Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (April 23, 2014)
Odd but true: in a summer jam-packed with sequels, a flick about decades-old toys seemed original. Such was the marketplace that greeted Transformers. When it hit the screens in early July 2007, viewers were burned out by the multitude of sequels, and I think that helped Transformers to its $315 million gross. Some very cool trailers contributed as well and made the flick look like a must-see effort.
At least until you actually saw it. I was excited to see Transformers on the big screen and forced my 72-year-old dad to go as well. I was in Arizona to visit when it debuted and wanted to be there opening night. The Old Man was less than enthused but put up with it to be a good host.
If there’s one thing I hate, it’s to admit to my dad that he was right about something. Unfortunately, I couldn’t avoid such an admission as we left the theater. Actually, I think I just said “You were right. Let’s never speak of this again” and left it at that.
Because Transformers offers an insanely muddled plot, I’ll try to make this as simple as possible. A powerful cube called the AllSpark ends up on Earth. Megatron, the leader of a group of evil robot aliens called Decepticons, comes to find it but gets trapped in the ice for millennia. Eventually his buddies come to free him and also release the cube’s powers, but some good robot aliens named Autobots travel to our planet to stop them.
In the meantime, we meet high school kid Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf). His great-great-grandfather (W. Morgan Sheppard) discovered the frozen Megatron years ago, and an imprint of the code needed to find the cube ended up on his glasses – the same antique spectacles Sam tries to sell online to raise money to buy a car. The various robots pursue the glasses to get the cube. Mayhem ensues.
Although I was just a little too old to get into the Transformers toys/cartoons, I looked forward to the film. The trailers made it look like a blast. They threw off a serious Independence Day vibe - that kind of crazy, over the top rollercoaster ride that makes summer movies so much fun.
For all its flaws as a film – and it suffers from many – I think Independence Day at least delivers the goods. Slam it all you want, but can anyone really say that the movie’s slam-bang action like the first alien attack didn’t wow them in 1996? I doubt it - Independence Day really rocked at times.
I’d love to say the same about Transformers, but I prefer not to lie. Quite possibly the biggest disappointment of the summer 2007 movie roster, the film not only didn’t live up to pre-release hype, but also it barely kept my attention for its 140 or so minutes.
In an attempt to be positive, I’ll list what I like about Transformers:
1) Shia LaBeouf. 2007 became his breakout year. First Disturbia became a nice little sleeper hit and then he got the lead in this flick. LaBeouf has real talent, and he brings great aplomb to his scenes – especially the comedic ones. He turns some otherwise insipid bits into amusing moments. I even sort of buy him in the movie’s action hero moments.
2) The aptly named Megan Fox. She plays Sam’s erstwhile love interest, and she’s a stunningly beautiful girl. Can she act? Yeah, I guess, but I was too busy swooning over her to notice.
3) The visual effects. Since so many of its characters – ie, all the robots – are computer generated, these elements become especially important. Transformers pulls them off well. For years, I’ve muttered the refrain that I don’t like CG, but as the technology improves, I find myself less able to criticize those visuals and maintain credibility. Transformers features excellent CG visuals at all times.
Thus ends the laudatory portion of this review, as I really can’t think of anything else positive to say about Transformers. As an action flick, it’s a dud. Except for the sight of Fox, at no point did it excite, thrill or otherwise stimulate me. Oh, I often thought I should feel that adrenaline rush, but it never happened. The battles come off with an almost monotonous predictability, and they never inspire awe, wonder or any other reaction I could detect.
How could this be when the whole thing looked so damned cool in the trailers? I don’t know how it could be, but it did be. And this is from someone who’s given praise to director Michael Bay in the past. I’ve always thought he was manipulative but effective in his work. I can’t say that about the shockingly dull Transformers, though. We got all the usual Bay trademarks – spinning, sweeping camera moves, rapid cuts – but none of the real style or sizzle that made flicks like Armageddon and The Rock entertaining.
Perhaps the biggest flaw in Transformers comes from that editing. I don’t care that Bay can’t avoid those ridiculously quick cuts; since everyone else edits that way, I barely notice anymore. However, the narrative suffers badly in this messy, virtually incoherent piece. If Bay tries to tell one storyline, he can do it. Heck, I’ll give him one and a half storylines.
Unfortunately, Bay tries to integrate at least four storylines here – and maybe more, as it sometimes becomes tough to tell where one ends and another begins. Bay doesn’t have the skill to do this, and Transformers becomes a narrative mess of mind-boggling proportions. This flick will vie with Pirates 3 as the most confusing tale of summer 2007. Actually, Pirates 3 wins; it had two prior movies to set up characters and story but still didn’t make a lick of sense.
However, at least Pirates 3 attempted some fairly complex story points along the way. Transformers seeks no such detail. My synopsis above obviously neglects to discuss some of the movie’s plot points; the end result is much more scattered than I make it sound. I didn’t mention those areas because they don’t matter. We get American soldiers in Qatar, some hackers in the Pentagon, a secret government agency, and a Chihuahua in a cast. They probably threw Amelia Earhart and Blackbeard’s ghost in there somewhere as well; the flick features so many points they your brain shuts down after a while,
And almost all of these plot areas matter not in the least. They certainly fail to come together in a remotely satisfying manner. I must admit that during the last third of the film, I found myself in a constant state of befuddlement. I almost yelled at the screen, “What the hell is this movie about???” Transformers throws so much extraneous noise at us that it becomes absurdly confused.
Look, I don’t go to a movie about battling alien robots and expect perfect logic and a concise plot. At some point you have to let go of those thoughts and ride with the action. I did that with Independence Day, Armageddon and any number of other brainless action flicks.
But at least those delivered the fun. You might hate yourself for liking such fluff, but you couldn’t deny that you got thrills from them. Unfortunately, no such pleasure derives from Transformers. Dull, muddled and generally inept, this is a thoroughly disappointing movie.