Thursday, May 31, 2007

First Transformers review

From AICN, Let me elaborate. I will not lie to you, is Transformers a great movie, brilliantly written, completely devoid of a feeling of big-screen toy-advertisement?

No, it isn't.

Are all the robots a great design? Well, this will split people I'm sure but Megatron sucks for sure. Have they picked great actors doing it for the art? Ha, Turturro's manicness and Voight's phoning in leave you with a sense of them dancing around their paychecks off screen with glee.

There's also this little robot (kind of the equivalent of Ravage and Laserbeak in the cartoon) that is played for comic effect that is incredibly irritating. But somehow - maybe because I had no expectations and with so maybe sequels these days expectations are hard to silence - I got past all these flaws and just enjoyed it for the sheer entertainment. And damn is it entertaining.

The film wastes no time getting down to business. That much touted helicopter transformation that trashes the army base present in some sense since the first trailer is the first scene of the whole film. In fact it moves back and forth between kick ass action (usually involving army guys and Decepticons) and the "human" story (Shia, Megan) nicely for the first 40 minutes or so.
The film has nods to the cartoon (a VW bug sitting next to Bumblebee in the used-car lot, the corny more than meets the eye line comes up at least twice, the cartoon transforming noise is in there) but is mostly its own thing.

The "human" more comedic side is actually pretty good. Often these days films can't get the balance of these things and they feel forced in and just make you wish they'd get back to big fuck-off robots battling (which is why we're there anyway). I think the reason they get away with it is LaBeouf. I had only seen him in Holes and Bobby prior to this and hadn't understood why there was such a buzz on him but his comic-timing is superb. He is just so effortlessly likeable. It's like Tom Hanks in Big, Will Smith in Independence Day, Michael J Fox in Back to The Future, he's effortless and gives a great performance.And the reason I think this is why these bits work is simple: it's not the script - I know this because there's also another "human" story involving "sleeping throught the movie" Jon Voight and a bunch of tech geeks. And these bits are painful.

There's this one Aussie actress (if she warrants the term actress) who is almost as wooden as Keira Knightley. None of the actors in this section can do anything with the banal dialogue they are given, they simply don't have the talent. Thankfully there's not much of them. Shia just brings the whole thing to life, he is a true joy to watch and i look forward to other films he's in. Megan Fox is of course also in most of his scenes and she's fine. She is not bad at all and she's gorgeous but any reasonable actress her age could have done just as well. Shia is working on another level from those around him.

The print I saw had no score just temp tracks from The Rock, American Beauty and something else I couldn't place. I hope the real score is great because the American Beauty bits (which kicked in everytime Megan and Shia appeared on their own) were really distracting.
But what you want to know is robots, right? We've all seen the designs and for me they work fine. They are a bit busy but they have a sense of the real to them. Realism no. This is a movie about giant fuck-off robots, there's no room for realism but in a way they make sense, it feels right that they are what they are. As for what the Transform into, this is explained away in a Bumblebee scene when we see him as a beat up car scan another car and instantly upgrade to look bad new. The reason he's not a VW? That's not what he scanned. So essentially all these robots could become anything. The only thing they never really explain is why all the Decepticons seem to be able to fly while none of the Autobots can. Maybe, they just don't chose to.

The thing on here the other day about the trailer with Bumblebee's voice - not Bumblebee's voice. Bumblebee doesn't talk - his voice unit was damaged in a war - and he communicates through his radio. Peter Cullen is great as Optimus Prime but, maybe it's just me, but he didn't sound much like he did in the cartoon. I don't know why they bothered getting Hugo Weaving in for Megatron. For a start Megatron's barely in the film - he's in maybe the last 20 minutes - and it could be anyone voicing.

The thing that really had me awed though is the transformations. When one of the robots transforms mid movement is looks incredible. Barricade (a Decepticon police cruiser) is first to do it, chasing Bumblebee and Shia in robot form and transforming into his car form in mid-stride. There are more instances in the non-stop action finale - the best of them being Starscream mif-flight transformation to land in robot form and enter a fray. These are the moments that really took me, that transported me back into my 10-year-old self. I got so excited by it. As I say I probably haven't been genuinely excited by watching a blockbuster since The Matrix. It was a feeling I remember having for Jedi as a kid, Batman and T2 as a teenager.

I'm not saying Transformers is as good as T2 but it was a real surprise. It has plot weaknesses and some shakey performances but it is hugely entertaining both in the frequent battle set pieces, whether human vs robot or robot vs robot, and in the Shia LaBeouf moments. Even some of the comedy (Optimus trying to hide behind a house he's twice the size of) worked for me (although my friend this scene a little over the top). But that's just it, like the first Pirates movie it is the over-the-topness combined with great set pieces and superb special effects that make it so enjoyable and help you see past the flaws. I'm sure those more invested in the 80s show will have issues with things I either didn't notice or don't get (why is flames on Optimus a big deal? - though I get the Optimus mouth thing, that was weird) but then that's like comic-book movies to me, I never read them so I don't care if Venom's a great or sucky character in Spider-Man I just want to be entertained for a couple of hours.

Transformers did that for me. Best of this years crop so far (not that the disappointing Spider-Man 3, dull At World's End or abyssmal Shrek the Third set the bar high mind you!) by a long way.


Octopunk said...

This guy is an okay writer except he drops words out here and there and it’s confusing. Also, he finds Shia LaBeouf charming and possessed of perfect comic timing. Argh.

Once again I anticipate my Shia-hating is just going to make me needlessly unhappy.

JohnnySweatpants said...

I hear you on Shia. When I saw he was wearing a Strokes t-shirt in Transformers I had to resist the urge to throw out my Strokes CDs.

The Strokes... I truly believed that they were gonna reign and it took me years and two underwhelming albums to admit that they really weren't as talented, innovative or smart as I gave them credit for.