What It Is

Even though I did steal a second viewing of Ratatouille afterwards, this is going to be all about Transformers. Which is unfortunate. And while I would hope that would go for everyone, apparently it does not.

“I got what I wanted.” That’s probably the most oft used phrase in regards to those that claim they liked this movie. “I wanted fighting robots and that’s what I got.” So that’s enough for you? Your checklist is complete and you’re fine with that? Has it gotten that bad that that’s the extent to which your expectations can be stretched? Or are you really just that simple minded? I’m not saying I need some sort of multi-layered robots-as-Muslims allegory from a Transformers movie. In fact, I’m fairly satisfied with the plot. Hoover Dam as Area 51, Grampa Wickwicky as MacReady, incommunicado platoons, even superhackers that can interpret alien language. It’s all fine. Good even. (Except for the whole reverse engineering thing, which completely contradicts the given reason The Deceptacons want to conquer Earth or whatever.) Unfortunately, it’s all buried under a mountain of horrendous dialog and circular scenework.

We all know that Michael Bay isn’t going to concern himself with the script all that much. In fact, he’s probably going to mostly leave it in a drawer in his hotel room. And that’s fine too, because we can see why. You can’t let computer generated characters ad lib their way through a movie, so they’re left with the worst of it.

It started out good. For maybe twenty minutes. The first hint of disappointment was “Barricade,” the Deceptacon disguised as police car. Of course, that’s Prowl. Who isn’t a bad guy. But it’s coming after Bumblebee. It felt a little wrong, but it was an okay chase and I’m fully prepared for some of the things I know about this universe to change. I mean, Shia LaBouef’s name is Sam, not Spike. So already I’m acclimating. This is a little more intrusive, but it’s fine. I’ll get over it.

Then comes Soundwave. He’s not called that, or called anything, but we all know that’s who this tiny CD player is supposed to be. It’s an update, and not even a very clever one considering CD players are kind of finished now too. But that’s okay. It means that there won’t be any Rumble or Ravage or Frenzy or Lazerbeak. And I understand that there will be sacrifices. There won’t be enough characters I know. And the ones that do show up won’t necessarily be the ones I do.

But then he talks. Like a gremlin. And thus commences the digging of the inescapeable hole. It’s not long before other talking Transformers are introduced, literally and lazily, by their leader Optimus Prime. I suppose I’m supposed to be blinded by the fact that he’s voiced by original actor Peter Cullen, which is admittedly awesome, but that fact does not act as some sort of concealer for the rest of his team. Regardless, it’s not how they sound that’s the problem (even the uncomfortable ebonics of Jazz.) It’s that they’re making terrible “jokes” (i.e. pop culture references), giving the finger, “urinating” on (the weird and awful) John Turturro and tip toeing around a yard.

It’s one thing to steal the plot from a underrated and underacheiving movie like Small Soldiers, you can get away with that. It’s not as if anyone thinks Michael Bay holds Joe Dante in any, never mind high, esteem. But to cast the actor (Kevin Dunn) who played the father to the teenaged protagonist in that movie as the father to the teenaged protagonist in your movie? That starts to get a little weird. Not to mention giving one of your creature characters the speech patterns of a like-minded creature character from one of his earlier movies… well, now you’re heading into Dane Cook territory.

Still, I don’t mean to be one of these people that rolls their eyes at the mere mention of Michael Bay. It’s not enough to dismiss the quality (or lack thereof) of a thing based on his name alone. Besides the fact that The Rock and Bad Boys are among the greatest action movies ever made, there is something admirable about the way he sees things. The giant robot fights that figure to be the largest checkbox on the list of things you, America, wanted in a Transformers movie are dizzying and barely comprehensible images, but they’re still amazing. In that someone saw them that way and realized them, whether through the camera, the computer or, in this case, both.

But a passive admiration of the technique and an outstandingly relaxed lead performance (from Shia LaBouef, who I’ve already praised enough – see Surf’s Up and Disturbia below) aren’t enough to overcome a succession of lame attempts to fill out your checklist. They know you have one. And as long as you do, they’re never going to risk deviating from it.

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