Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Film Review: TRANSFORMERS: These Robots Agonize

Transformers is a very bad movie. It's the sort of film where you are bombarded with "fun" until you become exhausted and angry. On top of all that it's destined to be a smash and lead to more soulless hack-job sequels. Many will give Transformers a free pass due to the effects and nostalgia factor... I am not one of them.

The "story" at the empty core of Transformers is so laughably terrible that I was amazed the audience didn't feel downright insulted. It's as if writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman sat around deciding how many ways they could call the audience stupid. It seems that the evil Decepticons have landed on Earth and are attempting to find the magic cube which is the source of their power... or something. They trace it to young Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf - right with Fox), who's great ancestor discovered the frozen body of Decepticon leader Megatron and had a secret code imprinted onto his reading glasses. The Decepticons need this code to find said cube and then rule Earth. Meanwhile, Sam has bought a Camaro (who is secretly the Autobot Bumblebee) and is pining for vapid popular girl Mikaela Barnes (Megan Fox). The two are brought together when Sam is traced through his eBay account (where he is attempting to sell the all important glasses) and becomes caught in the middle of a battle between the Decepticons and the Autobots. The uninteresting subplots detail the Secretary of Defence (Jon Voight - in an embarrassing performance) attempting to figure all this nonsense out with the aid of an unconvincing hacker (Rachael Taylor). Also, two generic army guys (Josh Duhamel & Tyrese Gibson - left) battle robots in the desert and yell variations on "Bring It!" repeatedly. It all wraps up with a staggeringly dull battle in the city where we can't really tell what is going on, and don't much care.

When this movie ended I said to my friend that it seemed like it was written by a 12-year old. I realize now that this is an insult to 12-year olds. This is the type of film that could be written by a young kid with ADD who's been force-fed Red Bulls. Scenes merely happen for no real reason, the story is nonsensical, the characters tissue-paper thin, and the humour as blunt as a fat guy in a clown suit hitting you in the back of the head with a baseball bat. But gee, those robots look nifty, huh?

Now, many people hate on director Michael Bay (Below-left). I am not one of them. I consider The Rock to be one of the best action films of the past decade, and thought The Island was actually pretty cool. I didn't even hate Pearl Harbour! The only stumbling blocks I've had with him were over the migraine inducing Armageddon and the dull Bad Boys II. So, I didn't walk into this one with Bay hatred burning in my heart. But, wow! He has outdone even Armageddon in joyless noise and excess here. The battle scenes are without grace or cleverness. The camera cuts and angles make it near impossible to be able to comprehend what is happening to whom. The final battle between Autobot leader Optimus Prime and Megatron is among the worst special effects battles in recent memory. It makes the city destruction scenes in 1998's Godzilla (A film this commerc... I mean movie reminded me of repeatedly) seem like milestones of brilliant action staging. What's amazing is that the comedy scenes (as painful as they often are) are preferable to the robot combat. With a few exceptions (Bernie Mac and Anthony Anderson manage to score a couple times), the jokes are obvious, unsubtle and frequently cringe-inducing, but at least we can follow them. Although a brain-damaged orangutan probably could too... But despite the very best the writers could come up with, even the humor quickly becomes annoying. There is an endless scene where the Autobots stumble around Sam's yard that is a comedy dead-zone. There's something about Optimus Prime saying "My bad!" that just made me die a little inside. Also, the "masturbation" conversation set-piece is truly awful. Frankly, the quality of the comedy is best exemplified in the scene where one the Autobots "pees" on agent John Turturro. Admittedly, Bay makes all this look glossy, but there are only so many ways to pretty up a manure pile.

The actors may have well just not shown up. Aside from LaBeouf, who is actually quite good and shows enough promise to allow me to hope that this will one day be a mere smudge on a decent resume, the various performers here are up shit creek... er shit Bay without a paddle. Megan Fox (Right) coasts through on looks and a Maxim-style wardrobe, Jon Voight (Below left, with Turturro) manages to make his work in Anaconda look dignified, and John Turturro appears to think he is in a Coen brothers comedy. Josh Duhamel, Rachael Taylor and Tyrese Gibson give extremely convincing performances as department store mannequins. Gibson, a decent actor, has so little to do that I felt embarrassed for him. Duhamel, the most well-rounded of the three, due to the fact we are told he has a wife and child (Who are occasionally cut to during scenes of chaos), would be credited as Soldier #4 in a better movie.

And now the Transformers themselves... Well, the special effects guys at ILM mostly succeed... Even if they have no dramatic weight or presence. Strangely, for the most part, they are shot in murky night shots which make them look dull and lacking in majesty. The first transformation of Bumblebee, a moment that should be awe-inducing, is fumbled by Bay, and is instead a mere afterthought. Only Optimus Prime manages to have a certain grandeur that is impressive when he isn't moving too fast. The main villain, Megatron, is introduced so late that he has little impact. Appropriately, Megatron is voiced by The Matrix's Hugo Weaving, who is at least used to working in an artificial environment devoid of emotion and joy. The rest of the crew are pretty much disposable, with little difference between them. Special notice goes to the Decepticon Frenzy who is like the lovechild of Jar Jar Binks and Short Circuit's Johnny 5 with down-syndrome. He wears on you very quickly and yet gets perhaps the most screen time of any of the robots. What it all comes down to is that if you have seen the trailer you've seen the best the film has to offer. The rest is a slim picking of blur and indistinct detail.

If you had told me in May that Transformers would be the worst flick I'd see this summer I wouldn't have believed you, but here we are. It's a failure on almost every possible story-telling level and makes the stuffed-to-the-gills Pirates 3 look like a model of filmmaking restraint. The audience's positive response left me somewhat saddened by the fact that it is further proof that maybe Hollywood isn't incorrect in underestimating the intelligence of the average movie-goer. A lot of people gave Spider-Man 3 flack for being too strange and all-over-the-map. At least that one tried to do something different and wasn't content to aim for the cheap seats. Transformers is the WWE of summer movies. More than meets the eye indeed.

1.5 out of 5