Combine Michael Bay with the Transformers and you're not really going in expecting Shakespeare. But having just come out from the new film, I'm going to simply say it fails at three particular levels for me.
As an instance of nostalgia, there is simply not enough to derive a viable sense of joy with the way they've handled the franchise.
The Autobots and Decepticons are largely so unrecognizable to most fans from their original designs as to make naming most of them an exercise in absurdity. Few resemble the characters we'd grown to love in the 1980s.
There are a few lines from the film and television, largely delivered as throwaways. But catchphrases are not enough to invoke and vindicate nostalgia. One must also have the spirit of the storyline, the greater themes in mind.
The largest flaw is that within the original series, the Decepticons, and even the Autobots had enough interpersonal interactions and personalities to give the veneer of depth to the story. Here, almost everyone is merely a pasteboard cut-out to be crudely knocked down.
It is like greeting an old friend who has had such radical plastic surgery you are uncertain it is even your old friend.
Here, much as was the flaw of the Mission: Impossible series, there's really not much to connect the action on screen to the franchise.
It's not a full homage, nor even an engaging 'update' to the story. It is at best, an adaptation without any purpose except commercial.
Second, as a stand-alone, self-contained story, Transformers fails.
If one walked in knowing nothing of the original series and its complex mythologies, one will walk away bewildered and unimpressed by massive flaws of narrative structure, physics, geography, and characterization, and even the use of CGI is so badly directed in points as to be laughable.
Finally, the third level at which the Transformers fails is that there is an uncomfortable and unnecessary undercurrent of xenophobia, stereotypes and racism lingering within the film that reaches significant lows.
Perhaps not as severe as the problems I had with 300, but enough that this is a strong candidate for worst film of 2007 featuring characters of color. There is a condescending attitude towards Latin Americans and Asians that is very difficult to overlook, and African American characters are played either as comic relief or as stock cutouts who are not so much characters as expostions with faces. Perhaps this last complaint is of interest to only a small section of fandom, but it is still an objection that needs to be raised.
To be sure, I wonder why Michael Bay continues to get work and opportunities. He has come a long way since his Playboy video direction days. But it is still a substandard film and while it will excel in the theaters, it does not do so with justice.