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Transformers
Three Hearts

"All Hail Megatron!"

Written by Steven Walker

This may be the hardest review I ever write. I have agonized about how to rate this and what to say about it. I had to see the movie four times before I could finalize my thoughts on it. And yes, you did the math right. The movie came out three days before this writing, and I’ve seen it four times.

Transfomers was my first love as a child. The first toys I collected, the first cartoon I watched, my first geek obsession. I have literally hundreds of the toys and can still transform them all. Optimus Prime was a role model second only to my father, and when he died in the 1986 Transformers cartoon movie, it was my first confrontation with mortality.

I preface with this because it makes this movie far more personal to me than most of the countless masses who will flock to see it this fine Forth of July week. And honestly, it is the best fireworks show in town.

Watching this movie with a great crowd is a 5 star viewing experience. It is the reason we have stadium seating, surround sound, and 50 foot screens. Not seeing this on the big screen would be a giant disservice to the technical artistry on display. You can tell the visual effects team was having the most fun of their careers doing this stuff. Every transformation is just awe inspiring.

The geek in me is thrilled because it has that intangible spirit that makes it a “Transformers” movie and not just a “giant robots fighting” movie. Seeing Optimus Prime rendered in full CG glory makes my heart catch in my throat, and he is still a worthy role model for kids of all ages. This is mostly due to Peter Cullen’s amazing voice, which for me is just as iconic as James Earl Jones’s Darth Vader.

There are a couple of magic movie moments that I live for, and here is where the serious spoilers begin. When Sam first sees Bumblebee in robot mode, the awe on his face is so real and that it totally sells the moment. Shia LeBeouf is so good in this movie that it hurts, but most people may not realize it. I’ve read reviews where people criticize him because they think he had it easy, but I challenge any of them to stand on a green screen staring at a tennis ball and make an audience believe they are looking at a giant robot.

When all the Autobots are assembled for the first time and Optimus tells Sam that the fate of the world rests in his hands, it is every ten-year-old’s dream come true. What kid hasn’t fantasized about having giant alien robots for friends?

All the military stuff is great. Michael Bay purports that the military hardware, procedures, and tactics are completely legitimate, which makes the decepticons feel like a credible threat. I love movies that depict the military as competent, dedicated heroes. This is far more interesting than the countless movies that depict the military as a bunch of clueless goons.

There are also a few moments that should not work but do. Somehow the idea of the Autobots learning about human culture from the World Wide Web is totally believable, even finding out about Sam through e-bay. The first time a transformer speaks it is the Decepticon Barricade and he screams at Sam, “Are you user name LadiesMan217!?!” This must have sounded stupid on paper, but somehow the moment manages to be both funny and scary.

Now I wouldn’t be lathering so much praise on a 3 star movie unless I was planning to tear it down, so he we go. There are some astonishingly incompetent pieces of writing, directing, and editing in this movie.

The biggest and most painful complaint is too many humans, not enough robots. To the script’s credit just about every human character, no matter how small their part may be, is given a real personality. The characters are still two dimensional, but at least they are colorful dimensions.

The same cannot be said for the transformers, which is not just a shame but a crime. Anthony Anderson plays a completely, utterly, 100 % POINTLESS character. There is absolutely no reason for him to be in this movie. His character is lame and contributes nothing to plot. For his character to get more screen time, more personality, and more of a character arc than ANY of the decepticons is just moronic. (And I don’t want any angry e-mails from Anthony Anderson’s fans about how he saved the day by getting the Air Strike order through. Rachael Taylor’s way-too-hot-to-be-a-hacker character could have done that and it would have been far more efficient screenwriting.)

And speaking of the decepticons, let us the consider the sad affair of Megatron and Starscream. Megatron is the leader of the decepticons and Starscream is his second in command. Starscream is a power-hungry megalomaniac who is always plotting ways to overthrow Megatron and become the leader. Yet secretly, deep down, Starscream knows he is not smart enough to be a leader, which is why his plots always seem to fail. Megatron understands this and tolerates Starscream because he is such a good warrior. As a way of keep Starscream cowed, Megatron constantly verbally abuses him no matter how well he does. This has gone on for so long that these insults have taken on the subtext of compliments. It is a strange, yet compelling way for Megatron to show affection to his best soldier. This a fascinating relationship that the script chooses to ignore completely. The brief exchange between these two characters in the movie implies this history, but is completely meaningless or even cheesy to people who are not die-hard Transformers fans. How a screenwriter could ditch all this rich dramatic potential in favor of a fat guy playing DDR is beyond me.

Then you have the even worse case of Jazz, the autobot who is killed by Megatron. Jazz has all of five lines and three action moments before he is offed so fast you barely realize it happened. Cut the useless scene where a cheesy cop harasses Sam about drugs and make Jazz into a real character! I want to care when he dies.

One of the best action moments is when Optimus decapitates a decepticon named Bonecrusher. It is awesome anyway, but imagine how much better it would have been if we knew Bonecrusher as a character beforehand.

There are also some stunning logical gaps that just hurt my soul on repeat viewings:

1.) If the Autobots are so keen on protecting humanity, why do they try to hide the Allspark in the middle of a city where HUNDREDS of innocent people are guaranteed to get caught in the fight?

2.) Why does Optimus bust out this amazing little forearm fire-sword to kill Bonecrusher but never tries to use it against Megatron?

3.) Why does the Allspark only turn things into decepticons?

4.) What the hell happens to Scorponok? He digs back under the sand in Qatar, wounded but clearly still alive after the air strike.

5.) What the hell happens to Barricade? We see him in police car mode on the highway right before Bonecrusher attacks, then he is never seen or referred to again.

6.) What the hell happens to the Mountain Dew Machine Deception that the Allspark creates? Is it still wandering the streets somewhere ambushing thirsty citizens?

7.) What the hell happens to Ironhide and Ratchet during the second half of the final battle? Optimus is on his own against Megatron, Bumblebee takes out Devastator, and the military goes solo against Blackout. Ironhide and Ratchet are apparently cowering somewhere. It is either incredibly bad writing or there is a deleted scene out there where Ironhide and Ratchet try to protect a dying Jazz from Barricade and the Mountain Dewicon. If such a scene actually exists and is on some extended cut DVD someday, I’ll give the movie 4 hearts. (Extreme Geek Warning: It is stunningly shortsighted of the writers to waste the name of Devastator on a Red Shirt decepticon in the first movie. The real Devastator would be a-frakking-mazing in a sequel.)

8.) When the Sector 7 guy is showing Jon Voight the footage from Mars, there is a massively painful continuity error. Voight is shown two photos, one from Mars and one that is supposed to be the photo Tyresse Gibson took of Blackout during the Qatar base attack at the beginning of the movie. Problem is, that attack took place at night and the helicoptor blades on Blackout are clearly visible in his silhouette. In the photo that Voight is shown, it is broad daylight and the robot is very clearly not Blackout. I hope the Script Supervisor got fired over this.

9.) Megatron has Sam cornered on the rooftop. All he has to do is reach out, crush Sam, and take the Allspark. Instead, he cuts off the edge of the building, sending Sam and the Allspark falling right into the waiting arms of Optimus Prime. What?

10.) Why the hell does Bumblebee magically manifest the ability to speak at the end? We never see Ratchet figure out how to fix him. He should have been repaired after he touched the Allspark since it repaired Frenzy, but no, that would require having consistency in the rules of your fantasy universe and this script is clearly not interested in that.

Finally, Bay’s shooting style is just awful in this movie. The extreme close-ups, the quick-cutting and the extra-shakey camera makes some of the action scenes completely incomprehensible. I’ve seen the movie FOUR times and I STILL CAN’T TELL what’s happening in some shots. This is just crushing because the action is so epic that I’m BEGGING for a single, stable wide shot so that I can actually appreciate what is going on. I know that shakey-cam makes the Visual Effects look more realistic and requires a lot more work and finesse, but if you honestly can’t tell what you’re looking at then what is the point?

Oh yeah, there’s a scene where a kid says this is 100 times better than Armageddon. Michael Bay is telling me through a character that he thinks this movie is way cooler that an earlier one he made. That is up to me, the audience, to decide thank you very much.

With all that unpleasantness out of the way, the ending still sets off every geek sensor in my brain. Optimus staring up at the stars, hoping that more of his fellow autobots may still be out there somewhere, is just classic.

At the end of this epic rant, I am still thrilled that my beloved Transformers has become a live-action movie that is true in spirit and highly entertaining. At the same time, I am horrified yet again to see brilliant visual effects provide a director with an excuse to forsake real storytelling.

 

 

Copyright 2008 Flaming Heart Enterprises, L.L.C.