Back in the day there were two kinds of people in the world, those that liked the animated television show G.I. Joe and those that liked the Transformers, you weren’t allowed to like both. Transformers were always way more popular, but I fell on the Joe side, give me Snake Eyes over some stupid robots any day. I just never got the Transformers craze or The Power Rangers for that matter.
So when they announced that Stephen Spielberg was producing with my man Michael Bay directing, I wasn’t excited about the potential of this film. I’ll start my disclaimer here, that I love Michael Bay films he knows how to deliver a big budget, corporate, over the top action film. Most people can’t stand him, or his films, but I’m a sucker for an action film and no one does them better than Bay.
All of Bay’s trademarks are here in the Transformers, there’s his standard shot where he turns whoever new stars in his films into larger than life heroes – he did it with Will Smith and Martin Laurence in Bad Boys – you remember the moment where after the car chase, the camera does this great pan from the ground in a 360 degree slow motion move with the music in the background. He repeats this moment in Armageddon, and does it again this time with Shia LaBeouf (Sam Witwicky).
Unfortunately, as much as I love Shia he doesn’t quite have what it takes yet to be a leading man, especially in a big budget action film like this. There’s a laughable moment where he tries to show off his “guns” to the hot girl in his class, Mikaela Banes played by Megan Fox.
The Transformers is all over the place with regards to the tone it wants to achieve, it starts off being real serious and gritty when we first meet the evil robots, the Decepticons. One of them lands on an Dessert base (presumably in Iraq) and proceeds to completely destroy it and kill everyone on site, except for a handful of Marines. This opening sequence shows Bay at his best, the amount of coordination and planning it must have taken to pull this off is unbelievable.
After that amazing opening, I was ready to love this thing, the tone was exactly what a film like this should have been. But then as the plot progresses, the film gets dumber and dumber and the tone goes from being serious to being a kiddy cartoon, only live action. You could almost tell that there were things that Bay wanted to do but the Spielberg kiddy moments are all here.
When we first meet the Autobots, they go from being mysterious and sort of “menacing” to some weird comic relief. They were no longer bad ass, just a bunch of goofs with guns. It actually completely takes you out of the film at points. The way they acted was felt forced and fake. There is a plot here, but it’s not worth going into.
I watched this film with a large crowd of Critics on the Paramount lot and normally critics don’t clap and cheer at screenings, but this time they were in rapture at all the little nods to what I assume was the television show. Since I never watched the television show, I didn’t quite get it. But the first time Optimus Prime (voiced by the original Animated cartoon voice Peter Cullen) spoke the audience went crazy, and then even I knew they were using audio cues from the original series. All of these little nods worked well with the audience, even those of us who didn’t know what they necessarily meant.
The brilliance of Bay lies in the fact that he pounds you into submission and keeps the pace so fast and furious that even when his films are awful, you can’t help but go with it. Whenever your brain starts to yell at you that you shouldn’t be enjoying this, Bay and his team throw another explosion at you, or throw in some Robot Fighting, or other cool visual effects.
This film is soulless and heartless but at the same time it’s a lot of fun and contains a lot of fantastic “wow!” moments. I generally don’t believe in the concept of “Guilty Pleasures,” either you like a film or you don’t. But I feel dirty for liking this movie so much and Michael Bay is a mad genius.
Final Grade B
EM Review By
Originally Posted 7/02/07