Vern vs. TRANSFORMERS - One shall stand and one shall fall...
Published at: July 3, 2007, 6:31 p.m. CST by quint
Three words for you about TRANSFORMERS: Ho. Lee. Shit. Not as in "Holy shit, I was blown away, it was a blast as well as AWESOME!" but as in "Holy shit, society really is on the brink of collapse."
Usually if a movie is already playing in theaters I don't send my review here, I just use it at my geocities.com/outlawvern sight, but jesus, SOMEBODY had to say something. I can't believe how many positive reviews I have read of this. I think Harry's was the only negative I saw, but he was polite about it. I read Moriarty's review before the screening and I thought wow, what if I actually like this movie? Like me, Moriarty hates Michael Bay's movies from head to toe, style and content, and me and him agree on all kinds of stuff. I don't remember too many cases where I thought he was being too easy on a movie, at least not a big one like this (only one that comes to mind is the much smaller DAREDEVIL). I never thought I would like this movie until I read his review. He had me about 80% convinced that it would surprise me and win me over, like LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD did. And I might have to seek counseling after enjoying those two movies in a row, but that's life.
I've mentioned a few times before that I have a buddy who loves Michael Bay. But before you rush to judgment, let me say that he's not some stereotype that just loves to see things explode and hear black guys joke about being "negroes" while a camera rotates around them. This is a smart guy with varied tastes. He gives me tips on older action movies I haven't seen, but his favorite movie so far this year is some documentary I never heard of. He watches more movies than I do, and is much more fickle than I am. I could not possibly list how many movies I thought were good, or at least okay, that he out and out despised. But still, somehow, he loves that fucking Michael Bay garbage, especially ARMAGEDDON and BAD BOYS 2. He describes BAD BOYS 2 as "the most hateful movie ever made" and always mentions how Bay's directing credit is over a shot of a burning cross. So his enjoyment seems like kind of a rebellious fuck you to the world, like a kid listening to punk rock or stabbing his grandparents in their sleep. He's been excited about this movie all year, and I've been shaking my head and grumbling about it. I definitely wanted to see it out of morbid curiosity, but felt it would be morally wrong to pay for it. I paid to see GHOST RIDER because I thought it would be funny, and I still feel guilty about it.
So when my buddy invited me to a free screening of TRANSFORMERS I couldn't resist. He said we had to have the area's biggest pro and anti Michael Bay forces together at the same screening. Sounds like a fitting sequel to my peace initiative from last summer where I watched BAD BOYS 2 and TRANSFORMERS THE MOVIE to set a positive example for the Israelis and Palestinians.
So it's fitting that the movie begins in "QATAR - THE MIDDLE EAST." (Need to establish location and tell the audience you think they're idiots at the same time? Try subtitles!) An American army base is attacked by a big robot. These guys are apparently trained in a similar manner to the soldiers from THE HILLS HAVE EYES REMAKE 2, because they all just run away and don't fight. When you see all the military hardware fetishistically on display it seems kind of weird, because the robot doesn't look like it has a chance. But then some tanks fly through the air and you find out later that all but the handful of main characters were killed and nobody knew it was a robot that did it.
At this point I was trying. I secured my brain safely in a locker at the Greyhound station like you're supposed to and I attempted to lower my standards. I am a guy who enjoys Brian Bosworth movies so why not enjoy this shit? Plus, if I'm gonna watch a Michael Bay movie again it might as well be one about robots. They won't joke as much as Martin Lawrence and they'll either look cool or funny. At least the effects are in good hands. And ever since I heard Michael Bay was hired for this job I thought it was tailor made for him. The dude is obsessed with sports cars and has never felt a human emotion, how could you do better than hiring him to make a huge expensive movie where the main characters are cars? It's like God made up The Transformers just to get some use out of Michael Bay.
But Michael Bay told God to fuck off, and he went and made a movie about people. After that opening attack you get literally an hour of kiddie movie horse shit about Shia LeBeouf being a nerd and trying to hit on the adult car mechanic Maxim cover girl with a troubled past from his high school. He buys an old yellow Camaro which turns out to actually be a robot from space in disguise. I don't know if I need to explain this to you guys, but Transformers are robots from space and you know those Cirque Du Soleil type weirdos in the car commercial who contort themselves into the shape of a car? It's like that, they crash land on earth and are worried people will make fun of them so they pretend to be cars and planes and shit to fit in. Anyway, for the first hour of this movie his car is alive but mostly is not a robot, he just causes a ruckus by driving around doing donuts and playing funny songs on his radio.
I have learned while this movie was being made that many grown adults grew up on this toy cartoon and hold its characters and concepts deep in their hearts, and were concerned about their portrayal in the movie. And I myself revere the filmatic language, and was worried that I would get dizzy and confused by Michael Bay's double-flip-off approach to editing and camera movement. Well let me tell you, he probaly blows it on both counts, but both are entirely irrelevant. By the time the movie gets to a second robot or action scene it's already way too late to turn things around. This painful first hour shows that the movie's main problem is the same one as BAD BOYS 2: constant, embarrassingly unfunny jokes. Is it too difficult to take anything seriously anymore? Everything's gotta be wacky: Shia has a little dog with a cast and he feeds it painkillers. He rides a pink girls' bike and crashes in front of the girl he likes. A robot pulls his pants down so he's in his boxers. Anthony Anderson eats a bunch of donuts. Bernie Mac's mom flips him the bird. A fat guy dances. When robots attack later, there are lots of half-assed "jokes" about little kids saying "cool!" or comparing it to ARMAGEDDON or thinking a robot is the tooth fairy. The "jokes" are more rapid-fire than a DTV Leslie Nielsen movie, and with an equal or lesser success rate. Even in that opening robot attack they don't have the discipline to take it seriously for 60 fuckin seconds, they have to have the guy from TURISTAS who looks like Johnny Knoxville on the phone arguing with a cartoonish Indian operator (ooh, topical) while Tyrese keeps yelling something about his left ass cheek. The music sounds like John Carpenter or TERMINATOR but the composer seems to be the only one making any effort to create drama. Everybody else is assuming the effects people will put that in later.
For a movie produced by Spielberg it's surprisingly low on awe. People are supposed to be surprised to see robots, but they always turn it into jokes. There's not one second in the movie where you believe people are really reacting to seeing robots. In JURASSIC PARK or in WAR OF THE WORLDS or many other Spielberg movies, you believed these people really were having their minds blown by what was standing right in front of them. In TRANSFORMERS they say things like "It's a robot. You know, like a super advanced robot. It's probably Japanese," and you're supposed to laugh.
And half the time nobody even notices the robots. I should mention there is one other robot in this part of the movie, a little bad guy robot who makes wacky troll noises while hacking into the Pentagon computer. I think he's supposed to be the cute comic relief character, a bad idea since there is no drama or tension to relieve. He crawls around, over and through hundreds of humans waving his many limbs all over and making loud grunts and power tool noises without ever once being detected. Either these robots are invisible or the people in charge of our national security are even more incompetent than anyone ever imagined.
So you got this hour of waiting for it to get to the god damn robots, and then when it happens you realize you don't like them that much more than the people. Admittedly, they are the one thing that makes this more watchable than the other Michael Bay movies. From the ones I've seen I think this is his worst movie, but it's bad in a more fascinating way, like a $200 million version of that tv show "Power Rangers." After a good hour fifteen of failed jokes, the probably-meant-to-be-serious introduction of the good guy Transformers is finally laugh out loud hilarious. They just look so fucking silly posing and saying their names and they talk in voices just like the old cartoons, so it almost seems like one of those meta-ironical type movies like FAT ALBERT or THE BRADY BUNCH where TV characters come to life in the "real" world to show how goofy they are. And this is one of the great "did I really just see that?" moments when one of the robots says something along the lines of "Yo yo yo wussssUUUUUUPPPP Autobots REPRESENT!" and I don't think he was eating robotic chicken or watermelon but I swear to you on my mother's grave that he started breakdancing. And I'm sure black stereotype robot was in other parts of the movie but the next time I was sure it was the same character was at the end when Optimus Prime was casually holding his broken-in-half corpse like it was the pieces of a plate he dropped.
But before it gets to the fighting, buckle up for a whole lot more "comedy." There's a section, probaly originally planned as a sitcom pilot but then used as part of the movie, where the robots hide in Shia's backyard. They break things and say "funny" lines and try not to be spotted when Shia's parents look out the window. This seems to support the "Transformers are invisible" theory because they're fucking 50 feet tall and shaking the earth with every step but nobody sees them. In fact, they might be like the Velveteen Rabbit or whatever the children's story is where only a kid can see them and adults can't because they don't have the magic of childlike innocence in their hearts or whatever. Anyway, Shia is able to get into his bedroom and his parents accuse him of jerkin off, and you can imagine all the "comedy" "gold" they are able to squeeze out by riffing on that one. I think it's supposed to be funny to see the serious Transformers characters involved in this sort of wackiness, but since they have not yet portrayed in a serious light there is nothing to contrast it with.
At this point the movie is beyond feature length and then they introduce a new villain, John Turturro as a Men In Black type agent under the mistaken impression that he's being funny. His performance is over-the-top enough to fit in in a movie like SPACE JAM or ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE, that is what they would like to do with his talents. And it keeps cutting away to a parallel storyline about a team of NSA analysts (all shaggy-haired twentysomething hipsters) and secretary of defense John Voight and Anthony Anderson playing Kevin Smith's character from LIVE FREE OR DIE HARD and a giant alien cube discovered in ice by Shia's great great grandfather. And all the robots are here on earth to find a pair of glasses, which are in Shia's bedroom in a backpack, so it should probaly have taken 30 seconds of screen time to get to them instead of 90 minutes. There is a part that I almost think I might've dreamed but I remember it so vividly, where there is a cartoon BOING! sound and then there's a long shot of one of the robots proudly pissing all over John Turturro. This guy has toiled away in independent film for decades, done so much great work and in order to get a pay check he has to get R. Kellyed by a fucking cartoon robot. I'm not sure if it's supposed to be funny or if it's supposed to be sexy but it failed on both counts. And then all the sudden Shia's car/robot/pet gets shocked and dragged away on cables and the score turns into violins like it's SCHINDLER'S LIST. It is an understatement to say that this heartwrenching music is not earned. It's like if Jennifer Love Hewitt's character in GARFIELD found out she had cancer and we were expected to get choked up.
Towards the end the movie starts to be more about Transformers. But if any of the filmatists were interested in turning them into actual characters they must've been too busy running errands or something to add that into the movie. Optimus Prime is pretty funny because he speaks almost entirely in platitudes. My guess is they didn't have time to write or record dialogue for him so they just used a key chain where you push buttons and different Transformers soundbites come out. His voice is awesome, the only thing resembling gravitas in the movie. He is shamelessly corny and old fashioned, while every other element of the movie is trying to be irreverent and self aware. So it's so out of place you gotta laugh any time he speaks.
I guess this is the part that people wanted, the BIG ACTION SEQUENCE where robots chase a boy carrying a cube over buildings. Some robots do flips and fight each other. The effects are obviously very expensive and somebody worked a long time on making them, so way to go, E for Effort. But I think the Lord would agree with me when I say Jesus Christ, if this is what you guys consider exciting action sequences I don't even know how to relate to you anymore.
Imagine you took apart a whole bunch of cars, mixed the parts up and welded them all together into a giant ball maybe 15 or 20 feet in diameter, then rolled it down a hill. Shoot that in closeup and you got every fight scene in this movie. I'm sure the Michael Bay style is a huge contributing factor, but I'm pretty sure you could've shot these fights with a stationary camera like a boxing match and I still would have no clue what the fuck was going on. I am no expert on robotics but to my untrained eye, these robots look like shit. Their designs are so overly complicated you can't tell which part is which. One robot (I think a bad guy robot, but not sure) goes flipping through the air in slow motion and while staring at it I was not entirely sure which end was up. There are scenes that are close on Optimus's face while he's talking where I could not even make out a face. I never knew which robot was which or who was a good guy or bad guy or what vehicle was what robot. Luckily Optimus has a shiny blue part on him, occasionally I would see shiny blue and know that hey, that's Optimus! I spotted one!
What Michael Bay has already done to action editing and staging he has now done to character design. If Walt Disney really was a frozen head he would probaly be driven out of hiding to bite Michael Bay's nose off for what he has done here. I don't think the animation is very good either, they all move too fast and seem kind of weightless and don't know how to stand still, but it's kind of pointless to even get into that when they just look so god damn ugly and confusing that even in slow motion they disgrace the many talented artists who were roped into working on this shit. If you're gonna make us wait two hours for a big dumb robot fight at least make robots that we can tell apart or can distinguish what they are doing or which part of their body is the head. In a Godzilla movie I can tell which one is Godzilla and which one is Mothra without studying it frame by frame and comparing it to charts and diagrams.
In the interest of balance, I will say some nice things about the movie. There's a part where the Transformers are in car form and they are driving around, they are all brand new and shiny stupid looking vehicles and it's shot like a car commercial. That was pretty funny. Also, it was nice that the horrible rock music only came on about four or five times, not constantly like in the cartoon version. The military stuff, sometimes that reminded me of the old '80s action movies, all this military hardware they were showing. The constant ludicrousness of every single aspect of the movie makes it less boring than many bad movies, like a GHOST RIDER or a NATIONAL TREASURE. And, the, uh-- I guess I haven't seen a side wheely in a movie in a while. I don't know. I'm sure there are other positive aspects.
I can't remember the last time I saw a movie that left me this befuddled that it actually existed. Now I know how your parents felt when they took you to see TRANSFORMERS THE MOVIE. "Well, I guess this is what kids like now. Huh." I mean look, Moriarty's main argument was that the movie "delivers" and you can't argue with a movie "delivering." But fuck man, I guess I don't know what "delivery" is then. To me, this was an awe-inspiringly awful mess from start to finish, with no good characters, no sense of tension or drama, an asinine plot, badly told, full of constant, annoying attempts at humor, muddled action sequences and effects that hurt your brain trying to look at them. If you people are complaining about something like SPIDER-MAN 3 being too silly and then giving this one a pass, I don't know what the fuck is going on. The best "characters" in the movie are the robots during the 5 or 10 minutes when they're trying to be serious, and those scenes come off campier than SHOWGIRLS. I haven't seen FANTASTIC FOUR 2 but I can't imagine it could be THAT much more moronic, poorly executed and groan-inducing than this one. I mean this one really is off the charts, it's a record breaker. It probaly required alien technology to make it like this.
I know it's not fair to drop the B&R bomb, it's like comparing people to Hitler in political discussion. But TRANSFORMERS is honestly approaching BATMAN AND ROBIN proportions of horribleness. You can't say it's as bad, because the lighting is nice and nobody's wearing rubber fetish costumes or pink gorilla suits, but it's a similar type of minding-numbing machine gun barrage of moronic, inept garbage. And it goes on for almost 2 1/2 hours, longer than some interrogations.
So in a way, that does explain to me why some people might enjoy this. Some people like to be whipped and peed on. And it's an instant camp classic. I know people who get a good laugh out of shitty movies like INDEPENDENCE DAY, and I will definitely demand that they see this shit on video, because it makes INDEPENDENCE DAY look like 2001. It's so full of quick cuts and preposterousness I'm sure I missed all kinds of things. They were already onto the next scene by the time my brain processed the fact that I had just seen a Mountain Dew machine transform into a bad guy robot. Hopefully he will be the main villain in the sequel. But he'll be defeated by a good guy Nike truck. I can't see enjoying this on anything other than an ironic or anthropological "human beings really made this!" type level. No matter how it plays this summer, this movie is so full of bad taste and "what the fuck?" moments that I do believe it will live on. Ten or fifteen years from now, when some theater in a college town plays it as a double feature with ROADHOUSE, it will absolutely kill.
Did the movie work on my crowd? I'm not sure. Some of the lame jokes got laughs. Some got none. There were parts obviously meant to be crowdpleasers where you would hear one person clap or laugh in the back somewhere. There was definitely alot of sarcastic wooing and clapping. But there was also some applause at the end, which I'm gonna assume was sincere. We have already seen enough reviews to know that some people can enjoy this. I talked to a guy who loved it, said it was the best movie he's seen this year, that it knew what it was and was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek and what do you expect, it's The Transformers, it's a summer blockbuster movie, it's awesome. I'm glad he enjoyed it, but none of those arguments hold water with me, and I can't help but be sad that this is what we are willing to accept as entertainment. BATMAN AND ROBIN knew what it was and was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek and what did we expect. And if just because it's Transformers it's allowed to be inept, moronic garbage, then why are we going to see a movie based on Transformers in the first place? I know DADDY DAY CAMP is gonna be awful but I don't expect these same people running out saying that was awesome because what do you expect, it's DADDY DAY CAMP.
And I know I made this point in talkbacks, and so have others, but it bears repeating. DIE HARD was a blockbuster/popcorn/summer/event movie. So was ALIENS. And TERMINATOR 2. RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. STAR WARS. JAWS. ROAD WARRIOR. PREDATOR. ROBOCOP. TOTAL RECALL. THE MATRIX. LORD OF THE RINGS. You people who like your BATMAN and SPIDER-MAN and X-MEN and SUPERMAN and James Bond and LETHAL WEAPON... these are all big event movies, many of them timeless, many of them clever, well-crafted, some of them masterpieces. I am not being pretentious, I am not expecting too much, these are mainstream, crowd pleasing movies and they are what you used to hope for when you went to a summer movie. You can't realistically expect a movie as good as ALIENS every time, but that's better than resigning to the idea that "summer movie" equals "horribly made infantile disposable pap" and being excited about it anyway. If a summer movie is meant to be like TRANSFORMERS, then why the fuck aren't you people embarrassed to be going to see summer movies? At least have the decency to admit that it's a strange, possibly deviant hobby.
Everyone expects this movie to be a huge runaway hit, a moneymaking juggernaut. It happened with ARMAGEDDON and INDEPENDENCE DAY and I lived through election 2004, so certainly I can see that happening. But man oh man do I not get it. Women, especially, I have respect for, and I cannot understand them getting any sort of enjoyment out of these goofy cartoon junkpiles wrestling each other and saying things like "One shall stand and one shall fall!" If this is accepted as good entertainment then we're another step closer to the world of IDIOCRACY and the hit movie ASS.
If America loves this movie, I want a fuckin recount.
But what about my Michael Bay loving buddy? Did he like it? I wasn't sitting near him at the screening and as the movie went on I started to get concerned about what I was gonna say to him afterwards. I hoped he was having a good time, and I mean, I cannot comprehend his love for the other Bay movies. So I couldn't predict what he would think. But at the same time I could not actually picture him walking up to me with a straight face and saying "That was awesome!" And I couldn't guarantee that if that happened I wouldn't shake my head sadly, turn and walk away, our friendship forever weakened by a feeling that we just weren't from the same planet.
The credits roll. I find Mr. Armageddon. He smiles and says, "That was a piece of shit! That was fucking garbage! Terrible!"
So thank you Michael Bay for bringing the world closer together. We can have peace some day. We just can't have good robot movies.