Well, so I saw Transformers. I was pretty disappointed. In fact, if you liked it you’ll probably want to stop reading here.
** SPOILERS ** for Transformers
Reviews of the movie seem to be split between the bad reviews of “It was completely idiotic” and the “good” reviews of “It was completely idiotic, but what were you expecting? Just enjoy it for what it is.” Very few people seem to feel that the movie was not, in fact, completely idiotic, which is a shame, because I think that Transformers has a terrific premise, and could easily be made into an interesting, engaging action blockbuster on the level of Aliens, Terminator 2, The Matrix, or X-Men 2. Of course, I knew it wasn’t going to be anything like that when, for reasons only the Gods of Darkness know, Michael Bay was picked to direct. It seemed inevitable that Bay would descend — Unicron like — upon the franchise, gorging on and completely obliterating it in order to feed his own inexplicably relentless career. With him directing, 90% of the potential for the movie went straight out the window, but when I saw the pretty amazing theatrical trailer I was hopeful that Bay would be able to stretch himself to the absolute limits of his “talent” and at least realize the full remaining 10% of what the movie could be — namely, a feature-length demo reel of really amazing CGI. That’s what I went into the theater hoping to see. Instead, I’d rate the movie at more like 4% of its potential. It’s actually a sort of Moreau-esque cross between Armageddon, Godzilla (2001), and Me, Myself, and Irene.
I actually thought that the first third or so of the movie was entertaining in a cheesy way, but as soon as the Autobots revealed what I will charitably refer to as their “characters,” the whole thing just took a high dive into the shitter. I knew I was really going to hate it when one of the Autobots pissed all over Jon Turturro. There might as well have been an arrow on the screen pointing to the Autobot and saying, “This is Michael Bay,” and another one pointing to Jon Turturro and saying, “This is anyone who ever cared about Transformers.” Even the action scenes, the raison d’etre for the film, I found mostly dull and headache-inducing. The special effects shots featured in the trailer are amazing, but in most of the other shots the transformers look shiny and weightless and fake, like most CGI. And the action sequences are so incompetently staged and choppily edited as to make it hard to even follow what’s happening, let alone care. I mean, don’t blink or you’ll miss the tragic death of one of the major characters.
The movie really suffers at the end, when the transformers take center stage, from the near-total lack of character development of the Autobots and the total lack of character development of the Decepticons, which leaves Megatron nothing to say but corny villain cliches that are unworthy of even a half-decent Saturday morning cartoon. And how many characters were there — a dozen? — that I’m not even sure what happened to in the end. The denouement was so perfunctory as to be insulting. I went back and watched the theatrical trailer, and I still can’t believe it’s for the same movie. The trailer conveys a sense of menace, drama, and seriousness. Man, I still want to see that movie.
I also had the misfortune to read some of Bay’s commentary in the new issue of Wired, to wit, “I urge [rabid Transformers fans] to watch the 1986 movie, go watch the cartoon. You’ll want to shoot yourself.” Well, I haven’t watched the cartoon in decades, so I can’t speak to that, but I did watch the 1986 movie last year. It’s certainly not great, but then again, it’s a children’s cartoon from 20 years ago, and I still think it’s an open question whether Bay’s $150 million treatment is a substantial (or any) improvement. After all, people who were kids 20 years ago still vividly and fondly recall the death in that animated movie of Optimus Prime. Are kids today going to look back in 20 years with similar sentiments upon the death of Jazz in Transformers (2007)? I seriously doubt it. At any rate, the animated cartoon didn’t make me want to shoot myself, but Pearl Harbor and Bad Boys II certainly did.