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"Oh my god, I think I'm gonna pee my pants - listen to this - when I transform I turn into a butterfly. A freakin' gorgeous butterfly, could you just die?"
Transformers is already being hailed by many as the most entertaining movie of the summer. Upon walking out of the theater, I found myself picking apart what I had just witnessed. Several folks in the lobby jumped down my throat telling me that I was being too critical. "It's a fun summer movie" they said. "Stop being a critic and enjoy the damn thing!" The thing is, most of these people fell in love with this flick before they even saw it. Transformers is the cinematic equivalent of a Double Cheeseburger combo meal.
Based on the Hasbro toy line, and cartoon of the same name, Transformers is essentially a big, bloated science fiction epic about robots that transform into vehicles. Some of these alien sent life forms (such as the heroic Optimus Prime) have come to Earth to live among us peacefully, while others (such as the villainous Megatron) have come with world domination in mind. At the heart of the story is an unpopular teenager named Sam Witwicky (played by the always engaging Shia LaBeouf). Like most kids his age, he's excited at the prospect of buying his first car and impressing the hot girl on campus (in this case, it's the gorgeous but slightly dull Megan Fox). After driving his new Camaro off the used car lot, Sam is immediately thrust into adventure when, quite to his amazement, his Camaro turns out to be a Transformer.
Transformers is what most are calling it. A big, loud, stupid, special effects extravaganza. But while so many audiences are simply going along with it, the dumb factor was a little too much for me to willingly accept/and or overlook. I'm all for big, loud, and stupid (hell, I enjoyed Live Free or Die Hard) but of the list of attributes that began this paragraph the one that should be underlined, capitalized, italicized and surrounded with exclamation marks is !!!STUPID!!! Michael Bay has once again delivered his special brand of stupendously stupefying stupidity.
Bay is a visual showman, but he isn't much of a storyteller. There's so much destruction and visual splendor here, that it's easy to forget that there's virtually no plot or character. That's what separates a guy like Bay from someone like Steven Spielberg. Spielberg uses effects the way they should be used; as a storytelling tool.
There are certainly elements of Transformers that I love, most notably the special effects. These robots are spectacular and as I watched them transform from vehicles to their true mechanical forms, it was truly awe inspiring. It reminded of seeing dinosaurs for the first time in Jurassic Park. I also dig Shia LaBeouf - whom, in a very short time, is shaping up to be one of the most exciting actors of his generation. Even with minimal quality dialogue and a severe lack of character depth, LaBeouf manages to fashion a charming, likeable hero out of Sam. I wish the film would have focused more on him and less on the dull military sub plot. But then, the military stuff is in there so that Bay has an excuse to do what he loves most. Blow shit up.
The plot is as inscrutable as it is paper thin, and we the audience are pretty much thrust into the midst of the action before we really even know what the hell is going on. Say what you will about director Michael Bay (he's never been one of my favorites) but I'll be damned if his movies don't look good. He's made a career out of dumb, loud, testosterone laden action films (see Bad Boys, The Rock, and Armageddon). Ironically, my favorite Bay picture is probably his biggest departure (and biggest box office failure), the futuristic clones-on-the-run thriller The Island. The reason I liked that film was because there was a little more emphasis on character. Since The Island pretty much tanked, I suppose Bay jumped at the chance of doing something big, loud, and stupid again.
Now it could be argued that Bay gets away with the dumb factor here because the cartoon and Hasbro toy line aren't exactly the stuff of Shakespeare. Furthermore, Transformers never takes itself seriously, which, by and large, is a good thing. But that doesn't change the fact that this film is missing beats. The rhythm is all over the place (aside from the slam bang climax). And on top of all this, the tone of Transformers is truly weird. Throughout, it gives you the feeling you're watching an extended car commercial, festooned with enough slapstick humor to make it play like a broad comedy - and not a particularly funny one, believe me. There are several silly one liners, and Bay even throws in some lame self referential humor (including an ode to his own Armageddon). Some gags work but most of the jokes fall flat (including a painfully unfunny cheap shot at the expense of George Bush). Even the smallest of characters feel compelled to bring the funny to a film that doesn't need it. Guys like Bernie Mac (he appears as a sleazy used car salesman), Anthony Anderson (he shows up as some kind of computer expert), and a sorely miscast John Turturro as an inept special agent. Ugh.
Transformers is far too long and so chalk full of unnecessary characters, that it makes the recent Live Free Or Die Hard feel like a Robert Altman ensemble. During the film's two hour and twenty minute running time, we do get cool shots of massive robots doing destructive things, but the thrill of it all is undermined by a goofy tone and truly awful humor. The movie doesn't really come alive until the final twenty minutes in which we're finally treated to what we came for. A massive, kick ass, street brawl between Optimus Prime and Megatron. It's a battle on par with the best sequences in Terminator 2, only about fifty times the size and with half the heart.
Is Transformers more than meets the eye? It is amazing to look at – there's no doubt about that. While bristling with state of the art special effects and enough destruction to keep action hounds happy, Transformers will also coast along on the nostalgia factor. There are plenty of folks who adore the toys and the cartoons, and they will undoubtedly accept the movie with open arms. Personally, I've been more impressed by the smaller films this summer season (i.e. Once, Knocked Up, 1408, etc.). Still, I'm giving Michael Bay's latest epic two a C because visually, it is a technical marvel.
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