Written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman
Directed by Michael Bay
Optimus Prime: Sorry, my bad.
No, it is I who is sorry, Optimus Prime, for I do not accept your apology. You can hardly be held accountable for the two-hour plus mess that is TRANSFORMERS, 2007’s tent pole original blockbuster, but my anger needs to be directed somewhere. Seeing as how director Michael Bay is not standing here in front of me, you my fictional friend will have to do. It could have all been so simple. You had a pretty solid cartoon back in the 80’s. The Autobots and Decepticons had their crews in check and their goals set. Both teams found themselves here on Earth. The Decepticons were bent on bleeding the world of its energy to bring back to your home planet somewhere so that they could rule while you were here to stop them and protect us simple humans at the same time. They would plot and you would plan and battles would go on with very little involvement on the part of the human race. Why then, in your live action feature film debut, do we see no trace of you but instead a few unpopular Decepticons and a ton of one-liner jokester humans for the first half of this film? Could your agent not negotiate you some more screen time?
The Transformers from the cartoon series had personality, ranging from a corny sense of humour to loyalty to caring. The movie machines, well, they have names and that’s about it. Gone are the neurosis and power struggles, replaced by supposed strength and stature. Standing and looking pretty for our enjoyment only takes us so far. Without squabbling between Megatron and Starscream to scoff at, we’re left to seek out personality from the human faction of this ensemble. Unfortunately, like any “good” action movie, actual colour in a character or a performance is entirely optional. Army boys anxiously await their return to their loved ones at home; high school jocks mock the dorks to look good for their girls; and those same girls can twist their hips just right to catch the setting sun against their bare stomachs. With such reusable filler characters, no actor actually has to try to craft depth into the fold. Luckily, the “IT” boy himself, Shia LaBeouf, is young enough and hungry enough to not forsake his own talents to the point of banality. As Sam Witwicki, TRANSFORMERS’ central human character, LaBeouf is charming, shy and earnest. His performance shines like the brightest piece in a sea of scrap metal and solidifies his face as one that will be seen for many years to come.
Why do I find myself going on and on about people in a review for a movie about machines? Perhaps this is because TRANSFORMERS treats the Transformers like an afterthought most of the time. Granted, they are very elaborate and exquisite constructions but how can they be seen as anything but secondary when some of the most popular Transformers don’t make an appearance until the last third of the film? And as beautiful as the talented folks at Industrial Light and Magic made these reincarnations, they are a bit too complex for their own good. Watching all the metal pieces swerve in and around while the machines transform made me think of the toys I had as a boy. If they were ever that complicated to transform, I doubt I would have played with them for as long as I did. The abundance of detail gets even messier when the Transformers start to rumble with each other. Through what he believes to be fancy camera work, Bay over uses close-up’s and quick editing to turn his machines into metal monstrosities that are at times near impossible to distinguish from one another. You can’t tell who’s who until the metallic mess breaks apart and one machine stands while another has fallen. There’s an awful lot of fighting but it’s also a lot of not being able to tell who’s winning.
It is pointed out to me time and time again that big budget action movies require a good chunk of our brains to be shut off in order to be enjoyed. Are we not tired yet of filmmakers giving us the bare minimum and the same old conventions while expecting us to fall over ourselves at the sight of awesome movie magic? TRANSFORMERS is not horrible because it is a special effects driven action film. It is horrible because it took the enormous potential to be a cheeky, geeky visual wonder and diminished that by dumbing it down to a mess of gunfire, product placement and hollowed-out, clunky machines. While it can be fun to relax our minds and enjoy the good times, it is not acceptable to dangle a shiny piece of metal before our eyes to distract us from seeing that that’s all you got.