‘Transformers’ *** Movie Review 102607

The Work = ***
So here we have the big budgeted attempt to restart the 80s toy franchise about robots that could change from vehicles into giant mechs’ and you know what? I enjoyed it and why not? I enjoyed the cartoon when I was a kid and that was made to sell toys. It worked because I remember having a bunch of those things. Back to this film, I say this is an “attempt” but at this point it is already a success with a sequel in development. Will you enjoy this film? I’m guessing a lot of kids will love it and many adults will too, as long as they can ignore some of the less entertaining bits that come along.

There are moments in this film that are almost cringe inducing in their forced nature. Part of the trouble is the movie is called ‘Transformers’ but a more accurate title would be ‘Annoying humans who do some stuff and then find some ‘Transformers’. The human characters, with drawn out scenes, (like the lengthy car buying scene) adding little to the film other than run time, almost drag the film down with them. Yes, there is a pay off to the scene where Sam (Shia LaBeouf) gets his car but it takes its time getting there.

For their part, LaBeouf as Sam and Megan Fox as his love interest Mikaela, do what they can with their roles. LaBeouf especially, spits often trying dialogue but never lets it stop him. He manages to make a paper thin character empathetic. Fox is absolutely stunning and certainly gives it her all. She doesn’t have much to work with, (Minor Spoiler ahead) take for instance her knowledge of vehicles. Yep, turns out Mikaela is something of a gear head, which she learned from her father, who is currently serving time. Now, since that is the single personal characteristic we learn about her do you think that will have a pay off somewhere in the story?

Then there is the nature of a “virus” that infects computers across the globe. The whole thing really only serves to tie characters together and once again, pads out the run time. I get it, the ‘Transformers’ have advanced technology that infects computers as they hunt for information (it also does things that defy logic like say infect everything electronic, even hard wired phones). The thing is, the pseudo-science involved and the hunt for the source of the virus really adds little to the film and takes away from the most interesting part of the movie: the ‘Transformers’.

Fortunately, when the robots do go to battle I couldn’t help but grin. By the time the final battles were being waged I was willing to forgive an awful lot and watching the big machines cause carnage and destruction was just too much fun to not recommend the film. So what if many moments in the film played like they were marketing to every possible demographic in the world, I was just having too much of a good time to be cynical. After all, robots doing battle on a freeway, hurtling vehicles aside like they were matchbox cars, is just plain fun to watch.

I think that much of the credit should go to the person at the helm of the film: Michael Bay. Bay is one of those ridiculously successful directors who always makes big budgeted studio flics’. Yes, many of his films are not so enjoyable (‘Armageddon’, ‘Pearl Harbor’, and ‘The Island’) but even in those films there are many visual moments to admire. Pause one of those movies during some of the many special effects sequences and you will see some beautiful imagery. (Along with Bay, the digital and practical effects artists do not get enough recognition.) The effects here, look mostly solid, although perhaps a bit on the cartoon’ish side. Maybe a few shots show some budget cuts (like some moments in the desert) but they are made up for by some impressive slow motion shots when the robots fight.

‘Transformers’ skates dangerously close to falling into the trap that killed Bay’s ‘Pearl Harbor’ when it gets bogged down in the stories of the humans but this time Bay makes it out. I rank this film with his more successful features, such as ‘Bad Boys’, ‘Bad Boys II’, and ‘The Rock’. Even when Steven Spielberg’s touch is felt in the form of a cutesy robot the kids will just love, Bay’s stamp makes its own mark. This cutesy robot kills people and is one crafty little sucker.

Fans of the original ‘Transformers’ may be put off by the changes to their beloved toys. The filmmakers have opted for a heavier, robotic look for the characters than the more humanoid look of the cartoon. Characters are also shuffled around and changed with the exception of Optimus Prime (leader of the good ‘Transformers’) who more or less remains the same. Thankfully, Bay and co’ had the sense to retain Peter Cullen as the voice of Prime. Distinctive in sound, Cullen also narrates the film and when he first spoke at the beginning of the film, I couldn’t help but get a little rush. Sadly, most of the other voice work in the film is on the weak side and the familiar and catchy sound that the ‘Transformers’ made when changing shape has been all but completely dropped.

There are pros and cons to the film and for what it is worth many will not be bothered by any of the elements that bothered me. For my own enjoyment, I wish the story focused more on the ‘Transformers’ and giving them some character (instead of the silliness of weakly tying them in to our history). Still, the one bit of backstory that works is the notion that Prime and his companions are sympathetic to humankind (despite their intolerance) because they have seen where it can lead: the destruction of their home. Bay, the cast (especially the likes of Tyrese Gibson and John Turturro who are both way too good for the material) and the crew all deserve credit for making ‘Transformers’, an overall enjoyable experience. While this will not appeal to everyone, those wanting to see some robots rumble in a big city should give this a try. Just be aware that you will have to sit through 2 & 1/2 hours to get there. Recommended.


‘Transformers’ Links:


Michael Bay's Official Website

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