Transformers Movie (2007) Review
Long ago, the Allspark was the prize of Cybertron - it gave energy and life to the world and its inhabitants. Wanting the power for himself, the malevolent Megatron led his army of Decepticons on a quest to possess the power of the Allspark. Standing in his way were the Autobots led by Optimus Prime. The war between the two sides led to the Allspark being sent into space, where it finally found its way to Earth. Now on our world, the war erupts again!
One of my favorite shows of the early 2000's was "Megas XLR" which had a fantastic theme song that basically said "We love giant robots, chicks dig giant robots..." and so on. That's exactly why I loved "Transformers". You can criticize Michael Bay all you want (for some, it seems more fashionable to do so than anything else nowadays) but the man can direct the hell out of a scifi action story (with giant robots). I will say this: if you have absolutely decided to hate the movie designs, then even the stunning visuals here probably won't change your mind because, well, you've already made up your mind. For the rest of you folks out there who may have doubts but remain open minded to some degree, you are in for an incredible treat.
First the big question: how are the transformations? Despite being based on CGI models, I was extremely happy to see that at no point were any transformation scenes simply recycled from earlier scenes. Every single transformation sequence was fresh because it would be shown from a different camera angle or in concert with other transformation sequences. The very first action piece is set in the desert of Qatar where the Decepticon helicopter Blackout attacks an Air Force base. Mostly everyone has scene the brief glimpses of this shown in the trailers. The sequence is incredible and shows the destructive potential that one lone Decepticon has against Earth's military. His transformation is very straightforward. The helicopter lands and later transforms bit by bit (lingering enough for the audience to see some of the mechanics of the conversion, but not all) before he attacks the base. However, as the movie progresses the tranfsormations and angles become more and more interesting.
One of my favorite transformation sequences in the entire movie takes place when the Autobots all gather for the first time. First Optimus Prime transforms and you see parts whir and click into place as the camera goes around and around the Autobot leader. Once he is done the other Autobots all transform simultaneously in a circle and before you know it, Sam and Mikaela are surrounded by, yes, GIANT ROBOTS. Another brilliant transformation sequence takes place on the highway when Bonecrusher transforms. As the camera comes close to the rear of the vehicle, the view suddenly shifts to the underside of the vehicle as he transforms until he is fully in robot mode, roller blading across the highway at Prime. It is quite simply an angle I odn't recall ever seeing on a Transformer before and it was stunning.
What I was not prepared for was how smooth the Transformers moved. They did not move like Battletech Mechs or ponderous creatures (unless they were deliberately moving slow). Instead, the Transformers were flexible, agile and amazing fighters in their own ways. There is an amazing scene where the Autobots begin taking on Devastator (aka Brawl, the tank) and they wind up jumping and flipping in the air as they launch a coordinated assault. It was amazing to behold and that type of action repeated itself several times over the course of the movie.
The action sequences were insane. There's just no other word for seeing a robot run at you and then transform into a Saleen Mustang mid-stride, or seeing Optimus Prime punch a Decepticon so hard its left optic sensor literlly hangs out on a wire from the force of the blow. Every step of the way there was no doubt in my mind that in the hands of a less action-oriented director, this film would not have had the visual impact it does - regardless of having giant robots in it. Bay took the approach that aside from being large robots, these creatures fight just like any warriors would, using a combination of melee and ranged weapons with brute force. Sometimes in the original cartoon you would have entire lines of Autobots standing there just blasting away at a line of Decepticons. Back in the 80's we accepted this, but today we demand more from our action sequences and this film delivers in spades. Now the Transformers get down and dirty, knocking each other's blocks off in close range combat, not content to just stand there firing lasers hoping some will actually hit something!
The effects are top notch. Aside from the statements about how the Transformers moved and converted etc. it is amazing how well they blended in with their environments. Lighting was used to perfection and in many ways these robots had more to prove than the Droids in Lucas' effects laiden Star Wars Prequels. Here the Transformers were inhabiting our world, so odd alien lighting or hues were not going to be acceptable. Our eyes would tell us if what we saw didn't ring true and at no point during the film did I believe this to be the case.
The story is a solid introductory tale. This is good and bad. This is bad in that it keeps too many characters from getting developed. The Decepticons are unfortunately mostly reduced to one cool sequence a piece (although the fate of two Decepticons are left fairly ambiguous by the end of the film) with few to no lines. The sub-plot involving Maggie (Rachel Taylor) and her hacker friends is reduced to a utility rather than being an interesting B story in itself. Indeed, Maggie is never even named in the movie which is a shame. In the novelization she is one of the human characters we deal with initially and we learn she used to model but ran afoul of the law due to her computer activities. That depth is lost (but Taylor is still a joy to see in action, and that accent of hers is killer).
On the good side, it's not as if there were no memorable characters outside great battle sequences. The characters who made the biggest impression on me were:
- Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBoeuf): The character based upon G1's "Spike", who has a strong moral center thanks to the upbringing of his parents. They are shown trying to teach him to be a good guy and we see that in the way he deals with conflicts throughout the movie. Said conflicts begin with him dealing with dumb jocks with humor and escalate until Spike is facing down Megatron at the end of the movie with a brave face. We literally see Sam mature from a boy to a young man in this film and it is a character arc that holds your interest thanks to the way he makes that transition.
- Mikaela (Megan Fox). For her part, she begins as being what would appear to be a very shallow character, but as the movie progresses we see she has real depth and courage. Clearly she is there to be eye candy (she's gorgeous, no other way to put it) but it wsa good to see she wasn't just there to be a token female who needed saving.
- Optimus Prime: Exactly who we expect him to be. He is John Wayne and General Patton all rolled up in one. Hearing Peter Cullen's voice as Optimus Prime on the big screen again literally made the fanboy inside me giggle madly. Cullen was obviously asked to really push the envelope and there is not a scene where it seems like he is phoning things in. His vocal performance was strong, and many of his lines had fans cheering. In many ways, this Optimus Prime was not the one from the G1 series, but rather from the original animated movie. When he fights, he takes no prisoners. No matter how thrashed he gets, he keeps on going. There is no way anyone can deny this IS Optimus Prime.
- Bumblebee: My favorite Transformer of all time finally gets some love after years of neglect. Despite his lack of talking (until towards the end of the movie) 'bee's character works really well because so many of his actions speak for him. Whether it's trying to help Sam get the girl or vigorously defending Sam against Barricade, Bumblebee's trademark bravery is ever-present and inspiring to watch. When he is captured by Sector 7, you have become so attached to the character that you feel an incredible empathy for him. That's saying a lot for a CGI character that barely "speaks" for an entire film. The plot device of Bumblebee using music to express himself is used to great effect and I was surprised how well it worked.
- Megatron: I was very surprised how much of theDecepticon leader's personality was captured in the brief time he was on screen. Through his words and actions we see his utter disrespect (and indeed disgust) with organic life, his thirst for power and even his consistant disappointment with Starscream. Just as there is no doubt that "Prime is Prime" in this movie, there is no doubt Megatron is staying true to the core of the character form G1. Hugo Weaving's performance was very different than I expected. He does not riff on any previous role but creates a new voice that sounds perfect for the role (I do admit however that I was trying "hear" Megatron's lines with Frank Welker's voice the first time I saw the movie).
- Frenzy: Walking in the footsteps of Beast Wars' Waspinator is Frenzy, the Transformer who becomes a radio/CD player. It's funny because this little guy mostly speaks Cybertronian for the whole movie, but his wacky personality comes shining through. Clearly this is one crazy character who is completely loyal to Megatron and the Decepticon cause. So much of the humor and charcter of Frenzy comes through in his actions and the tones of voice he uses when he speaks. Many fans walked away quite impressed by him, a pleasant surprise.
It's not that the other characters are neglected. We do get snippets of personality here and there. Ironhide's aggressive nature, Jazz's love of pop culture speech and his slick personality and Sgt. Lennox's (Josh Duhamel) strong leadership all come out shining, but they are points that are only used very briefly.
Finally, I would be remiss if I did not remark on one aspect of the movie I had not expected to the degree it was presented: the humor. There was a lot more humor in this film that I originally expected. Scenes ranging from Bumblebee's interaction with Sam to Bernie Mac's "Bobby Bolivia" selling Sam his car were done very well. Comic timing is definitely something everyone had down pat in this film. Bay has proved with the "Bad Boys" films that he can handle a mix of action and humor and here it shows he hasn't lost the touch.
Transformers is everything you want in a summer popcorn flick. It has humor, beautiful women, amazing set pieces, action that leaves your brain in overdrive and GIANT FREAKING ROBOTS. My final say is this: if you have already decided to hate this film, then don't bother to go see it because your mind is already made up. However, if you have even a shred of open-mindedness about it (or if you're just outright excited about it), then go see this film ASAP. Get some popcorn, a soda, kick back and prepare to be thrilled, laugh and feel the kid in you come out for two hours and change. Transformers fans, roll out!
Notes, goofs and references:
- The "Allspark Cube" was originally going to be called the "Energon Cube", but this was changed by the time the final script was completed.
- The "Allspark" is a term first introduced in the "Beast Machines" series referring to a place where the Sparks of the Transformers reside when not inside a Transformers body. Here it refers to the source of Transformers life and energy, an appropriate transition.
- During Blackout's transformation in Qatar the Generation One transformation sound can be heard.
- The name Witwicky comes from the original Transformers series where the lead human characters were Spike and Sparkplug Witwicky. The roles were given more realistic names for this movie, namely Sam and Ronald.
- Ron Witwicky first drives his son to a Porche dealership. While no Porche vehicles appear as Transformers in the film, the G1 Jazz character did transform into a Porche.
- In Bobby Bolivia's lot, the VW Beetle in the lot is a nod to Bumblebee's G1 vehicle mode.
- The "Bee Otch" air freshener inside Bumblebee is a tongue in cheek reference to Bumblebee's name. This air freshener was given out as a freebie at Botcon 2007.
- As Sam is closing Bumblebee's hood, the passenger side door is open, but a moment later it's closed without showing him or Bumblebee himself closing it.
- Sam's line about Mikaela being "More than meets the eye" is a reference to the tag line used for the Transformers toy line through most of Generation One.
- When Sam lands on his back in front of Mikaela and her friends, they are sitting in front of a huge Burger King sign. Burger King is the franchise carrying children's toys with their Kid's Meals for the movie.
- While there is a shot of Mikaela retrieving her bag before driving off in Bumblebee, they never show Sam's pants being retrieved but he has them on later.
- When the kid with the camcorder is running around the site of Ratchet's crashdown he yells that this is "100 times better than Armageddon" it is a reference to the 1998 Michael Bay film of the same name.
- Ironhide's line about Mojo having "leaked lubricant" on him seems to be a play on his G1 counterpart's famous "Leakin' lubricants" line.
- A sped up version of the G1 transformation sound can be heard when Bumblebee transforms and catches Mikaela and Sam from their fall off Prime's shoulder.
- In response to Simmons questioning him about aliens, Sam mentions "E.T." who was the primary character in Steven Spielberg's 1982 film. Steven Spielberg is one of the producers of "Transformers".
- Optimus Prime's command of "Roll out!" is heard twice in the film, once when they are escaping the Sector 7 vehicles and again when they leave the Observatory. This is a play on the famous "Autobots, transform and roll out!" line from the Generation One television show.
- As Optimus Prime makes his speech about saving the humans, he says "Freedom is the right of all sentient beings", his motto from his G1 toy tech specs.
- While the tank Decepticon is called "Devastator" in the movie, the Hasbro released action figure is called "Decepticon Brawl". "Devastator" was the early name and this was not corrected in time for the movie's release.
- While Barricade appears going into the battle, we never see his final fate. In the movie novelization he is killed off, but the movie (as released) leaves a chance for his survival.
- Optimus Prime's use of a blade is not the first time he has used such a weapon. In the original Transformers series, Optimus Prime was able to retract his hand and swap it out with an energy axe.
- Some have indicated that the ability for the Allspark to "shrink down" violates the "no mass shifting" rule publicized before the movie's release. At Botcon 2007, the writers of the film clarified that this referred to the Transformers themselves, not the Allspark.
- A Dam has been the focus of a Transformers battle before in Generation One's "More than meets the eye" part three where Optimus Prime and Megatron had a duel at Sherman's Dam.
- When the Nokia phone is injected with Allspark energy, it uses the G1 transformation sound as it transforms.
- The "Nokia-bot" robot brought to life by the Allspark power has a head design based on Unicron's complet with domed head, center crest and curved horns.
- Megatron's chain weapon is a modern take on the morningstar weapon he had in the Generation One series.
- Jazz's attack on Devastator is very similar to Kup's assault on Blitzwing in the 1986 Transformers animated movie which also involved an Autobot transforming, landing on top of a tank and redirecting the cannon barrel.
- Optimus Prime's line "One shall stand, one shall fall." is a line from the 1986 animated movie, also spoken when he is about to confront Megatron in their iconic last battle.
- When Sam accidentally unleashes some Allspark energy, several every day items come to life. This is the basis for the "Real Gear Robots" line of Transformers toys released to coincide with the movie.
- The Mountain Dew machine coming to life is partly due to a cross promotion between the movie and brand of soda. Many fans asked for this figure to be made during the Hasbro panel at Botcon 2007.
- The tow truck used to rescue Bumblebee was the basis for the video-game based "Longarm" figure in the Transformers Movie toy line. The GMC SUV's driven by Sector 7 as well as the Osprey helicopters seen at the beginning of the film are also due to receive the action figure treatment.
- Optimus Prime uses the "more than meets the eye" line towards the end of the movie.