Monday, July 16, 2007

Review: Transformers

The Skinny:
A live action film based on the Transformers franchise.

The Review:
Michael Bay's existence in Hollywood is what you might call an enigma. His movies are generally regarded as inedible swill, but they seem to make a crap-ton of money. More times than not, when his name is attached to a new project it is met with a collective *groan*. Personally, I am not fanatically pro or anti Bay. He has made some alright movies (The Rock, Bad Boys), but he has made some real turds too (Pearl Harbor, The Island). Then there is Armageddon. One of my deepest, darkest movie secrets, and the reason I probably deserve to have my movie watching card revoked, is that Armageddon ranks as my #1 all-time guilty pleasure. I realize how terrible and unbelievable the movie is. And I realize the wrath that statement should incite by the general respectable movie watching population, but it's true. If Bay's movies are good for one thing it is pure, unadulterated escapism. Isn't that why we all love going to the movies in the first place? I understand, and completely agree, that his strength as a filmmaker lies solely in his ability to film action. The guy can do action with the best of them but the characters in his movies are, shall we say, a bit wooden and two-dimensional. So I suppose I was not the only one with reservedly excited about this project.

Transformers is one of those institutions from my childhood that I hold very near and dear. Like the original Star Wars trilogy or the Indiana Jones trilogy or 80's John Hughes movies, this is just one of those things that will always be untouchable. I remember playing with the toys and watching the cartoon as a kid. Like my Snoopy sheets I had growing up, or Mom's cornbread, I not only did I thoroughly enjoy them as a kid; it is comforting to go back and reconnect with these things now because of what they represent to me personally. That's probably a tad over dramatic, but a live action Transformers movie was always something I thought I would have loved to see, but would have definitely preferred to have lived my whole life without, if it was going to be done poorly. The approach was simple, tell the story of a boy and his car, set it to killer special effects and battle sequences, and try like hell not to let everybody down.

Simply put, this is the movie Transformers fans have been waiting for their whole lives. And was it ever worth the wait. The film opens in Qatar where the Decepticon Blackout attacks and wipes out a US military base while trying to hack into the military's computer network. It is an awesome scene and sets the stage perfectly for things to come. Meanwhile, the awkwardly dorky high school student Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is fumbling his way through a basic show and tell at school where he tries selling relics of his great-great-grandfathers, Captain Archibald Witwicky, a famous explorer to raise money to buy a car. He eventually gets the car, a 1970 Camero, who turns out to be the Autobot Bumblebee. Sam uses his new car to woo a classmate he is interested in, Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox) – to little avail. As a result of a successful hack into the military's network, it is revealed that Sam may possess the key to locating the Allspark, a device that will grant power over all mechanical life. Since their home planet Cybertron has been destroyed by war, the Decepticons want it to gain total control of the Allspark and the Autobots are trying to stop them from having it, for obvious reasons. Bumblebee signals the rest of the Autobots, the Decepticons converge, and we're off to the races.

I can't describe in words how much fun it was to see these Transformers come to life. I actually got goose bumps when Optimus Prime first appears and speaks (voiced by the same person, Peter Cullen, who supplied the voices in the cartoons and Transformers: The Movie). Hugo Weaving does fine as the voice of Megatron. Shia LeBeouf isn't a favorite of mine at all. In fact, he rather annoys me. But I have to admit that he is perfectly cast in his role and dare I say, pretty damn funny. The rest of the movie is basically watching, in all its wide-eyed joy, the Autobots and Decepticons kicking the crap out of each other for 2 hours. The special effects are some of the most impressive and smooth I have seen, and the battle sequences are absolutely jaw dropping. I sat there like a kid again, amazed at what I was watching on the screen. This movie kind of took me back and gave me that sense of wonderment that has been missing in movies for so many years. Sure the plot is simple, but trying to fancy it up would have just turned it into a convoluted mess. It's a balls out 80's action flick, with updated effects. ILM once again proves why they are the best at what they do. Michael Bay has made a great movie doing what he knows best, while actually spending a little time making you give a rat's ass about the characters. A novel concept – I hope he learns from this going forward. Little more than a month ago, Dreamworks greenlit two sequels to Transformers. Bay has yet to sign on, but if this one is any indication, he has my vote to helm what could be an excellent film franchise.

The Rub:
Transformers lives up to the hype. It isn't the greatest movie ever made, but it is the best cartoon movie adaptation to date. This movie is funny, a lot of fun, and entertaining as hell. The plot is straightforward, the special effects and robot battle scenes are absolutely incredible, and the message of the movie is simple: Giant f*cking robots are coming. So sit back and enjoy the ride. And there's the rub.

**** 1/2 of *****

1 comment:

Vandees said...

Great comparison to Armageddon. Like that one, this movie has laughs and TONS of action. Not a great movie if you're searching for great acting, but if you're in it to be entertained, this is for you. Spot on review.