as though the script (credited to Ehren Kruger, Robert Orci, and Alex Kurtzman) was written in serial-novel form during an all-night mescaline bender, well, I have no evidence that it was not. And I haven't even gotten to the bits where "the Matrix of Leadership," "the Tomb of the Primes," and "the Dagger's Tip" are introduced.
Nor will I, in the interests of brevity and compassion. Instead, I'll merely catalogue a few of the film's more memorable moments. There is the scene in which uber-decepticon Megatron (Hugo Weaving), preparing to kill Sam, asks Optimus, "Is the future of our race not worth a single human life?" and Optimus replies, "You'll never stop at one"--which, if you're Sam, really can't be the response you were looking for. There's the prolonged, profoundly gratuitous sinking of an American aircraft carrier, which I can only assume Bay included in the film to punish the nation for declining to make his Pearl Harbor a bigger hit. And there is, of course, Megan Fox, purportedly returning as Sam's love interest, Mikaela, but in reality serving as a compensatory special effect for those boys old enough to have begun tiring of giant robots. Our first glimpse of Mikaela finds her hunched over a motorcycle, wearing the shortest shorts I believe I've seen since Catherine Bach tormented the Duke boys. I need scarcely note that this introductory shot approaches from the tailpipe.