Revisited: Transformers Trilogy

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March 15, 2014 by bck1402

With a new Transformers movie coming up this year… and I had a little time on my hands due to an illness, I decided to give some of my DVDs a run (leaving them alone too long has resulted in DVD-Rot and those discs can’t be played anymore). Now, I don’t particularly find these to be that great, but the first two movies have got awesome documentaries on the making of the films. The third movie was rather sparse with its special features…

So here we go.

transformers_ver9Transformers [2007]

Stars Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Rachael Taylor, Kevin Dunn, Julie White with John Turturro, and Jon Voight

Directed by Michael Bay

Could there have been a better match for a particular subject matter and the director than Michael Bay and Transformers? What would the Transformers movie be like if Executive Producer Steven Spielberg had decided to direct instead of handing it over to Bay?

For much of the initial production of Transformers, it was Spielberg at the reins, even up to the casting of Shia LaBeouf. Sure the movie went on to be quite a success, raking in enough at the box office to warrant a sequel- or two actually.

I can’t say that Transformers was all that great. Having Bay as the director basically meant that you were at least assured of some decent action set-piece. Unfortunately, I don’t know if by design or by direction, there seemed to be a tendency to lean towards a jocular or juvenile humour (‘peeing’ robot? clamouring around a yard?) Added to which the less than appealing attitude of Sam Witwicky. Maybe it’s a Western / American attitude thing that I don’t get, that kind of self-entitlement, seemingly like the world owes you something. It’s not a character I enjoyed, although it was LaBeouf’s portrayal of the character in such a way that got him the job in the first place. Go figure.

The overall plot involving the all-spark is also nothing very intriguing as it turns out, with several loose plot lines pulled together; the initial Decepticon attack at an army base in the middle east, the encrypted signal discovered there, the whole mess with Sam’s grandfather’s glasses, and then late in the game come Sector Seven with John Turturro. The action is loaded to the final act, while impressive in terms of effects, also leave something to be desired in terms of clarity. The mass of clashing metals with bits and pieces flying all over made it difficult to tell the friendlies from the foes at some points.

At least there was some improvement as the movies went on, although not by much at first.

In any case, there was spectacle to be had but the lack of sympathetic characters and a decent plot really brought the movie down.

Rating: ** (of 5)

transformers_revenge_of_the_fallen_ver6Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen [2009]

Stars Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Isabel Lucas, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Ramon Rodriguez and John Turturro

Directed by Michael Bay

All the signs of rushing the movie through production was there, especially the lacklustre plot and story, not to mention the still lack of appealing characters. Shia LaBeouf still grates with his character and it’s not for the lack of trying to deliver a decent performance. Even Josh Duhamal seems lost while his military buddy played by Tyrese Gibson seems to want to be anywhere else but here.

When it comes to a Transformers movie, it has to be about the robots. In that respect, the movie delivers with some newer characters (Arcee!) and more metal clashing action (Optimus Prime vs three Decepticons in a forest, including a revived Megatron) as well as some new-tech robot-in-disguise (Isabel Lucas??). We also get a massive Decepticon that is a combination of five other robots although the toilet humour remains intact (a pair of wrecking balls become a robot’s testicles!) Even John Turturro strips further than just boxers this time around.

Then there’s Optimus Prime suffering from a Superman syndrome. He’s a character who’s supposedly so powerful, he needs to be taken out of the story long enough to create some tension. Then everyone has to work to bring him back in so that he alone can save the day. It’s something that happened in the previous movie, it happens here and it happens again in the next.

Naturally, the effects work is improved as evidenced by some massive Transformers on display, and the action set-pieces just continuously pound away at your skull. This is just something that Bay seems to be able to do in his sleep by now, not to say that managing or directing this kind of action is in anyway easy for any director.

Despite all that, as much as any action fan may enjoy the chaos of the final act, the movie fails on it’s story, plot and characters again. This is a massive B-grade action film with a blockbuster A-grade budget and effects, but it doesn’t save the movie by much.

Rating *1/2

transformers_dark_of_the_moon_ver5Transformers: Dark of The Moon (2011)

Stars Shia LaBeouf, John Turturro, Josh Duhamel, Rosie Huntngton-Whiteley, Tyrese Gibson, Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand, Kevin Dunn, Julie White with Alan Tudyk, Ken Jeong and John Malkovich

Directed by Michael Bay

And here we are at round three also coming in a couple of years after the previous entry. Notably missing is Megan Fox, replaced by another incredibly hot young damsel in distress, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, playing the established cartoon character of Carly. Does it really matter?

One thing all three Transformers movies have done to this point is to somehow tie in established history. The construction of Hoover Dam in the first movie; the construction of Petra and the Pyramids in the second movie while here in the third movie, it’s the first moon landing that gets fiddled with. And what better way to (sort of) lend credence to the secret side of that than to have Buzz Aldrin himself appear and suggest that, yes, the moon landing was really to investigate a downed Transformer ship. Oh yeah, they also threw in Chernobyl for good measure.

While Sam Witwicky is still annoying, it only lasts for the first half of the movie as the focus of the story really shifts to the robots proper. There is an improvement as the scope and scale of this outing really pushes the envelope, going all out with the occupation of Chicago, and the battle to reclaim it that follows. It’s a third act so big that it takes up almost half the movie. The Transformers themselves also increase in number, particularly as the Decepticons invade Earth, really stacking the odds against our heroes. But as before, Optimus Prime needs to be sidelined from time to time… like having to retrieve his weaponry before getting into a brief fight… and then getting himself tangled in a bunch of crane wires almost immediately after that.

But the fight is more of a philosophical one as Optimus has to go up against his own mentor who sides with the Decepticons, merely to serve a rather selfish need. Like with the previous instalments, the plot does take a while to get going, and Sam not being too happy at getting side-lined (because he feels he deserves so much more, just like before). At least John Turturro doesn’t drop his britches this time (oh, that honour goes to Ken Jeong), having a little more of a character development (just a smidgen, really) and picking up the welcomed addition of Alan Tudyk as his personal bodyguard, Dutch.

With the scale of the story getting expanded, the effects work also steps up to meet the challenge and there are some unique set-pieces with the robots fighting each other. There is a sense of scale whit the clarity of the clashing machinery is improved. There’s even a sense of using whatever transmission fluids in these robots to spray about like blood when they get taken down. In a way, the violence is amplified – probably acceptable, since these are just robots an machines rather than flesh and blood humans. The carnage that goes on is on a whole other scale compared to what’s come before too.

Rating: *** (add another 1/2 for the 3D)

+++

So, let’s bring on the next chapter, which is supposedly set a few years later. Judging from the trailer, Bay’s visual aesthetic is still intact but we do seem to have far more sympathetic characters this time. The scale seems to have pumped up (check that awesome huge ship with the Transformer walking ahead of it), and there’s an acknowledgement of things that have come before (the “Remember Chicago” billboard at the beginning of the trailer). It looks promising, but then, it is another massive clash of metal.

Bay did do something of a “palate cleansing” with his previous ‘small-scale’ feature Pain and Gain, trying to focus more on the story and characters rather than bombastic action. Can’t say if he was successful. That was a weird movie.

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