Monday, July 2, 2007

Transformers Review

I am not familiar with the history of the Transformers. I watched them periodically as a child and I am sure I had a few of the toys as well, but the subtlety and nuances of character that were apparently evident in the cartoon show were not something that I picked up on. So going into this movie, I had no real expectations for which characters interacted with others and the histories between them.

At the same time, I find it hard to respect that sort of history which really boils down to advertisements for a toy line. Sure, people were greatly attached to these characters and these stories but to expect them to be adapted perfectly to the screen probably would have resulted in not much of a different movie and could ultimately have been bogged down by the attempts at robot characterization.

Of course, all that aside, Transformers essentially blew me through the back of the theater. The sheer spectacle of the film (I hesitate to even use that word since this is not a "film" in the auteur's sense of the word) is one that cannot and should not be missed by anyone who enjoys movies. Michael Bay ("The Rock", "Armageddon", "Bad Boys") crafts what could be considered his best movie yet and does it with such style that any lack of substance becomes a moot point.

The premise of the movie is a very simple one. Thousands of years ago, a cube known as the "Allspark" crash landed on Earth. Megatron, leader of the Decepticons, was able to locate the cube and attempted to track it down. Unfortunately, he missed his mark by a bit and was frozen in the Arctic Circle. So years later, his Decepticon buddies attempt to track him and the Allspark down. And of course, it's up to the Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, to stop them. The catalyst for all of this robot madness is Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) who puts the glasses of his grandfather on eBay, which just so happened to have Cybertronian (that's the homeworld of the Transformers for those keeping track) symbols etched into them from the discovery of Megatron in the Arctic over 100 years ago. Oh, and there is also something about a love story between Sam and Mikayla (the ridiculously gorgeous Megan Fox). So, in summary, track down the Allspark, have robots fight and all hell break loose.

The thing is, you never think about that. The human element works, absolutely. The charisma of all players is something that truly emanates from the movie and is what gives the movie its roots. Whether it be the members of the US Air Force (played by Josh Duhamel and Tyrese) or the Defense Secretary (Jon Voight), everyone plays it with such believability that this alien threat is accepted.

Of course, the true stars of the movie are the Transformers themselves. The things that these robots are able to do are incredible. After a few minutes on screen, you completely forget they are CGI creations and are completely believable as things occupying space and having mass. The transformations they undergo are completely mindboggling every time they occur. And on top of that, they all seem like characters, not just robots. Yes, I am sure to the diehard Transformer fan out there, they are missing certain characterizations that make them their unique selves, but each Autobot specifically brings something to the table. The Decepticons on the other hand are pretty interchangeable. With the exception of Megatron (voiced by an almost unrecognizable Hugo Weaving) and Starscream, they were really nothing more than showcases for the incredible technology and amazing battles.

The movie starts off relatively slow in comparison to what ends up happening, although in many action movies, the first couple of action scenes would be the pinnacle of the entertainment. Showing Sam's acquisition of Bumblebee and subsequent learning about his origins take up a fair amount of time. Yet, once Optimus Prime and the rest of the Autobots show up, there is essentially nonstop action with a few pauses for brief exposition. Of course, this is interspersed with some Transforming action in Qatar in which Tyrese and Josh Duhamel are responsible for holding the Decepticons Scorponok and Blackout at bay. Sam and the human element remain a factor throughout and most of the action is seen from their perspective, adding to the sheer spectacle of it all. Even small characters such as Anthony Anderson's hacker and Bernie Mac's auto salesman add to some of the many bits of humor throughout. And you also have the token hot hacker, played by Rachel Taylor, who figures out important alien info akin to Jeff Goldblum in Independence Day and is not taken seriously. And why should they? She's a ridiculously hot female computer nerd. I don't even believe those exist.

Steve Jablonsky delivers a rousing action score that is effective in ramping up emotion in particularly important scenes. It certainly helped to add to the overall mood of the movie and I will be anxiously waiting a score release.

Personally, I do not know who could have done a better job at crafting such amazing giant robot battles other than Michael Bay. Say what you will about his characterization and storytelling, the man knows how to shoot action. It pulls you in and doesn't let go. The fact that it was reportedly made for half as much as both Spider-Man 3 and Pirates 3 goes a long way to showing how well he is able to do his job, because to be quite honest, the action is twice as good as either movie.

If there are any complaints about the movie is that Optimus Prime is not given as much to do as I would have liked to see. Using the original voice actor was a choice many fans were happy about and I can certainly see why. Peter Cullen has such an amazing vocal charisma that he almost made me spur into action against the Decepticons. Being given a decent amount and wanting more is not that huge of a complaint to have in a movie such as this one.

I suppose I could complain about the lack of story. Yes, I can always appreciate a fleshed out story, but to be completely honest I did not expect one here. It just was not necessary. This was ultimately a battle between good and evil with the fate of the world at stake. With the increasingly complicated Pirates 3 and to an extent, Spider-Man 3, it was nice to see a movie where you could enjoy the movie for what it was and not be frustrated because of all the absurd turns it was taking.

The movie is left absolutely wide open for a sequel. I hope that we get one sooner rather than later because I personally cannot wait to see the further adventures of the Transformers. I may even check this one out again tomorrow. After a summer of perpetual tentpole disappointments, I am happy to say that one movie has finally delivered on its promise. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys a truly fun time at the movies.


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