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Movie Critic: Transformers review

Chi Kong Lui's picture

Optimus Prime in Transformers: The Movie

In this season of summer movies, few movies will gleefully target and pander to it's audiences with politician-like precision as obviously as Transformers: The Movie. We're talking broad strokes with bright crayons. Much like its male protagonist Sam Witwicky, this is a movie that wants to be liked by everyone and tries hard to win over ALL its audiences.

GMC executives should be thrilled because Transformers is a two and half hour long commercial and their cars never looked so shiny and cool. Like Justin Timberlake, Transformers brings the sexy back to American cars.

The military will be ecstatic because the movie is an effective military recruitment device. Soldiers, primarily represented by Josh Duhamel, are portrayed as kick-ass heroic family men. There are long sweeping panoramic shots of fighter jets, helicopters, tanks and aircraft carriers set to an overly dramatic Jerry Bruckheimer-esque musical score. If its ginormous and flies, floats or rolls, it's in this movie.

Fans of Transformers toys, comics and cartoons will be cheering up and down the aisles because there are numerous in-jokes and references to the Transformers canon. Transformations have that wonderful ee-ee-woo-woo sound and halleluiah, Optimus Prime sounds like Optimus Prime. Mainstream vindication for love of all things Transformers... priceless.

For men 18 to 40 years-old, along with the endless parade of grown-up boys toys, Megan Fox lives up to her namesake. She's drop dead gorgeous with a body (which seems to glisten with sweat for the duration of the movie) that elicits as much heart-thumping applause as when a car turns into a giant robot. And in case she's not your type, Australian beauty Rachel Taylor is thrown in for good measure. Fox and Taylor are not only attractive, but they also portray strong and competent female characters that aren't just sitting on the sidelines waiting to be saved making this movie agreeable to the Oxygen network crowd as well.

Moms and dads will be satisfied that while the action is intense, there's no blood or gratuitous violence to fret over and there's some comedy and slapstick (surprisingly some bits that involve the Transformers) in case you get bored between all the rockem' sockem' action.

For liberals, President Bush gets tweaked a little and there's some vague message about the dangers of government secrecy and the right to freedom.

For conservatives, there's also a vague message about sacrifice and fighting for what's right.

For black folks, there's Tyrese Gibson and Anthony Anderson reprising the hot-head and smart brother roles that they've portrayed in dozens of other movies.

The only thing that wasn't represented in Transformers was a kung-fu-fighting Asian hung-up on wires, but that's what sequels are for.

Yet for between all the campaigning, recruiting and shilling, there's a story to be told and akin to other summer movie blockbusters, it's got all the usual sci-fi implausibility and plot-holes, but it's serviceable in maintaining a brisk pace so you don't have time to think about them (a trademark of any good action sci-fi movie). The movie also does well to add brief, but human elements to the fold so this isn't one big robo-fest and is remarkable in how it is able to navigate not only a large ensemble cast of human actors, but also a large group of Autobots and Decepticons. The story nearly implodes due to the character overload, but it manages to make just enough sense for audiences to marvel at the one thing that matters the most: the Transformers.

With all the bonus making-of features and director's commentaries available on DVDs, there's very little movie magic left in Hollywood these days, so it is a major accomplishment when Transformers is able to make its audience's jaw drop and elevate the level of special-effects in movies. Trying to fully explain what makes a Transformer transforming so awe-inspiring would require a thesis, but in a sentence, it's just wondrously sublime and fun to watch. The action sequences in this movie are all-caps CRAZY and really defy conventional descriptions. With each Transformer looking so complex and mechanical, you would think the sheer act of making these enormous robotic behemoths move would be technically impossible, but what's amazing is how the filmmakers are able to make the Transformers duck, dive and dodge effortlessly in spite of the huge scale.

The Transformers themselves are really the saving grace of the movie. Without them, this would be a formulaic movie that is so commercially crass that it boldly tries to be all things to all people. So in essence Transformers is really like Bill Clinton in that his agenda isn't all that different from any other politician, but he's charming and you just like him more than the other guys. Transformers without the Transformers would be just-another-summer-movie.

As a Transformers fan myself, I could knit pick at several things, but overall it's hard not to be impressed by the movie that Michael Bay was able to put together. The movie panders a bit too much, but it does so genuinely so in this one rare instant, I actually enjoyed it. Optimus Prime for President!

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I knew Michael Bay's

I knew Michael Bay's Transformers will be flawed. I knew that the plot will be nonsensical and incomprehensible. But I didn’t care and went to see it anyway, hoping that it will channel my inner child and get me high (as though experiencing funk music).

It doesn’t. But unlike most of this film’s detractors, I bought into the Autobots vs. Decepticon concept. I admit that this is shallow, but I love watching epic battles of good vs. bad robots.

Indeed, the movie’s best moments are when the Transformers are present, but those moments are too short. The movie has a 144 minutes runtime, half of which is used to develop these human characters:

Sam Witwicky (Shia Labeouf) is “Spike” to this movie's Bumblebee, a “used” car he buys before courting Mikaela (Megan Fox) and before all the havoc. Despite the shallow personality, he's the only one with a presence, if only because a hornier Peter Parker is fun.

Sergeant Lennox (Josh Duhamel) is a family-loving and patriotic American soldier. Defense Secretary John Keller (Jon Voight) babbles about protecting the country while the president sleeps and while accusing North Korea and Russia for Decepticon’s ambush. Maggie (Rachael Taylor), a foxy blonde computer engineer, fumbles in all her scenes. Mikaela could be interesting if she has more chemistry to Sam than to her breast.

Under a better director, these casts could come together (no matter how ludicrously) and interact in an eccentric, Little Miss Sunshine way. Thanks to Bay, they do nothing besides coming together against ultimate forces of evil. Why am I supposed to root for characters that can be summarized as either "funny" or "dead-serious"? Also, notice that all the main casts are flawless and heroic whites. And Decepticons are redesigned and painted dark. What is a Bay film if whites can’t be macho in the final battle? Heck, even the elderly John Keller pumps shotguns to a Decepticon as though he's fighting zombies from Dawn of the Dead! Right.

Transformers has always been inspired by Hasbro's transformable robot toys, and now we have a movie about humans who are more tepid than Bon Jovi's songs. Nobody shows any emotional or psychological depth. Oh, and the blacks only dispenses gags and punchlines. I wonder if Bay will ever give them other roles.

It's also worth noting that in all series (even now), Hasbro has never made a human Transformer toy (save the Star Wars Transformers, but that's different). I wonder why.

Now about the robots, they are the movie's saving grace. I nearly cried when Optimus Prime appeared and coaxed me with his “father-figure of the 80's” voice (courtesy of Peter Cullen). I'm happy that he, among with the Autobots, remains faithful to his cartoon character. Why do I have to wait until the movie is halfway done before I can see the Autobots?

Megatron is also great, although he arrives too late to be threatening. Hugo Weaving (why is he always on geek movies?) sounds exactly like in the cartoon (who wasn't Hugo), and hearing him brings back memories of the classic Prime vs. Megatron battles. Sadly, I can't praise the other Decepticons as they appear briefly and do not develop. The worst offender is Starscream. He has none of the intelligence and cunning that he possessed in the cartoon. In fact, Frenzy, a mini-con who can transform into CD players or cellphones, is more Starscream than this movie's Starscream!

Anyway, it all comes down to Autobots vs. Decepticons. That's the buildup and it pays off, but only barely. Even if the fight scenes are a visual feat, they are very amateurish when compared to 300. The camera shakes too much, there's too much explosion but (oddly?) too few civilian casualties, and the action occurs too fast I can’t tell who is getting blown. Though the audiences’s minds are getting blown, I wonder if anyone would have cared have it not been for all the CG and for being Transformers. But maybe that's the whole point: it is fun because it's Transformers.

Here's what's not fun: I watch Transformers thinking of transformable sentient robots, not some black guy who shouts after he gobbles a dozen of donuts. I don't watch Transformers for lame dialogues such as Optimus Prime saying “my bad”, or girls asking if Autobots are “tooth fairies”, or moms uttering the “M word”. I don't need the product placements too. Oh, and what’s a family movie without the innuendos and fart jokes? Throw in a few Adam Sandler scenes of Bumblebee “lubricating” and we have a homerun to haha-land. Classy.

Upon expressing my views to my friends, I was told that I didn’t like the movie because I didn’t get it and wasn’t a Transformer fan. That's damn wrong! I AM a fan; I grew up watching Transformers, loved the animated movie, and bought some toys with my hard earned cash. THE TRANSFORMERS is what we all grew to love, and that’s why I’m bitter with this movie. The robots beg more screen time and raise questions worth exploring, but Bay is more interested with jingoism. Thus we have a disaster, King Kong flick about humans fearing robots until they have reached an understanding. Ironic that the animated movie defied formula yet this one couldn't be more formulaic.

This is Bay's best movie, but that's simply not enough for Transformers fans (like me) who crave for more Transformers content. I’ve always thought that Bryan Singer can do the movie better justice. Just imagine if X-men didn’t focus on the mutants but on the military and government fronts.

nay sayers

There always seems to be nay sayers who look at movies to find every fault in them but in essence when asked what they would have done different they have the slightest clue. Transformers is a beautiful work of CGI art and Michael Bay is proving that he is a very good and capable action director. While reading the comment
that 300 was a much better display of CGI is not at all true. 300 was a screaming 2 hour plus movie of fighting and CGI overkill that had a very stupid story that did not do Frank Miller's Graphic Novel any justice. I guess we tend to forget that the movies today are meant to franchises so we know that their will be another transformers movie in which Starscream will have ample time to be the cunning character that we are accustomed to see. I will admit that Transformers has a lot of background characters going on and you can kinda get a slight confused but the pace of the movie does not allow you to pay to much attention to it and this is what makes it a great enjoyable movie because it moves so fluidly and with so much action and fun
parts that you are just happy to be entertained and that is what movies are entertainment not documentaries so if you want to be a transformer techy go on google and search for the info on all the characters and find a place of residence on cybertron.

Unlike most who criticize

Unlike most who criticize this film, I actually have a suggestion about how the movie could improve. (I don't like criticizing without offering suggestions for improvement)

For example, they could've spent more time with the history of the Transformers robots, which themselves raises a lot of question (some of which are from the movie): Why does Autobots love humans even if Decepticons don't? What good did Prime see in humans? What makes him feel that way? How are Transformers created? How did Megatron come into power? Just who is Optimus Prime and what position does he hold in Cybertron? What makes a Transformers autobot or decepticon? Etc.

I think they are worth exploring and good story could come out of them.

I'm so glad you were not on

I'm so glad you were not on some kind of advisement committee. It sounds like you want to turn Transformers into a chick flick.

Transformers are real


I loved the movie, I had the show on every weekend. This was having old friends over for dinner, and they only improved with age.
My hat, is off to Michael and Steven. The voice work, was also a true surprise, to have the same guys.


Transformers Sucked

With all the money toward C.G. and advertising, you’d think they could have hired a better writer. It took two movie tickets (18$ U.S.) for me to realize that they completely butchered my most favorite character, Soundwave the boombox, I just didn’t realize it was supposed to be him. In the cartoon series he had the coolest voice, and these cool transforming tapes which turned into an eagle and a horse or a dog or something. But in this movie, he is sadly portrayed as some sort of ant-faced shiny metal skeleton. His voice sounded suspiciously like an arabic golum. And instead of a transforming tape you could cut his arm off and it’ll turn into your cell phone. Stupid huh?
The Biggest drawback that I saw, or rather couldn’t see, was the way the Transformers transformed. They transformed way too fast and there were so many movements that you couldn’t understand that part was turning into what. Couldn’t they have just built some transformers in C.G.? I mean, they managed to build transformers out of plastic in the 80’s.
The other big drawback was the “plot”. The whole time they were looking for some cube that had this energy that turned machines into Decepticons. Even the Transformers themselves were not bound to the laws of their own transforming bodies, they could simply scan a machine and turn into that machine. You heard me, and what you’re thinking is right, it’s lame.
But other than that I’d say its a feel good movie with good acting, pretty people, and big robots that magically shrink down into cars and stuff. Though most of my friends found it cheezy, I didn’t mind the dialogue.
In conclusion, we can’t redo transformers the movie, but that’s Ok. Hopefully now someone’ll come out with Gobots the movie.
That.. would be justice.

Adam Sultan

As far as I know, the Decepticon you have in mind isn't Soundwave, but Frenzy (who, in the cartoon, is one of Soundwave's cassettes). Soundwave didn't appear in the movie.

I really liked it,

I really liked it, then again i havent been to the cinema for awhile, so maybe that had something to do with it.

Anyway, i was really impressed with all the special effects and details on the robots. The animation wasnt too shabby either. Very nicely done, i was impressed.

Im not much familiar at all with the whole transformers thing, but from what im reading thats actually a plus.

Human acting can be somewhat cheesy, but also fairly funny. Its overdone, maybe immature, but it doesnt spoil the film.

Not a bad night spend

Interesting quote

Here's an interesting quote from one of the editors of the movie:

“I watched the first episode of the [1984] TV series just to get a flavor”, says Rubell. “I didn't want to be influenced beyond that. None of the editors are fan-boys, so we were often taken to the Bay woodshed for cutting out some important reference to the original series. But, we were able to bring a more mainstream perspective to the story.” Muldoon says, “The movie is so much bigger that nothing from before in the TV show applies. The movie is huge.” Scantlebury says, “I didn’t look at anything from prior Transformers because nothing can help you cut a Michael Bay movie.”


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