What I expected:
Indulgent cheeziness (Michael Bay)
Cool action sequences
A few nods to the original
A passable but not very good script
Product tie-ins and carefully placed bottles of Deer Park water ("That's good water!")
What I got:
An all-out assault on my intelligence
Probably the single worst script I've ever encountered
Horrible performances from some very good actors
Mediocre action sequences
Multiple rounds of exposition
Multiple moral lessons better suited to 2nd graders than adults.
The desire to chew my ears off the side of my head.
But...really cool metamorphoses and some truly bad-ass US military toys
Let me review some of the finer points of this gem:
Basil Exposition: You may recall this name as Austin Powers's boss, who sets up the story for us in that film. It was a perfect cheeky name, and Amanda and I use it frequently when the back-story is set up poorly in fiction. This time, we not only had Optimus Prime (hereafter: OP) telling us about the All-Spark (who the F picked that name?) at the beginning of the movie, but also when he meets Sam Witwicky, and then one more retelling when Sam repeats the story to John Turturro's character.
I'm not an idiot, and the story's not that complex. Did we really need to hear it 3 times?
Dialog that would choke a camel: Michael Bay isn't known for his prose, and I accept that. But what I cannot accept is dialog that makes Anakin and Padme's lake-front vacation seem like Shakespeare (remember the bit about how sand gets everywhere, and she's all soft and smooth?).
This movie's target audience was probably always intended to be young adult men, so why did they lift lines directly out of the 1984 series and 1986 film, both of which were intended for boys? And why is it that the teenagers in the movie were more credible than any of the adult roles? Shia and Megan seem to be the only ones who gave anything approaching a performance, and the only ones who got lines that didn't burn on contact.
And did we really need to her "more than meets the eye" twice? I mean really: once was enough to elicit a groan from the audience.
Some of the worst acting performances...EVER: John Turturro and Jon Voight used to be pretty good actors. Evidently the mortgage has gone up, though. Mr. Turturro needs desperately to buy his soul back before God smites him like Raul Julia for showing up in Street Fighter.
So wait: are the extraterrestrial warring robots intelligent or not? OP goes on about how humans have a lot of learning to do, and that all beings should have the right to determine their own destinies, but can't sit still in an alley for 5 minutes? Why the holy F were he and his buddies crouching behind the house? Why did Jazz need to act all "yo"? Why did Ratchet need to call out Sam's desire for Mikaela? (Ok, yeah, it was funny that they learned English from the world wide web, and that they learned the location of the magical glasses from eBay...)
And as the story unfolds, we get constant moralistic reminders from OP about being good, but all pitched at about the intelligence level of the average 7-year-old. How are these things going to protect us?
Physics: thy laws are hereby revoked! Shia LaBoeuf takes a tumble from the side of a very tall building (one that seems to get much taller through the action sequence...). He's caught in mid-air by Optimus, which strangely doesn't snap his neck or anything, but then OP takes his own plunge down the side of the building, hitting the pavement below with a very big whack. He opens his hand and out pops a perfectly unharmed Shia LaBoeuf! Ta-da! Thank you ladies and gentlemen! I'll be here all week! The worst part about that is that it happened twice!
And then there's that scene in the desert where humans demonstrate parthenogenesis, but in an extremely evolved way: when the soldiers first flee the base in Qatar, there are like 9 of them, but after the scorpion decimates them, suddenly there are 12 of them! Magical halleluia!
Now, there were some really cool things in the movie, too, like getting to watch an AC-130 Spectre gunship raining down 105's. Never seen that before in a movie! And some of the transformation sequences were really cool, too, but it seemed that they got faster as the movie wore on. What was up with that? Were they learning how to transform themselves, kind of a practice-makes-perfect kind of thing?
And I wasn't really bothered by product placement. In The Island, it was wretched ("Let me call him on my Cisco IP communicator" was really a line. Really.), but it's next to impossible to show a GMC truck without showing the logo, and trying to sell old trucks and old Beetles as super-advanced alien technology would have been pretty hokey, so I'm cool with that. In fact, I thought they did a great job with the Autobots and the GM tie-ins.
Anyway, it was certainly entertaining, and it was quite the spectacle, but frankly, for as much of an intellectual disaster as Die Hard 4 was, I think it worked better as a movie.