Thursday, July 19, 2007

Transformers (2007)

When I first saw the trailers for Transformers (2007) I will admit to being excited. I instantly decided I wanted to see it no matter how bad it was.

I had low hopes for this movie. I seldom saw the Transformers cartoon show growing up, but I was certainly aware of them. Even worse, we could not afford the Transformer toys...I did, however, have two Go-Bots. Go-bots were a cheap imitation of Transformers that did not really transform...they just had arms that went straight up and down. Still, the concept was awesome and even I knew the tagline "More than meets the eye."

One problem with the recent spate of movies providing a redux of "classic" 80s television is the overlooked fact that the shows did not hold up well. Seriously, things like Miami Vice (2006) are an excellent of the old show flocked to the movie and roundly panned it...they hated it. I did see the movie...and I actually thought it very much caught the "feel" of the old show...full of angst, bad clothes, and weak story lines. I actually think had it not been given the Miami Vice franchise it would have been regarded as a solid entry into the action movie genre but because it was part of the lovingly remembered, long-running Miami Vice franchise there was simply no way for the movie to live up to the expectations. I never really liked the old Miami Vice show so I suppose it is an open question why I went to see the movie...and perhaps my lowered expectations are why it actually was an okay movie to me.

Of course, perhaps I am not a typical movie viewer because I have been a fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for many, many years...I was first introduced to them when they were only available as a black & white comic at underground shops and the mainstream had never heard of them. The first, live-action movie was one of my all time favorites (and was the second movie I ever saw in a theatre, in fact). So when a new one came out this year I had a huge anticipation for it...the previews were blowing me away with their stunningly awesome animation. I was there opening weekend. It was an okay movie, mildly entertaining, but nowhere near as good as I was hoping for. Of course, as high as my expectations were it is entirely possible no movie could have matched them. So even though it failed to meet my expectations...I still might purchase it because it was an okay movie.

I was determined not to make that mistake with Transformers (2007). I had low expectations going in. Let's face it, if the cartoon had actually been as good as we all remembered it being, it would still be shown on a regular basis on the Cartoon Network or one of its clones or still be on Saturday morning TV, if not the original incarnation then as a reworked, renamed show much as the Turtles are, Pokemon is, and so forth.

I was in for a pleasant surprise. Let's get one factoid out of the way very early. The storyline is very...uhm...plain. Straightforward. Implausible. Bordering on uninteresting. Between the expectations and the storyline it would be a tough job indeed for Michael Bay to turn in a good flick.

It starts out slowly with Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) doing a terrible, boring presentation for class that turns into a sales pitch for a pair of glasses that prove to be a major plot point. Soon he is on his way with his dad to purchase his first car. Through an amazing display of destruction he is united with Bumblebee, beloved protagonist of the cartoon series.

In the cartoon series Bumblebee was a VW bug. Rumors abound that Volkswagen refused permission for their name to be associated with a war movie so Bumblebee got an he was a Camaro. Still, clever allusion abound...his air-freshener is a bumblebee, several times he passes yellow VW was a clever way of Bay letting people "in the know" associate him with the old-school Bumblebee while following the rules.

Bumblebee provides a lot of humor in the movie, from his "Bee-yotch" air freshener to his choices of songs (he can only communicate through songs) that attempt to move Sam and Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox) into a romance...but Mikaela is having none of it.

Meanwhile, Decepticons are ambushing the military. The resulting battle allows Captain Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and his men to discover a weakness they can exploit against the Decepticons. They begin their trek back to the states as Barricade (a Decepticon disguised as a Police Cruiser) and Frenzy battle Bumblebee in their attempt to get the Witwicky glasses which contain the map to the Allspark.

The Autobots finally arrive in force and the grand finale of the movie sees a monumental battle between the U.S. Marines of Captain Lennox, the Autobots, and miscellaneous cops and Sector 7 officials on one side and the Decepticons on the other.

First, the good: The movie is just plain fun. The special effects are outstanding, the characters almost universally likable. This includes the bad guys. Frenzy is hilarious, Starscream retains his rebel against Megatron while still being evil schtick, etc. The songs as communication of Bumblebee is a great touch and the various Autobots have distinct but cool personalities.

The scene where the Autobots are trying to retrieve the glasses from Sam's house while "sneaking around" is perhaps the best scene of the movie. Their attempts to "hide" by transforming into automobiles on the front lawn of his house was hysterical.

Even the battles are, for the most part, well done. Both the Autobots and Decepticons are good foes because neither is presented as invincible. Human weapons destroy Scorponok's tail and prove they can, properly armed, hurt the Decepticons and even Bumblebee is captured by just a few agents.

On the dark side there are a large number of ENORMOUS plot holes. For example; Scorponok alone wipes out an entire U.S. base in Qatar, one with about 50 tanks...then is taken down by a single platoon that were the sole survivors of the first attack.

The search for the glasses is important because they have the map to the Allspark location...but the Allspark was moved AFTER Megatron was frozen. How is the map accurate or meaningful?

During the long, long battle at the end, after it has been going on for a solid 10 minutes there are still people walking down the street with shopping bags and acting surprised to see the continuing duel.

However, these things are not hugely important. The battle with Scorponok is so entertaining you do not notice how de-powered he suddenly was. The glasses and the Allspark are just plot devices that are at least somewhat hidden (see the Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix review for a plot device that is bare bones and pointless). The people in the streets provide useful obstacles/tools. And really, we are having so much fun with the transformations and cool battle to really care unless and until we are writing reviews.

In fact, the only quibble I actually had with the movie was one scene that was packed with skilled actors. You never really felt like you were looking at thought you were looking at people involved in a story in their own universe....except for one scene. Defense Secretary John Keller (Jon Voight), Glen Whitmann (Anthony Anderson) and Agent Simmons (John Turturro) are trapped in a room of archaic communications equipment by an impending Decepticon attack. This scene was clearly directed by a second director because suddenly you are looking at people acting. Their shrill, heightened responses do not come across as people in a desperate situation...they come across as people portraying people reacting as if they were in a desperate situation. It is perhaps a subtle difference but it was the only seam in the movie, the one time the very skilled Voight and Anderson seemed like actors instead of "real" people reacting naturally.

It may seem there were a lot of things I did not like...but that is not so. I loved the interweaving of three or four different groups, the special effects, the was a fun, fun movie and well worth the price of admission. Go see it.


The Dojo said...

I saw that you reviewed this movie and I had to stop and say. This was the BEST movie of the summer by far! I grew up in the Transformers era and was a little worried they would ruin this movie but they did a great job.

Alan said...

The scorpion thing was not the attack helicopter but a separate Decepticon so it wasn't as powerful. The movie ruled though and definitely was awesome