Transformers

The Autobots battle the Decepticons on Earth for control of ‘The Cube’.

What is it with Michael Bay and the US military? Is this guy getting sponsorship money or something? After The Rock, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, and now Transformers, I’m starting to wonder if he knows any other way to approach a movie. I can’t help but feel that this might have been a more interesting film if Bay had come at it from a War of the Worlds-style, bottom-up perspective rather than his traditional Independence Day-style top-down perspective.

As a fledgling movie critic the prudent thing would be to trash this picture, thus establishing my sophisticated and refined cinematic taste. Let’s face it; the characters are mostly two-dimensional, there’s really no meaningful story to speak of, and the film requires very little in the way of brain power to follow. But none of that matters in Transformers. This film is about one thing only; bringing the cool.

Say what you like about Michael Bay – and I could say plenty – but the guy knows how to do action. And in this picture, action mostly means visual effects. I would hate to think what the VFX budget was on this film. Not only is there huge amount of CG, but the models used to create it are the most complicated I have ever seen.

Bay’s films have always pushed the envelope in this area, and Transformers is no exception. The robots here look simply spectacular, and they are used to great effect in some stunning action sequences. This was never going to be a great character film, a monumental storytelling epic, or have any sort of deep meaning or message, but as a straightforward action blockbuster it succeeds, at least to a point.

Transformers also has some entertaining dialogue moments. The Autobots tell us that they learned Earth languages from the web, which results in some hilarious pop-culture references. My favourite of these comes from Optimus Prime as he accidentally crushes a garden ornament underfoot, apologising with a Joss Whedon-esque “Sorry, my bad”. The script is rather patchy though, and for every bon mot that succeeds there’s another that falls flat.

Even when evaluated as a simple action film there are still a few problems with this movie. First, the story is paper thin. Now, I understand that the story is merely a device to lead into all the great action that follows – and that’s fine – but it also has to be solid enough to make us care about what happens. The ‘Cube’ thingy around which everything revolves is so vaguely explained that it is difficult to know what our heroes are fighting for, and without spoiling anything there are several other plot points that are even more unclear.

Second, and less importantly, there are too many robots in this film. There is just not enough time in a 144-minute movie to properly develop and make use of ten Transformers. We get to know Optimus Prime, Megatron and Bumblebee well, and several other robots are used extensively but there must be two or three that are hardly used at all. The film would have felt tighter and more focussed if we had been limited to fewer robots and had been allowed to know them better.

Finally, I have to talk about the casting which, along with the effects, is the best thing in this film. First, Shia LaBeouf absolutely steals the show, and I have to give massive props to Steven Spielberg for finding this guy. As I mentioned in my last post I’m really looking forward to what he does next. The robot voices are also bang-on, with Peter Cullen making a welcome return as Optimus Prime, and Hugo Weaving the perfect choice for Megatron. The rest of the cast is mostly solid.

Transformers absolutely succeeds as a Summer Blockbuster, and I enjoyed watching it immensely. But it could have been much more, and the plot flaws are so annoying that they really distract from the good things here. It’s a shame, because Transformers could have been this generation’s Terminator. As it is, it will be remembered merely as another solid piece of Michael Bay entertainment.

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