by: Austin Welch
Some words of warning: this ain’t no ‘this movie was good/bad’ or ‘Transformers are teh awssum’ kind of review. Sit back, grab something to drink, and hold on for the ride. Tread lightly from here on in, spoilers abound.
Okay, so I’m a pretty big Transformers fan. Collect the figures. Read the comics. Have all the DVDs. Attend conventions. Hell, I even write fanfic. In summary, it’s pretty safe to say that I’m a hardcore fan.
I’d imagined live-action TFs films as far back as the 80s. I used to imagine what the robots would look like. Hound’s holograms, Trailbreaker’s force field, a Predator-esque invisibility cloak for Mirage. Skywarp’s teleportation, Rumble’s earthquakes.
After years of imagination, and ever-improving special effects, it was announced in 2003 that my wish would come true.
Well, sort of.
Yeah, a live action Transformers movie, but with compromises. Revisions. Outright changes.
While other franchises were given faithful retellings, staying 90%-plus true to source material and existing visuals, my beloved universe was made ‘hip’ by today’s standards. Ergonomic robots. Different origin story; different plot concerning their introduction to Earth. Spike was now Sam, and guess what? He has a mother. The concept of Matrix was basically rehashed into The Allspark, a name and similar concept borrowed from Beast Wars.
Okay, I get it. I can roll with it. You gave me Peter Cullen, I’ll meet you half way.
First flick was surprisingly good. Although I had problems with the changes to this universe, the photorealistic Bots and Cons were, to me, just this side of porn. Serious eye candy – and I ain’t even talkin’ ‘bout Megan. It was funny, too. And I don’t care what anybody says, I like LeBeouf. And they did the arguably smart thing by focusing more on the humans and humor, and managed to bring in plenty of non-fans. Housewives, etc. Hell, even my mom liked it. So yeah, it won me over.
Now, the question was, what to expect from a sequel? All the rumors and spoilers hinted at more classic elements coming in to play. I forget if it was Orci or Kurtzman who said early on, “The source material is there.” Fantastic! They aimed to keep it classic. Classic characters, tried and true concepts, and so on. Soundwave and Ravage. Jetfire begins as a Decepticon, then switches sides. Not to mention being black instead of white; all it Jim West syndrome. Veiled references to Energon, and thanks to a sneak peak I got at last month’s BotCon, The Matrix. Wait, what? They’re bringing the Matrix into it, despite the fact that the Allspark more or less took its place in the first movie? I was beside myself with curiosity as to what this would mean for the sequel’s plot.
Well, unfortunately, it meant more combination and oversimplification of source material. Unnecessary new characters and sexual humor of a lesser necessity.
The film opens with a prologue, narrated by Prime, revealing that the Transformers had set foot on Earth as early as 17,000 years ago. That original group’s plan, as revealed later in the film, was to build a device that would destroy the sun, causing a massive amount of energy to be collected. When I saw this device, it brought to mind images of the base the Decepticons are building in the desert in one of the earliest episodes of the TV series. So my first suspicion was that this was going to be the infamous space bridge. The fact that it turned out not to be was one of many disappointments.
This early buzz, which continued through most of the initial action scene set in China, was killed by the introduction of Mudflap and Skids, twin numbskulls with an unfortunately ethnic flavor of speech. Although the names existed on characters going back years, and obviously Hasbro owned copyrights to them, these are in fact new characters that use said names. Remember when I said unnecessary? Yeah, they’re fucking annoying. With a plethora of pre-existing characters that could have been used for the purposes of comic relief, why they felt the need to ‘invent’ doofy-looking retards who say things like “Yeah, that’s because you a pussy!” is beyond me. Way to dumb it down, Bay.
The action scenes are as spectacular as ever, in fact more so. Remember when I said that other franchises are given visuals that hew closely to the source material? Well, I guess The Lord Of The Rings wasn’t depending on financial support from GM, so Frodo didn’t have to be a silver concept Corvette, when he was originally a red Lamborghini Countach. Such was Sideswipe’s live action fate. Okay, so Lamborghinis were so 1980s. But would it have killed them to make Sideswipe red? Turning Arcee into a motorcycle is forgivable, she’d had an action figure with a motorcycle alternate mode already, and in fact, a design was worked up for the first film, which was abandoned in favor of her current unicycle-style form. Baffling. Ah, but she is accompanied by Chromia, another classic female character, and a third female motorcycle ‘triplet’, neither of which have any dialogue.
Having dissolved Sector Seven after the rigmarole two years ago, the government is now working directly with the Autobots in maintaining the Con presence on Earth. So you get Lennox and Epps teaming up with Optimus, Ironhide, and the rest of the gang. This ultimate team-up is threatened by a government suit, who feels that the Autobot presence on Earth is only drawing the Decepticons’ attention here, and wants to pass legislation to formally ask them to leave the planet. This guy is the biggest killjoy since the EPA guy from Ghostbusters. I kept waiting for Lennox to say, “This man has no dick.”
After discovering a piece of the Allspark that was wedged in his backpack, Sam has to fight off mini Cons that came to life from various kitchen appliances, but not before the shard sends info into his head. Bumblebee rescues him from the kitchenbots, then he’s bound for college, and this means spending time apart from the one he loves. And of course, I mean Bumblebee. Oh, sure, he digs his way-out-of-his-league girlfriend, but can’t say the ‘L’ word to her. And by ‘L’ word, I don’t mean ‘lesbian’. Off to a school of vaguely ivy-league-ishness, Sam meets his horndog conspiracy-theorist roommate, who is based on a character from recent comics. He then runs into another impossibly hot chick that’s interested in him. Homeboy should have been suspicious from the get-go – what are the odds that one of these chicks would even give him the time of day, much less two? So yeah, she turns out to be a Con, essentially utilizing the Pretender concept of yore. Anyway, Pretender jumps Sam’s bones, chases kids, kids run (then drive, with ‘Bee’s help).
By this time, Mikaela had traveled thousands of miles to bring him a present: a small Decepticon named Wheelie, imprisoned in a trunk, after being caught by spying on the fetching mechanic. One of the funnier characters, Wheelie, for some reason, has a New York accent. I guess that’s better than rhyming in a wussy voice. While we’re on the subject of accents, there’s Jetfire, an old, British (?) Con-turned-Bot that’s been vegetating at the Smithsonian, and hobbles around on a cane. The hell? Now you’re telling me robots are prone to arthritis?
Meanwhile, a badass Soundwave, voiced once again by the incomparable Frank Welker, spies on everybody from orbit. Eventually, he shoots a missile toward the planet that turns out to be our favorite kitty Ravage, who steals the last known (prior to Sam’s inadvertent discovery) piece of the Allspark from a very secure underground storage facility. Secure to everyone except nanobots, of course. Allspark shard in hand, the Constructicons rescue Megatron from the watery depths of the Laurentian Abyss (which is, by the way, the second deepest place on Earth – it seems that John Keller was as misinformed as every other politician alive).
Megatron chose to be a tank this time, and aren’t we all thankful for that? However, his new treads (get it?) notwithstanding, he seems to kowtow to The Fallen. That’s right, he’s playing Vader to The Fallen’s Emperor. Here’s where I get bitchy. In his original comic form, The Fallen was neither Autobot or Decepticon, and was very mysterious. His intentions were brilliantly revealed over a period of time, while the audience’s attention was captured with his activities. (Thank you, Simon Furman) In this flick, he seems to be oversimplified into your average want-to-take-over-the-universe kind of cartoonish supervillian, and for some strange reason that isn’t explained, commands Megatron. Not cool. Megatron answers to no one, not even world-eating planets. Why bother to bring into the movie universe this fairly recent, and as far as mass public knowledge of Transformers goes, obscure character, just to remove all the mystery and nuance that made him a great villain in the first place, is beyond me. Funny thing is, The Fallen isn’t even a badass, he’s imprisoned on some Primus-forsaken asteroid or planet (how the hell did Megatron get there so fast, anyhow?), and cannot re-execute his plan to destroy the sun until the last Prime is destroyed. Guess where this is going.
Yeah, Megatron kills Prime. Stabs him in the back after wearing him down by ganging up on him in the woods with Starscream and Blackout. Reminds me of the punks in the neighborhood I grew up in. Acted tough, but when it came down to it, couldn’t fight their battles themselves. But Prime goes out like a soldier – making his assailants earn it. Prime down, everyone upset, but Sam is safe, as is the info in his head.
Sam’s roommate leads him to another online conspiracy theorist, and lo and behold, turns out to be Simmons. While Mikaela stands their twirling her hair, the three of them put their heads together and realize they need to get to DC to revive a TF that’s been in stasis for years. The Smithsonian, and Jetfire.
Jetfire, who somehow retains Skywarp’s teleportation ability (re: combination/oversimplification), and bewilderingly calls it a space bridge, takes them to Egypt. Take that, Hayden Christensen! Meanwhile, the Bots take Prime back to their military base of operations. After the aforementioned government douchebag produces a writ to end the Autobot/military marriage, Lennox helps them escape with Prime’s carcass, and they move to rendezvous with Sam. With the clues in Spike’s…er, Sam’s head, they attempt to find this Matrix thingy all the kids are taking about. Turns out this Matrix can heal the dead, which is not too far off from the OG Matrix, so I’m with them on this one. But it looks like some sort of ninja weapon, and turns to dust when Sam grabs it. D’oh! Now how are they gonna revive Prime?
Bots and Cons clash, Devastator combines, and all hell breaks loose in the desert. Bumblebee has a kick-ass fight scene with one of the Constructicons, and takes care of Ravage in handy fashion. This brings up another issue: continuity. Despite Devastator’s combination, the individual Constructicons are seen running around. What gives? If they can create clones like the Insecticons did in the cartoon, then establish that first. Otherwise, this smacks of falling asleep at the wheel.
Big battle, Sam dies for a few minutes, then the Matrix revives him just as it does Prime, and The Fallen, and in turn, the Decepticons, are beaten, and their plan to destroy the Sun is foiled. Everything wraps up far too neatly, and we get no dark, cliffhanger-ridden second act leading into a third. Oh, fear not – we’re gonna get a third movie. With the box office receipts spilling in on this thing, I think we’ll get more than three by the time the dust settles on this franchise. But it would have been nice to have some sort of storytelling integrity with this thing. Is that too much to ask, Bay? Apparently it is.
All in all, another fun romp, tons of great robot fighting action, hell, arguably too much. They had me by bringing in more classic storylines, concepts, and characters, but they lost me by pissing it all away with a weak structure and little character development.
I’m so pissed, I’m only going to go back to see it five times instead of ten.