“More or less the same as the cartoon”
Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Tyrese Gibson, Jon Voight
Nothing in the pre-production of ‘Transformers’ boded well. Michael Bay (‘Pearl Harbor’) came on board as director. John Rogers (‘Catwoman’, ‘The Core’) developed the story. Leaked information showed Optimus Prime with a garish, swirling fire paint job. Bumblebee had been changed from a Volkswagen to a Camaro. Sacrilege, screamed the fanboys.
But then glimmers of hope appeared on the horizon. Peter Cullen signed up to reprise the voice of Prime, which he made famous in the beloved ’80s cartoons. Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (‘Mission Impossible III’) penned the script. The teaser trailers showed what appeared to be impressive special effects. Could it be? Could Michael Bay actually do justice to the fond memories of millions of Gen-Xers?
The answer, sadly, is no.
The story in ‘Transformers’ is more or less the same as the cartoon, except with a few ludicrous tweaks. The Autobots and the Decepticons go to war over the ‘all spark’, essentially a genesis machine that first gave the robots life. During the battle the all spark is lost into deep space and both factions of the Cybertron world pursue it. The cube ends up on earth, which becomes a new battleground for their war. Sam (Shia LaBeouf) is drawn into this war through some of the most preposterous circumstances seen since the low-budget sci-fi movies of the 1950s.
If you think that sounds like a thin storyline on which to base a two-and-a-half-hour movie, you’re right. Not one of the humans is sufficiently developed to be referred to as a character. Every single person a walking cliché (the put-upon nerd who finds courage, the attractive love interest with a shady past, the gutsy military captain, the imperious special agent, a pretty blonde thing with genius intellect, the comic-relief black guy) and their personalities are drawn up via one-liners and hackneyed declarations of love, hate or determination. Commenting on the actors’ performances is pointless – acting is largely superfluous to the film anyway.
Fair enough, ‘Transformers’ was never meant to be a deep character study. So let’s examine what are supposed to be its strong points. The special effects scrub up pretty well, although that’s no high achievement when the transformers are inorganic. The action is an eye-bleeding mess – between the transformers’ moving parts, the countless bullets and explosions and the shuddery camera work, it’s often hard to tell what’s going on at all. There seems to be no logic in the robots’ transformations, either – things whirr and spin and twist, but frankly the cartoon’s depiction of this made more sense, even with Optimus Prime’s miraculously appearing/disappearing trailer.
And what else has been changed from the established Transformers lore? Let’s just say that Bumblebee’s change from Vee-Dub to Camaro is among the smallest of the screenwriter’s sins.
You can call ‘Transformers’ all sort of ugly things, but what you can’t call it is boring. Then again, you couldn’t call ‘Matrix Revolutions’ boring either, and like that film, as the improbabilities and continuity errors mount, most adult viewers’ patience will begin to wear thin.
‘Transformers’ is the corniest of popcorn flicks, an action extravaganza with about one brain cell to its name – i.e., Michael Bay’s specialty. But unlike many other Bay efforts, in this one he’s had to hedge his bets to encompass the consumers who will purchase the inevitable line of toys, and that’s where ‘Transformers’ frustrates most. Its intense battle scenes show almost no casualties. Many of the Autobots behave like children and have an irksome, cutesy quality that did not exist in the cartoon, while occasional moments of physical humour are head-slappingly bad.
Yet while ‘Transformers’ deserves every criticism dished out in this review so far, it would be remiss not to acknowledge its appeal for ten to 14 year-olds, whose judgement is clouded by neither nostalgia nor demands for storyline, characterisation or originality.
Would I have liked this movie at age ten? No.
I would have loved it.