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Transformers (2007): ***

Directed by Michael Bay

There were many things I really enjoyed in this movie. There were also just about as many things that were completely cringe-worthy. Ultimately, though, I enjoyed the enjoyable bits more than I hated the cringe-worthy bits, and so I overall give this movie a positive review. With lots of reservations.

First off, I have to say that I really liked the focus of this movie. Spielberg got it right when he said that ultimately this movie should be about a boy and his car. And so it is. The central core relationship in the movie is between Spike (called "Sam" in the film) and Bumblebee. Sam is a boy on the verge of manhood—he's about to get his first car. That car, of course, turns out to be Bumblebee. The relationship that grows between them throughout the course of the film is the central emotional core of almost everything; if it didn't work, the film wouldn't work. Thankfully it does work, and works very well, mostly because Shia LeBouf plays Sam in such an enjoyable, self-effacing, charismatic way that Sam was instantly likable, instantly identifiable, and instantly believable. LeBouf grounds the movie. And he's frikkin' hilarious.

Optimus Prime, when he's eventually introduced into the film, is also one of the highlights, especially with the relationship he develops with Sam. Towards the end of the film when Optimus calls Sam "Son," it's surprisingly gratifying. Also being voiced by Peter Cullen, the original cartoon voice actor, helped immensely.

I really liked the way you got to see the effect of the Transformers on the world. One of my biggest complaints with the Matrix sequels was that we stopped seeing the world of the Matrix through the eyes of the average Joe. But by focusing on the human element the film actually has an epic feel to it. All the military and governmental stuff also feels rather accurate (could be because they actually filmed inside the actual real-life Pentagon) and helps ground this outlandish, fantastic story with a sense of realism, a sense that it actually takes place in the real world (as opposed to the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, which as it goes on gradually distances itself further and further from the real world).

I liked the "mythology" they invented for the movie. I found the idea of "The Cube" interesting—like a combination of the Matrix of Leadership from the animated movie and the Allspark from the Beast Wars cartoons (it is, in fact, referred to as the "Allspark" in this movie). I enjoyed the backstory with Megatron and Sam's grandfather and an important pair of antique glasses. Good stuff.

And, so help me, I really enjoyed John Turturro's character. I just thought he was fall-down funny. I really liked Sam's parents as well. And I thought that Megan Fox did a very commendable job of putting some actual, three-dimensional personality into the thankless, sexpot character of Mikaela (Carly in the cartoon). Her relationship with Sam and Bumblebee plays out very well, and in the end you actually come to sympathize with and root for her. Plus she looked at times remarkably like a young Jennifer Connelly, which is never a bad thing.

There were several mark-out moments as well, such as an important story section taking place at Hoover Dam (where Prime & Megatron fought each other in the pilot miniseries of the cartoon). That was cool to see. There are also some great old-school lines of dialogue, such as when Megs says, "You disappoint me yet again, Starscream." And when during the final climax Ops says to Megs, "One shall stand and one shall fall," I and my movie-going cohort said it out loud with him. Also both Megs and Ops transform their hands into energy weapons that were similar to the ones used during that fateful fight on top of Hoover Dam in the cartoon.

So all good stuff, yeah? Yeah. Well...

Any scene with the portable CD boom-box (credited as being "Frenzy") was difficult to watch without retching. And there were a LOT of them. Ungodly, unfunny humor came pouring out of that character in an unceasing stream of cinematic bile. Just awful. And why does the Cybertronian language sound like a cross between Jawa and Ewok? That really bugged me.

That blond Australian hacker lady was just bad. What purpose did she serve in the movie? All she did was introduce Anthony Anderson's hacker character (who I thought was actually very funny, but I've always been a fan of Anderson). Every line of dialogue that woman utters just fails absolutely. She is not in the least bit believable at any point during the film. Speaking of bad dialogue, the opening scene of the soldiers on their transport was goddawful. Cliché upon cliché upon cliché. And those characters don't really improve all that much as the movie goes on. They're very cardboard and wooden. And there was a very strange, sudden, and unexplained shifting of alliances at the beginning of the third act, where they just all of a sudden all simultaneously decide (without even discussing it) that they're going to throw their lot in with Sam and Bumblebee and all point their guns at their superiors. Very poorly done scene.

Also, I recommend that you cover your ears and close your eyes for the first minute or so of the film. Like Dark City, an unnecessary opening monologue was added to this film that gives away a ton of plot material that is organically all brought up again later in the film. Like Dark City, this film is much better without it.

The biggest failure of the movie, though, was the Transformers themselves. There's the fact that, apart from Bumblebee and Optimus Prime, none of the other transformers really have differentiable personalities. What, honestly can you say are the differences between Ratchet, Ironhide, and Jazz, OTHER than Ironhide is British and Jazz is a deep-voiced black man (Darius McCrary)? They're all, even Ratchet, just vaguely "aggressive." And Jazz can breakdance and says "bitches." This has a lot to do with the fact that they're not even introduced into the film until the half-way mark, and then most of the focus is on Prime. But, still, it isn't that hard to write different, distinct personality types. The Decepticons suffer even worse from this lack of differentness, but this is mostly because they have even less screen time than their Autobot cousins. Some of them only have one or two lines of dialogue in the entire film.

The film is generally well directed until the action scenes start, and then we're thrust head-first into Michael Bay's patented "confuse-o-vision" technique of directing action sequences. The action was very poorly plotted out, for the most part don't flow well, and usually had very little actual purpose in the movie. They might as well have just cut to a black screen with the word "ACTION" written on it for five or six minutes, and then cut back to the movie; it would have been just about as effective as having to actually watch the mostly-pointless action scenes. And the character design of the robots did not help matters at all. Most of the action sequences consisted of two confusingly-designed robots running at each other, then there's a big, shaky, incomprehensible tangle of automobile parts and what looked like metal spaghetti, and then somehow one of the robots would come out the victor. Anyone who wants to direct action scenes should just sit down and watch The Incredibles over and over again. That movie had very intricate action scenes, and there were no parts where it was at all confusing as to what was going on, where characters were, or what they were doing (even when they were moving at 90 miles an hour). Inexcusable.

Also, an Autobot pees on a man. He pees on a man!

I find it very strange that I saw a movie called Transformers, the worst thing about the movie was the Transformers themselves, and yet I'm still giving it a positive review. It's only because the human element in the film, especially Shia LeBouf, are so very, very good. Seriously, Shia is phenomenal.

Best single line of dialogue in the movie: when Barricade has Sam pinned against another car and screams at him, "Where is the eBay item!?"

A couple of interesting implications in the movie: Transformers can change what they transform into at will (both Bumblebee and Frenzy change their "vehicle" mode). Also, being evil seems to be the natural state of the Transformers—when the Allspark brings to life a cell phone, a car, and a vending machine, they all instantly start acting completely evil. If this is the case, then the Autobots would seem to be the real renegades of the Transformer race...

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