Published Jul 03, 2007Thanks to Team America: World Police, Michael Bay is synonymous with missing the mark with his films ("I miss you more than Michael Bay missed the mark when he made Pearl Harbor; I miss you more than that movie missed the point, and thats an awful lot girl). He was also indirectly mocked/revered in Hot Fuzz via the Bad Boys films (and Nick Frosts characters love thereof). Both of these instances are not without merit.
So, it was with no small amount of trepidation that fan boys everywhere held their collective breath when Bay was announced as the director for Transformers, the live action update of the 80s cartoon where giant warring robots trapped on Earth "transformed into everything from cars to guns to insects to dinosaurs.
Could a director whose name has entered the pop culture lexicon as a punch line (along with Paul W.S. Andersons) deliver the geeky goods? With Executive Producer Steven Spielberg on board it seemed possible. However, once word of Bays "changes started getting out (Megatrons no longer a gun; Optimus Prime has lips and flames) concern started to grow. And one only need watch a couple minutes of Pearl Harbor to know that Michael Bay is going to miss the mark, as the song says. And he does.
However, the film opens strong, with two of the Decepticons (the evil robots; the Autobots are the good ones) utterly obliterating an American military base in Qatar, with only a handful of soldiers surviving. This is where Bay and Transformers are at their best: huge robots fighting and blowing shit up. To Bays credit, and that of ILM (who handled the CGI), the Transformers look awesome. Its impressive, like seeing Jurassic Park as a kid impressive. However, while the effects are mainly stunning its the story that falters.
Basically, the Autobots and Decepticons are on Earth looking for the Allspark (a cube that grants dominion over all machines), which is all fine and good but the decision to tell the story more from Sam Witwickys perspective (a not too annoying Shia LaBeouf) instead of that of the robots (like the original series and movie) is a problem. Sams grandfather may have inadvertently discovered the location of the spark (and Megatron) and so scouts from both sides are watching Sam. In fact, one Autobot (a revamped Bumblebee) becomes his first car. Yes, Transformers is a touching tale of a semi-loser kid and his first car. Sigh.
There are two opposing forces at play here (no, not the Autobots and Decepticons) but Bay and Spielberg. While everyone whos seen any of Bays work knows he just wants to blow stuff up and do slow motion hero shots (in between the overly wrought love stories), Spielberg (in recent years) is more about emotions and it seems like Transformers is stuck trying to figure out if it wants to be a war movie with giant robots or E.T. with cars. But, oddly, the Transformers, the films saving grace, are caught in the crossfire. Anytime they are on-screen fighting things are awesome, better than awesome. Anytime they are off or, god forbid, attempting comedy (one of them gets peed on by a dog, Bumblebee "lubricates on an over-the-top government agent, played by John Turturro), the movie falters.
For a movie called Transformers, they could stand a bit more screen time and character development, as besides Optimus and Bumblebee, everyone else, both Decepticon and Autobot alike, are seriously underused and never fleshed out as characters. For instance, the film assumes you know that Starscream and Megatron dont get along, because, with the exception of a lone line, their relationship is never established, but implied.
In the end, Transformers will most likely be a summer blockbuster and kids everywhere will love it. Unfortunately for fans of the series or anyone wanting something more, well, its Michael Bay, what did you expect? (Paramount)