Friday, July 6, 2007

Transformers: In Defense of the Dumb Blockbuster


Was it a good movie in disguise? Was it more than meets the eye? Can I think of a more unoriginal way to tie Transformers catch-phrases into a review of the new Michael Bay film?

I caught Transformers last night and enjoyed the hell out of it. That's right. While I admit that the characters were largely shoddily drawn caricatures and the plot was thinner than the walls of my college apartment, I had so much fun with this film that none of that really mattered.

You see, I judge movies based on what they set out to accomplish and whether they reach that goal by the end of the film. In this case, Transformers delivers. It's giant alien robots that turn into Earth vehicles, based on a Hasbro toyline and cartoon from the 80s. Sure, there's a plot revolving around the good robots (Autobots) hunting down a cube called the Allspark (which basically brings life to anything with a circuit) before the bad guys (Decepticons) get their metallic claws on it and enslave humanity, but that's really just an excuse to cause digital property damage in a Cybertronian smackdown, while we sit with stupid grins on our faces while munching on popcorn.

While the stars of this film are its title characters: the mute yellow Camaro named Bumblebee, the heroic Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen from the 80s toon), and the assortment of Decepticon baddies, the human cast works pretty well. Shia LaBeouf plays nerdy Sam Witwicky who wants to get it on with high school hottie Mikaela (the so-hot-she-must-be-genetically-engineered Megan Fox). Of course, he also gets a beat up Camaro that just happens to be a 30-foot alien robot intent on getting him laid when not fighting for the fate of the universe. The scenes with Mikaela, Sam and Bumblebee ground this movie in Spielbergian fashion (he executive produced the flick) and give us someone to root for in-between the military "urgency" early on, which mostly consists of Jon Voight making pissy faces while an unrealistically hot Australian hacker chick (again, must have been created in a lab) explains to him that we're being attacked by giant space robots.

You can't talk about this movie without praising the effects. At no time are you aware that you're watching computer generated imagery when the 'bot are onscreen. It reminded me of the first time I saw Jurassic Park in theaters, how the dinosaurs seamlessly blended in with their surroundings. Throughout Transformers, I just had this overwhelming sense of "they can do that now?" Things get even crazier when the Autobots and Decepticons are at each others throats (do they have throats?) in dizzying displays of robot-on-robot brutality. While these scenes are always exciting and really draw you in to the action, Bay still has difficulty keeping the camera in one place for too long, particularly in the climactic end battle, which makes it difficult at times to figure out what's going on.

There are plenty of folks out there on the Interwebs blasting this movie for being a big, stupid commercial, and I am forced time and time again to explain that this is a TRANSFORMERS MOVIE. It's cheese. Everything has a product logo stamped on it, whether it be Hasbro, GM, Mountain Dew, XBox 360....hell, eBay is a central plot point. It's an example of movie-as-business, more a product than anything one would consider a "film." But as a product, it's ridiculously entertaining. You'll groan with the rest of the audience at the cheesy one-liners, laugh at a few of the jokes (Sam's parents are hilarious), and cheer during the action scenes (which there are a lot of). If fun movies that set out to be fun movies aren't your cup of tea, then I honestly feel sorry for you and your inability to find joy in unadulterated entertainment. Pure spectacle is the one saving grace of the theatergoing experience, even moreso when it's done right.

Now, spectacle can be a terrible thing (Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, I'm looking in your direction), but Transformers pulls it off quite nicely. Flawed? You bet your ass it is. You could drive Optimus Prime through some of the plotholes. But the day that I overanalyze a movie about giant transforming robots is the day I set up shop in my parents' basement for good. Get over yourselves. It's huge action, hot chicks, camp humor and a great night at the movies.

Transformers
is the type of summer movie we haven't seen in a good long while. If you grew up with the Autobots and Decepticons or never grew up at all, it's escapist fun for kids of all ages.

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