When I did my X-Men week a short while ago I approached the films in chronological order. It’s the logical way to go I suppose. So why am I starting my Transformers week with the 2007 Micheal Bay film instead of the 1986 animated movie? Because I’m quite looking forward to Dark Of The Moon and I don’t want to go into that with the last film I watched being Transformers Revenge Of The Fallen. I needed the last Transformers film I reviewed before the new one to be a good one. I can’t go into Dark Of The Moon in a bad mood expecting the worst. So I’m starting with Bayformers 1, then Revenge Of The Fallen and ending with the animated film to put me in the best mood possible. With that all said, on with the show…
Dammit, should have said something about transforming and rolling out at the end of that last paragraph. Oh well it’s done now, might as well leave it as it is. I mean I could go back and fix it but I can’t be arsed. Which is an admittedly lazy attitude to have… which leads me into Micheal Bay’s Transformers universe. It’s lazy, it’s noisy and it’s among the dumbest things ever committed to film. Granted the second film is a better example of that but I kinda thought I was being fairly clever there with that intro. All that said I do kind of enjoy Transformers for all it’s stupidity.
See I’m a massive Transformers fan. Being born in the early 80s I’m pretty sure it’s actually law that I am. I used to get up in the mornings of the mid 80s to watch Wac-a-day with Timmy Mallet and a young Mike Myers and tune in to watch 5-7 minutes of Transformers a day. yes they used to split whole episodes up over the course of nearly a week. Eventually we got a VHS player in our house and aside from the Thomas The Tank Engine video my gradually growing collection of Transformers videos would rarely be out of it. I had, and still have, a sizable collection of the figures. I used to have a load of the Simon Furman UK Transformers comics until I foolishly gave them away when Ir some reason, thought I was growing out of them. I’ve been through every incarnation of Transformers there is from G1 to Headmasters and from Beast Wars through to Armada. I don’t like all of them, proving I’m not a total fanboy I hope, but generally they all get some things right. The characters of the Transformers themselves are usually retained and certain elements of the lore stay true.
Micheal Bay had no interest in Transformers before he took this project on. Which is actually kind of odd when you think about it. You’d think it would be his porn. What he decided to focus on was the humans, in this film Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and Mikaela Banes (clothes horse Megan Fox), and while that is a smart idea when you’re telling a story about some sort of interstellar aliens that can do all sorts of crazy action packed stuff including turning into cars it does help if the characters are… well characters. See Micheal Bay has rarely dealt in characters. He deals in archetypes and caricatures. He’d be right at home in the current WWE writing team. This film is littered with archetypes and caricatures. You’ve got the nerdy high schooler who just wants to be cool (our protagonist no less), the girl from the wrong side of the tracks, meddling parents, fast talking hackers (3 of which don’t get names, one of which is Buffy’s Tom Lenk) and the archetype of John Turturro being goofy. That last one has proven quite popular with various film makers over the years.
All of these… I’ll call them characters from now on… basically are there to, mostly, be on the screen when there’s no explosions. Nothing they say is interesting or insightful. Only about 50% of their actions have anything to do with the plot or even moving the plot onwards. Most of them are the cinematic equivalent of Hamster Dance. They move about and make a lot of noise and never shut up. And yes I know Hamster Dance was like 10 years ago now. I’m getting old so leave my out of date references alone. Sam is possibly the worst offender of the never shutting up bunch. He has verbal tourettes on a scale only rivaled by Popeye the sailor man and a lot of the time he is just saying stuff (usually the word “no” multiple times) even when not on camera. In fact most characters do this. I’m pretty sure only 60% of the dialogue is spoken on camera. it’s incredible how much time is wasted in this film on just characters saying things and doing stuff. “Things” and “Stuff” are words I get a feeling I’ll be repeating a lot over the next few days.
Here’s Shia LaBeouf saying No… a lot.
The films pacing is incredibly off. It’s a sign of a set of writers who not only have no idea how to balance so many periphery characters but are 100% focused on just getting to the action scene in the final act. I’ll admit the payoff is some pretty good eye candy, but man so much time is wasted. Storytelling in film, as I may have mentioned in previous reviews, is generally split into 3 acts. Act 1 establishes the main characters, their goals/desires and sets them on their journey. This is generally done in the first 25-30 minutes of a film. Take a stopwatch into any film and you’ll find you can time this to that 25-30 minute every time. So the plot of Transformers is that Megatron wants the All Spark Cube. Sam’s Great Grandfather Archibald Witwicky happened to have a chance encounter with a frozen Megatron in the arctic circle and has the co-ordinates to this cube etched into his glasses which Sam happens to be selling on Ebay. The Decepticons want it to find the All Spark Cube to turn he machines on Earth into Decepticons to take over the Galaxy. meanwhile the Autobots need to employ Sam’s help, well his glasses, to get to the Cube first and stop the Decepticons. So by the end of Act 1 Sam must know this and have met the Autobots and be ready to take on this quest.
Well that doesn’t happen until the 55 minute mark. Yup, it’s 55 minutes before the audience are aware of whats going on. Now maybe I missed something earlier so let’s go back to the 25 minute mark. What happens there? Sam has just seen his car Transform and then for some reason gets arrested by the police even though he called his car in as stolen. Well that’s not a plot point or a twist to lead us into the second act. That’s just stuff happening. Surely it would have made sense for Sam to have seen his car turn into Bumblebee only for Bumblebee to be attacked by Barricade (A Decepticon looking for Sam) which would then lead them to the sequence where the Autobots come to Earth and Megatron’s evil plan is explained to Sam/the audience. Instead what’s followed is more dicking about in the various locations this film takes place in where characters say things and the slightest of plot advancements happen.
Now the second act of a film is the meat and potatoes of the experience. It’s where the conflict is mostly laid out. it’s where characters gradually learn lessons that will aid them in Act 3 and where, in the case of a Micheal Bay action movie, there will be a series of increasingly larger things exploding. Now this does happen in Transformers. The story kind of gets on with it. Except all there is that needs to happen is for Sam to find his glasses in an overly prolonged sequence where the Autobots play hide and seek in the Witwicky backyard and then Sam needs to get to Hoover Dam which, it turns out, is where the All Spark Cube and Megatron are being kept. Of course! Section 7 turn up and take them in, Sam and Mikaela escape with the help of the Autobots for a short while and then Bumblebee is captured. They get to the Hoover Dam and some stuff happens until the Decepticons make a last minute appearance. Seriously, like 3 are just introduced here. Then Megatron is freed and Bumblebee and the other good guys escape with the All Spark Cube. That’s the end of Act 2 and it all happens in the space of about 40 minutes. The part of the film that should be the bulk of the story is shorter than Act 1.
Onto Act 3. Stuff blows up. The other Autobots literally pass Bumblebee and the other guys on the road and quickly do a U-turn to follow them. Way to be proactive characters guys! Then they go to some place called Mission City and have a big old 25 minute long fight. Mission City is an odd place. They say it’s 25 miles from the Hoover Dam. Well that would put them in either Las Vegas or the desert. Lets assume it’s a fictional place. There’s not really anything wrong with the third act other than the characters having nothing at stake other than there lives. there’s no lessons to learn or anything for them to prove. I suppose Mikaela decides to be brave and not run but I was unaware she was running. I guess maybe she’s been hiding her true self because of her previous run ins with the law but… well… it means nothing at this point. Sam runs a lot and the robots blow shit up. That’s what matters. there is an excessive amount of shaky cam but it wouldn’t be a Micheal Bay film without it.
So yeah, the story’s a mess. And I’ve barely mentioned just what all the other characters are doing over the course of this mess. The hackers decode stuff and say stuff quickly. Anthony Anderson does that stereotype black guy thing he does so much, yelling at his grandma, shouting at the PO-leese, that sort of thing. there’s a bunch of Army dudes who are there so the humans can fire a few guns at Decepticons before the Autobots bother to show up. there’s the secretary of Defense and his seemingly incredible ability to ignore the obvious. Speaking of ignoring the obvious. Is it me or are the Transformers invisible to the rest of the world until the final Act? Seriously, they run around and trash stuff while no-one seems to notice. The sequence where Sam is trying to get his Grandfathers glasses is a (Optimus) prime… example of this. they step on things, knock out powerlines, cause tremors when they fall over and no-one in the whole neighbourhood seems to notice.
As for the Transformers themselves they say a few lines here and there but are generally only there to be the source and/or the location of various sized explosions. Optimus Prime has his leadership thing going on but at times he’s just saying stuff, like everyone else in this film. He even says “My bad” at one point. Megatron and Starscream’s complex relationship of respect and constant betrayal is reduced to one throwaway line. Quite a travesty really because their relationship in every other iteration of Transformers is one of the most interesting aspects of the show. They’re almost, dare I say it, Shakespearian in their backstabbery. Not here though. Not while there’s explosions to be had.
I make it sound like I really hate this film. I don’t. My real hate shall come tomorrow with the Revenge Of The Fallen review. Whilst this film is incredibly stupid and poorly written it does have some cool action sequences and there’s something quite awesome about seeing The Transformers, even with flames on their paintwork, depicted as real tangible things. The CGI is still some of the best ever on film, mostly thanks to Bay’s near obsessive level of detail when it comes to machinery. There’s a few corny yet amusing little nods to the original cartoon too. A VW beetle in the car lot where Sam buys Bumblebee, the “More Than Meets The Eye” line and Optimus saying “one shall stand, one shall fall” albeit off camera.
Overall this is a messy, idiotic and poorly written movie. I am baffled as to how the guys that wrote this also wrote Star Trek XI. There’s non-stop noise and things and stuff just going on with every single second of the film. The editing is haphazard and largely involves cuts to things that have no bearing on the scene while dialogue is spoken. For example a shot of an Ostrich in the second hand car lot. Why it’s there I’ll never know. But there’s plenty of action and the thrill of seeing Optimus Prime on screen is a strong one. This is borderline terrible. It really does walk that line right on the edge and doesn’t fall too far over. Kids will enjoy it and I’m sure most fans of Transformers will get some joy from it too. Just don’t expect too much. And whatever you do, upon viewing this film, do not watch Revenge Of The Fallen!