Transformers (2007)

Transformers came out on DVD a few weeks ago, and I was reminded that this past summer, this movie fell through the cracks, and the review was never posted. Here’s the movie review, a little brief, but better late than never. Given all the marketing and ego-power that went into this project (Michael Bay, Steven Spielberg) this could easily have been a really big disappointed. Instead, Transformers turned out to be a better movie than our depressed expectations, and a good blockbuster to fill a summer weekend. Of course, now that we’re nearing the holiday season, and the film is out of theaters, perhaps it will make a good gift.

Okay, enough pimping – I ain’t getting paid for this promotion. Just catching up on never-submitted-reviews. Let’s put the awesome graphics aside, and talk star power. Shia LeBeouf. This is the guy worth watching. Nope, I’m not discovering America for anyone – many critics have singled him out in previous projects (Disturbia, Holes, Greatest Game Ever Played). But I think in today’s world of ‘from zero to hero to tabloid fodder’, this kid stands out. Sure, his name is beginning to appear in gossip rags rather than rave reviews, but just look at his resume for the past 3 years. Besides the 3 phenomenal roles mentioned above, Shia had 3 lines in I, Robot – and held his own in the same scene as the always-charismatic Will Smith. Shia also showed up in Bobby, Constantine, and don’t forget him hosting Saturday Night Live earlier this year. He’s full of energy, his timing is pitch perfect, and his body language is amazing – watch Disturbia again, in the very beginning, the confrontation with the teacher and subsequent court scene. This is a guy who can have the kindest eyes, but will pounce you next second if you cross him. Suffice to say, Shia carries the movie (I’m talking both Disturbia and Transformers).

He’s not the biggest element of it – the stars are still robots and their shiny, gleaming surfaces, their whirring noises and familiar voice-overs. Those are the heart of the film. However, Transformers is a pretty old franchise, and I imagine it was relatively easy to collect the coolest voices and the best-looking textures to build these models in a super-computer somewhere. Plus, despite their exterior polish, you gotta remember that all of it is CGI, a product of a team of geeks, armed with the best technology. Sure, it will look good, but will it act good? The verdict is in – when it comes to one-liners, battles, chase scenes and trademark phrases – Transformers steal the show. I caught myself yelping with pleasure when I heard a familiar voice, or recognized a color pattern from the comic books, toys, countless merchandise and cartoons. That is some phenomenal eye-candy.

However, when it comes to the heart of the movie – here I go praising Shia again. Maybe it’s the fact that almost everyone else (human) in this film is so one-dimensional, maybe it’s the fact that even the familiar faces (Jon Voight, John Torturro, Zack Ward) are still sleep-walking through their lines – something about Shia stood out. Even in a mindless blockbuster, he managed to emote, and make us care for the character. Extra points for that.

Finally, more extra points go to the 15 screenwriters who put this together, and producers (most likely Spielberg) who kept the film’s pace under control. Usually, Michale Bay’s films are insane, chaotic chase scenes with explosions, a few face close-ups, simulated, unsexy sex scenes and more explosions. And hardly any plot to connect them. His latest film, The Island, actually had good plot and pacing, but it bombed in theaters, which made me worry that American audiences have completely gone insane and just want to pay to see things explode on screen. Thankfully, Transformers has a plot (of some sort), has plenty of characterization – hey we even care for some of the small-part robots, and has plenty of time to tell it story in between the obligatory action.

In fact, this movie is even more subdued than The Island, and I am sure this is not Michael Bay’s own accomplishment. Somebody held him back, someone forced dialogue between characters – to those people – thanks.

Transformers has been in production so long, had so many amazing (and shitty) people get on board and suddenly leave, it could have been a disaster. Instead, it turned out to be a solid action flick, with a lot of humour, great special effects, plenty of cheese factor, and a lot of entertainment. This may sound like a half-assed praise, but during the summer, my expectations are usually low, and this film, despite the huge marketing machine behind it, actually was entertaining.

Check it out for the nostalgia of Transformer models from the 80s. Check it for the main lead, Shia LaBeouf, check it for cool action scenes. I hope they make more of these, but always, always start with a decent script, and hold down Michael Bay. He’s been walking the line with the last two flicks – perhaps he’ll cross to the good side soon.

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