When I first heard (about a year ago) that Michael Bay was making a live-action transformers movie, I was extremely skeptical. Why make a live-action movie about robots who turn into cars and trucks? It sounded like a monumentally bad idea to me. So I was even more surprised when I found out that the studio was expecting this to be the summer’s big blockbuster.
My confusion was the result of my misconceptions about what the movie would be about. When I think “Transformers” I immediately travel back to the 1980s cartoon that was all about battling autobots. So, I didn’t see the point of making a live-action version of what worked just fine as a cartoon. My missing link was that I didn’t realize there would also be humans in Michael Bay’s version. (Apparently there were also humans in the ’80s cartoon, but I don’t remember them). Ahh… now the summer blockbuster idea was making more sense. Impressive special effects + an all-star cast = Money in the Bank.
But wait a minute. When I first read through the cast list, I was again confused. Shia LaBeouf as the lead? Seriously? Megan Fox and Rachael Taylor? Who are they? Again my doubt about this movie’s ability to be a blockbuster surfaced. I have seen Shia LaBeouf in Holes, and more recently in Disturbia, and I have had trouble seeing him as “the next big thing” that Hollywood is touting him as. However, this movie brought me a little closer to believing in his potential.
So, after all my my doubts and confusion, I finally set aside my skepticism and went to see Transformers last weekend. And guess what? I liked it. A lot! Here’s why (spoiler free):
- As expected, the special effects were quite impressive. I almost forgot that I was watching something computer-generated, the Transformers were so realistic.
- The Transformers weren’t the only special effects to appreciate. There was also a high-octane car chase, plus much more.
- Most action movies are highly lacking in the plot department. This movie actually made sense, though. The Transformers were given a clear back story, and the various characters were brought together in clever and creative ways, particularly the way that Shia LaBeouf’s character (Sam Witwicky) connects with the Transformers.
- Sam Witwicky was a likable underdog-type character. LaBeouf did a nice job of portraying him, from his teen angst over the supposedly unattainable girl, to his disbelief at being thrown in the middle of a worldwide crisis situation.
- Ron and Judy Witwicky are played perfectly by Kevin Dunn and Julie White, who hit all the right chords as Sam’s well-meaning but mostly clueless parents.
- Maggie Madsen, a government analyst fresh out of school, was a likable, if not believable character, played by the beautiful and very young Rachael Taylor. What would a summer blockbuster be without gorgeous people to look at?
- Speaking of eye candy, that was the main purpose of the group of soldiers who popped up from time to time during the movie, led by Josh Duhamel. They weren’t given much dialogue, but they did (obviously) play an important role in the various battles against the Transformers.
- Bernie Mac has a memorable cameo as a used car salesman, and John Turturro is a scene stealer with his over-the-top portrayal of a crazed, over-zealous government agent.
- I was also pleased to see Tom Lenk (Andrew on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel) playing the role, albeit small, of one of Maggie Madsen’s fellow analysts.
- And, yes, even the Transformers have personalities. They are portrayed as gentle giants of sorts, willing to do what is necessary to protect those on the side of good, but also feeling bad about little things like accidentally trampling someone’s flower beds with their huge “feet.”
- Overall, the movie was well-cast, resulting in mostly memorable characters.
- Music played an unexpected role in the movie. Of course, there was the thematic musical score, and the occasional song playing on a radio, but I’m referring to the songs some of the Transformers used to communicate.
- Specifically, aptly-named Bumblebee (since he is yellow and black), communicates with humans by picking up radio waves with various music sound bytes. In an early scene, Bumblebee tries to help Sam “woo” (to use an old-fashioned term) Mikaela by playing various love songs, including The Cars’ “Who’s Gonna Drive You Home Tonight.” It sounds cheesy, and it probably is, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t fun. Plus, it probably allows for an expanded soundtrack to be released.
This isn’t a perfect movie. Here are some of the complaints I had after watching it.
- 143 minutes is an unnecessarily long running time for this type of movie. There are two specific scenes they could have edited considerably to cut out at least 10 of those minutes. One involves Sam and his parents having a typical teenage/parent conversation, filled with miscommunication, awkwardness, and some humor. The other is a crucial battle sequence in the movie, but it simply runs too long. Sometimes less is more when it comes to intense action and special efftects extravaganzas.
- Josh Duhamel was billed as one of the stars, but he isn’t given much to work with. His character “development” is almost non-existent, and I don’t even know why they bothered to include any information about his family, since there ended up being so little resolution about it. He does have a couple of memorable scenes, though. In one he becomes extremely frustrated at having to deal with a “by the books” Indian telephone switchboard operator while trying to make an important call. In the other, he goes all Rambo in a scene that involves a motorcycle, lots of sliding along pavement, and lots of shooting.
- Action movies usually go hand in hand with cheesy dialogue. However, I only remember one line that made me cringe. One character says to another, during a particularly chaotic moment, “Hey. I’m really glad I got in the car.” You’ll have to watch it to understand the context, but just know that it wasn’t necessary.
Bottom Line: I give it a B+
All of these elements come together, resulting in a fun, action-packed, entertaining time at the movies. I definitely recommend seeing this one at the theater. Like Peter Jackson’s King Kong, the small screen simply won’t do the magnificent special effects justice. I promise that it will be a fun time, so go ahead and see it! Meanwhile, I’m going to keep my eye on Shia LaBeouf, to see if he will become a more versatile actor, a la Tom Hanks, playing a variety of regular joes, or if he will get stuck in the goofy, misunderstood teenager roles.