Screen Jeers: ‘Transformers’


Caryn: We’ve suffered through our fair share of awful movies in the comfort of our own homes and on the big screen. But nothing quite tests the endurance of a couple of bad-movie connoisseurs than a marathon day of “Transformers.” This week, Dan and I watched “Transformers,” “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” and Razzie-nominated “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” All in a row. In the same day.

Directed by Michael Bay, the trilogy follows awkward young adult Sam Witwicky, played by Shia LaBeouf. He wants everything a “normal” teenage boy wants: a hot girlfriend, a fancy car and an exciting life. His father buys him an old Camaro, but a Camaro nonetheless. The car turns out to be an “Autobot” named Bumblebee. Bumblebee and his Autobot friends are fighting against the evil Decepticons for the “AllSpark,” some powerful metal thing that turns ordinary electronics into evil robots. Sam is caught up in all of this because his grandfather found the AllSpark in the Arctic. Beyond that, he really has no purpose in the film, other than to try to pick up Megan Fox in the first and second films and Rosie Huntington-Whitely in the third.

As the trilogy progresses, the story gets more and more convoluted. I cannot explain the plot to “Revenge of the Fallen” or “Dark of the Moon” because they are both so difficult to follow behind the wall of loud explosions, flashy CGI and incomprehensible robot noises.

The films are riddled with product placement. Mountain Dew, Chevrolet, Samsung and JanSport all made showings at some point in the confusing din of the three movies. While advertising didn’t play as prominent a role in the plot as McDonald’s did in “The Longest Yard,” some of the driving sequences played out like car commercials.

Dan, what did you make of these movies?


Dan: To be honest, I enjoyed the first one when it came out. I was invited to a midnight showing, there were a bunch of costumes and Transformers trivia beforehand, and everyone had a good time. I remember there being next to no plot and the battle scenes were tough to watch sometimes, but for the most part, it was harmless, dumb action fun. I remember watching the cartoon and playing with the toys growing up, so seeing Optimus Prime and Megatron (voiced by Elrond and Agent Smith himself, Hugo Weaving, though you can’t tell through all the voice modulation) on the big screen was pretty awesome.

Had the series stopped there, I think many people would look on it much differently. It would have been one little burst of contained nostalgia, and we all could have gone on with our lives, coming back to it on our own time and trying our best to ignore all the human characters and enjoy the one silly little effort to bring the Transformers into the 21st century. The problem is this is not the nature of “Transformers,” a cartoon created specifically to sell a line of toys. “Transformers” exists to make more products, more cartoons and, sadly, more films. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing if the first movie had laid the groundwork for further development in the characters and the ongoing war between the Autobots and Decepticons. What we got instead was the same movie two more times only with all semblance of charm and fun forcibly removed.

The nonstop explosions and CGI super-action is annoying, sure. But to me, the worst thing is what comes in between the gigantic robot battles, largely because people going to a “Transformers” movie are going expecting to see giant robots duking it out. What caught us all by surprise was how obscenely boring and obnoxious the strictly human scenes would be. Shia LaBeouf’s character is one of my least favorite characters in movie history. For as little as he contributes to the overall story and overall enjoyment of said story (if any can be had), he is on screen far, FAR too much. His need to constantly say things from “Whoa whoa whoa whoa!” to just incessant yammering really made me yearn more headache-inducing CGI fights.

The other humans are no better: Megan Fox is a vapid bimbo who lacks any interesting or discernible qualities. The military characters are featured more than the Transformers, making me wonder whether Michael Bay initially just wanted to make a movie about soldiers and wound up having the Transformers forced on him. And every other character is nothing more than a stereotype: the obnoxious parents, the eccentric head of a super-secret government organization and a list of other characters I am told existed.

Caryn, what was your least favorite part of these movies, and which would you say was your least favorite?


Caryn: My least favorite part was probably the robot-fighting, which encompassed about 85 percent of the franchise. (The other 15 percent was Shia LaBeouf being annoying with whatever actress Michael Bay decided to objectify with skimpy clothing and suggestive camera angles.) I didn’t have Transformers toys as a child, so I didn’t have a nostalgic attachment to the films. I didn’t recognize any of the robots, and they were difficult to tell apart through all of the quick cuts, CGI and noise.

My least favorite film out of the three was “Revenge of the Fallen.” No one would have missed it, really. Optimus Prime dies, but he comes back to life at the end, so nothing is really solved or accomplished. Which movie did you think was the worst?

We have to remember that these are essentially 2-hour toy commercials. Dan, what would you recommend we watch instead?

Dan: I’d say “Revenge of the Fallen” was the worst, as well. “Dark of the Moon” was a completely forgettable movie, but what I remember from “Fallen” just made me angry. That was the most offensive, racist and sexist movie of the lot (not to say the other installments weren’t offensive, racist and sexist), and it was easily the most annoying.

Caryn, I know you’ll disagree with me on this, but if you want to watch a fun, fight-heavy event of a movie, watch “The Avengers.” The characters actually develop throughout the course of the movie, and there’s tons of humor in their interactions. And while, yes, the final battle does bear a striking resemblance to that of “Dark of the Moon,” there’s one major difference between the two: I actually cared about the finale in “The Avengers.” In “Transformers,” I started glancing at my watch about 20 minutes in.

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One Response to Screen Jeers: ‘Transformers’

  1. The Southpaw says:

    OK, so, I have to weigh in. By the way, I’m planning on penning a 4,000-word piece on my fatherhood blog about 80′s Optimus Prime versus 00′s Prime and what it says about America.
    So here is the brief summary:
    In the 80s, boys fell in love with Optimus Prime because he was our Superman. He did all the right things for all the right reasons. Sure, you could argue that doesn’t make him a complex character, but it did. In the 86 movie he doesn’t shoot Megatron because he could wound Hot Rod. He aims his cannon, he weighs the options, hesitates and gets blown to bits by Megatron.
    Five-year-old Pat wept for hours, days really. I hated Hot Rod for that. But, as I grew older and watched the movie again and again, I found Prime to be noble in doing not shooting. He doesn’t shoot because the negatives outweigh the positives in his mind. The cartoon series is littered with moments like this. He helps humans when it means the Cons can go free.
    So when I found out there was going to be a live action movie, I couldn’t have been more excited. Then I saw the movie. The Autobot introduction scene was worth the price of admission.
    That said, in the hands of a good storyteller, the Transformers could be a great series. There are the themes of being more than meets the eye, of changing into something bigger than you, of not being from a place but falling in love with it. Of course, there are tons of environmental overtones to the original ethos.
    Then, Speilberg handed it off to Michael Bay.
    And what do we get? An Optimus Prime who double taps his mentor in the back of the head while the mentor begs for forgiveness.
    I hate you, Michael Bay.

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