Theatrical Review: Transformers

Deep in outer space, war has ravaged a planet inhabited by mechanical creatures called the Autobots and the Decepticons, and now the object of their origin has been ripped from their planet and heads on a direct course to Earth- leading both packs of mechanical beings on a search of the planet- the Autobots attempting to save the Earth and the Decpticons ready to unleash what happened to their world on our world. And a handful of humans are ready to stand in the way and ally with the Autobots.

That’s the nutshell description of Transformers the latest movie from director Michael Bay that owes it’s origins to a toy line created by Hasbro back in the day. I’ve got to admit I don’t have the connection to this that others do. When the Transformers were big, that was also around the same time of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe and G.I. Joe and I sided with the critics of those that the cartoons were just overblown commercials for toys more than anything else, they just didn’t grab me. Well, that was snobbish then, and now I’ve got a little more respect for the properties, but I still wouldn’t call me a convert. The trailers for this movie looked incredibly impressive, and so that got me really interested. Plus, I’m not exactly Michael Bay’s biggest fan, but at the same time, I don’t exactly look at his movies with the same disdain that others do either… he makes big-ass spectacle popcorn films, and things like The Rock, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor and The Island all work for me on some level or another (Personally, I think The Island is his best film). So really, I was looking forward to seeing this.

When he’s dealing with the big-ass action and the various robots themselves, I think this movie really excels… it’s just that when he deals with the people, this movie falls apart (with one exception- I’ll get to that in a moment). The people in this film are cartoony sit-com, almost like what you’d expect to see on ABC’s comedy shows and really they garner no sympathy from me whatsoever. There’s a point in the end where Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots, talks about this thing in humanity that he sees that makes them worth saving, and I only saw that with the military special forces that first come into contact with a Decepticon in the film- all of the rest of the people are spending all of their time doing snarky comedy bits in the midst of the action.

Michael Bay has said in a recent interview in Wizard magazine that he was going for total realism in this movie- he succeeds with the Transformers themselves, I’ll certainly give him that, but with the exception of the military force that I mentioned above, fails on any of the other human reaction, like I said devolving it to TV sit-com situations. As I’m watching people like Shia LeBouef, Megan Fox, Anthony Anderson and John Tuturro in this, it almost becomes cringeworthy in seeing their reactions to situations, not so much with LeBouef and Fox, but incredibly so with guys like Anderson and Tuturro. Anderson in particular is almost painful to watch especially considering that he’s made some real dramatic strides on shows like The Shield here he just resorts back to type, or in his case, stereotype. And Tuturro plays this total cartoon character in charge of a super-secret organization that keeps their knowledge of these beings from everyone else, and he just falls into a basic Hollywood cliche of yet again being this authority figure that’s just made to look silly against the man on the street. The first tip-off that everything is going to go into a cliche comes during a meeting of top minds called by the Secretary of Defense (played by Jon Voight) and we focus on a group of geeks recruited fresh from school who are bound to be the ones that find out more than anyone else does at the start (oddly enough, these geeks have within them, their hot chick, who’s more wish-fulfillment fantasy on-screen than anything that might approach reality– but Megan Fox is also that same way).

There’s a scene in the film where Shia LeBouef, playing a character named Sam Witwicky who has ties to the robots, first gains their confidence and decides to throw in. He then begins to sneak around his house trying to find the object that they need, only to arouse his parents suspicions, and this whole scene just plays out as a big joke- an excuse to have a person who’d be the most uptight in the scene say the word masturbation and get a cheap laugh from the audience… it’s just embarrassing to watch.

The saving grace in the acting department goes to Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson and the other actors playing the Special Forces unit that first comes into contact with the Decepticons. These guys I totally buy here, they don’t treat the situation like a big joke and they’re good at what they do. I could’ve just watched a movie based around these guys and come away much more pleased.

This gets a very mixed review here, but more going to the thumbs down side of things. On the positive side, you could just look at this as this huge fireworks type of Fourth of July spectacle and probably have a pretty good time with it (and again, I certainly give it points for it’s last half hour which is just pure action and a lot of fun to watch), the robots are the star of the show, that’s for sure. But the people are who they’re fighting for, and Bay just doesn’t even for a moment want to give the common guy a moment of sincerity in the film and as such ultimately fails in delivering to me a movie that I could give a damn about.

About Darren Goodhart

Darren Goodhart is a 44-year old St. Louis-based Graphic Designer and Illustrator (and former comic book artist) who's been seeing movies all his life, but on an almost weekly basis in theatres for the last 20 years and owns nearly 1,000 DVDs for his home theatre. He's learned a lot about film over the 20 year period, and has taken his appreciation beyond the mainstream. His favorite types of film are mostly genre entertainment, but he also enjoys a wide range of drama, action and cult-y stuff from around the world, and is currently re-discovering a love affair with lower budget exploitation and genre films from the 70s and early 80s. He doesn't try to just dismiss any film, but if there's a bias against one, he'll certainly tell you that in the space of his reviews.

09. July 2007 by Darren Goodhart
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