Robots In Disguise (The Transformers Movies)

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Transformers. They were everywhere in the 80s. A very popular toy range, a TV show, an animated movie. And more. And there I was, sitting with something that cost a month of my pocket money and broke within half an hour. How I longed to get my hands on proper working models of Optimus Prime, Megatron, Bumblebee and others. But, alas, it wasn’t to be. That didn’t stop me, however, from getting myself VERY excited when rumours began flying around after the turn of the 21st century about a new Transformers movie. Something big, action-packed and shiny. I went to the cinema as soon as it was released. Goosebumps appeared on my arms as soon as the title swirled around and I heard THAT noise, the noise of a transformer transforming. I was happy. Michael Bay was happy. Hasbro was happy. Most people were unhappy by the time they left the cinema after viewing the second movie but it’s far from the absolute crime against cinema that some try to tag it. And then there was a 2011 third instalment that actually proved to be the best of the bunch. So here they all are, as well as that animated movie from years ago that featured sucha stellar vocal cast. Now if only someone would pull up their bootstraps and sort out that damn Thundercats film that we all want to see.

The Transformers: The Movie (1986)

While I’ve always enjoyed the Transfomers range of toys (it almost goes hand in hand with being a child throughout the 80s) I have never been the biggest fan of them. I was more of a LEGO kid. Transformers were great but they were great when everything transformed smoothly, not when something stuck and you ended up breaking an essential piece of the structure just to try and get your car back into Autobot form. I never watched the animated TV show and I never watched this movie, that many fans view as a bridge between the second and third seasons of the TV show, back when it was first released. Finally watching it now, I’m glad I didn’t waste my time with it back then.

I can’t help but agree with the great Orson Welles who described his role as a big toy battling lots of other small toys. That’s all this movie is. Admittedly, there’s a great vocal cast that includes Welles, Leonard Nimoy, Scatman Crothers, Peter Cullen, Eric Idle, Casey Kasem, Judd Nelson, Robert Stack and Corey Burton. That’s a real mix of very famous names alongside some of very prolific voiceover artists.

I wish I could offer praise for anything other than the cast list but, sadly, this just isn’t possible. The plot of the movie has some other hokum in there but is, essentially, just another brawl between the Autobots and the Decepticons. There are few concessions made for newcomers and you either warm to the characters or you don’t – no room or time is given to develop the robotic personalities that populate the film.

Written by Ron Friedman and directed by Nelson Shin (remember the My Little Pony movie? He did that), this may well please kids and fans who remember every character name and trait but it won’t please anyone after anything resembling an actual, well-crafted, movie. IF you are somehow forced to watch the thing then I suggest the following ways to pass the time: enjoy the sound FX and the use of the cheesy rock greatness “Nothing’s Gonna Stand In Our Way” by Kick Axe, laugh at the way in which the mighty Megatron engages in battle by . . . . . . . . . . . transforming into a gun and putting himself into someone’s hand (say what you like about the Michael Bay movies, the decision to change the form of Megatron was a sensible one) and try to identify just who is fighting who in most of the action sequences.

Believe me, after watching this animated mess you may actually appreciate some of the Michael Bay movies a bit more. I’m scoring it as highly as 4/10 because I admit that some of the animation was enjoyable and that cheesy rock tune was fab. Oh, and let’s not forget the opportunity to listen to that great cast.

DIRECTOR: NELSON SHIN
WRITER: RON FRIEDMAN
STARS: PETER CULLEN, ROBERT STACK, ORSON WELLES, LEONARD NIMOY, JUDD NELSON, COREY BURTON, CASEY KASEM, SCATMAN CROTHERS
RUNTIME: 84 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: USA/JAPAN

Film Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Transformers (2007)

Despite the opinion held by many, otherwise sane, moviegoers I’d have to reiterate my own view that Michael Bay isn’t actually the antichrist or even the worst thing to happen to modern cinema. He has his flaws, that’s for sure, but he can also craft some fine popcorn entertainment. Okay, some of the editing is choppy, and he’s overly fond of that shot that pans around the central characters while looking up at them framed against the sky above, but you can’t say that the man doesn’t give you bang for your buck. So putting him at the helm of a Transformers movie is a great idea and, for ¾ of the movie, he excels.

The plot is quite nonsensical. Shia LaBeouf plays Sam Witwicky, a young man descended from an explorer who spent the latter part of his life rambling on about a giant metal man he’d discovered on one of his expeditions. All Sam wants is a car and when he gets the car it enables him to get close to a mega-hottie named Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox). It also drops him right in the middle of the ongoing battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons because his car is actually the Autobot known as Bumblebee. A big bad decepticon named Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving) wants to get his hands on the Allspark while the Autobots, led by the noble and wise Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen – who also provided the voice for this character in the animated outings), will do all they can to protect Earth and stop the baddies taking over. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson play a couple of soldiers who see the destructive power of the robots first hand, Kevin Dunn and Julie White are the parents of bemused Sam, Jon Voight is Defense Secretary John Keller and John Turturro is an annoying agent with the mysterious Sector 7.

Transformers isn’t about high art or subtle character exploration. Transformers is about watching big robots battle each other, it’s about a police car that cruises around with the words “to punish and enslave” written on the side of it, it’s about seeing these impressive computer-created giants actually transform. It has all of the usual Michael Bay flaws (some eye-aching editing, a bloated runtime, overusing that shot mentioned in the first paragraph) but still succeeds thanks to the enjoyable entertainment factor of the featured robots.

The cast are a bit of a mixed bunch. For some reason there’s a lot of negativity towards Shia LaBeouf but I’ve never had a problem with his work onscreen and he’s excellent here, funny and believable and just a great reluctant hero from start to finish. Megan Fox is also someone it seems cool to dislike. Admittedly, her character isn’t really well developed here but the lovely lady looks as gorgeous as ever and also comes across as someone with a tougher centre than her soft and attractive exterior implies. John Turturro is ill-served by the script and provides some poor comic relief but Kevin Dunn and Julie White make up for things in the humour department. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson do well in full-on action mode, the lovely Rachael Taylor spends some time onscreen being lovely and Anthony Anderson provides some more laughs with his few scenes. Fans of the late Bernie Mac will also enjoy his amusing cameo and I was pleased to see Glenn Morshower getting even a minor role in such a blockbuster.

The script by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman is a bit of nonsense, to be honest, but keeps the action moving and gets everything done. Just. Michael Bay points the camera at big bits of metal hitting other big bits of metal and keeps things fairly entertaining. Of course, this is a movie which really succeeds or fails based on the FX work and the team deserve a huge congratulations for their work. Amazing and eye-popping visuals, complemented by superb sound work, make this quite a spectacle (and the irony is surely intentional in the location of the Allspark being mapped out on a pair of spectacles) and while the screen is often too busy it’s really to be expected when watching a movie concerning big, battling, transforming robots. Considering how drab and lacking in personality the old animated version was, I consider this live-action take on the material to be vastly superior and recommend it as an enjoyable sci-fi action flick that should entertain those seeking undemanding fun.

DIRECTOR: MICHAEL BAY
WRITER: ROBERTO ORCI, ALEX KURTZMAN
STARS: SHIA LABEOUF, MEGAN FOX, JOSH DUHAMEL, TYRESE GIBSON, JOHN TURTURRO, KEVIN DUNN, JULIE WHITE, RACHAEL TAYLOR, HUGO WEAVING, PETER CULLEN, ANTHONY ANDERSON, JON VOIGHT
RUNTIME: 144 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: USA

Film Rating: ★★★½☆

Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen (2009)

There are some people who will probably feel nauseous just thinking about this film. For a number of people, this is one of the very worst movies ever made. You know what I say to those people? Piffle! That’s right, piffle!

Let’s be very clear here, this sequel is a big mess of a movie and fails to entertain in even the most basic way that the first film easily managed. I am not going to try to convince anyone otherwise and I’m certainly not going to react in shocked disbelief to anyone who says that they think it’s terrible. That’s their opinion and it’s one that I can understand. But you really have to search further and deeper than mainstream Hollywood to find something worthy of the “worst movie ever” title and if someone can’t even make it through this film then I have to doubt that they stick with many other movies, some of which may turn out to be diamonds in the rough. Of course, people have different tolerance levels as well as different tastes but the same fundamentals apply – if you can’t endure this film then, trust me, there are plenty other films out there that you will find even more painful to view.

So what’s the plot this time around? It’s a load of rubbish, arguably even more nonsensical than the events that spurred on and facilitated the motion of the first movie. There’s a bit of the Allspark left, there’s a matrix of leadership, there’s a big angry robot called The Fallen (Tony Todd lending his recognisable voice to the movie) and there may even be some connection to the Great Pyramids of Egypt. This all gets in the way of the partnership that has been working well between the humans and the Autobots and it also causes some problems for Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) as he tries to settle in to college life and maintain a long distance relationship with Mikaela (Megan Fox) without being distracted by the symbols that start invading his brain.

Bigger and brasher, but certainly not better, than the first film, this is a sequel that gets lots wrong. Yet there’s still enough to enjoy. Just. Megan Fox has even less to do this time around, Shia LaBeouf is just as good as he was in the first film, John Turturro is even more unamusing this time around and the others (Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, etc ) are as enjoyable if slightly underused as they were the first time around. Ramon Rodriguez doesn’t do too badly in his role but that may just be in comparison to what ends up surrounding him (which is mainly a mixture of horribly unfunny “comedy”, overblown special effects and characters bordering on the racially offensive, and perhaps even just fully wading into that area).

The fights and action sequences are even more horribly overblown and edited than they were in the previous movie but that doesn’t stop some moments remaining visually impressive. The main scenes of the Autobots chasing down Decepticons in Shanghai are particularly impressive but there are many great FX moments in between the impenetrable metal on metal contortions.

The script, by Ehren Kruger, Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, is cringeworthy. Blockbuster movies don’t have to be Shakespeare but they could certainly rise above this level of weak nonsense.

Everything services Michael Bay, however, and this is his film through and through. It would seem that those backing the movie had so much faith in the material that they left the helmsman unchecked, bringing to fruition more and more of his standard flaws – the jittery editing moments, the overuse of THAT Michael Bay shot, the bloated runtime – but there’s still no way that I can bring myself to class this as one of the worst movies of all time. The Transformers provide enough spectacle and joy and the finale may not work but it keeps trying to throw everything onscreen on such a giant scale that enough moments peek out throughout to make this far from a complete entertainment vacuum.

DIRECTOR: MICHAEL BAY
WRITER: EHREN KRUGER, ROBERTO ORCI, ALEX KURTZMAN
STARS: SHIA LABEOUF, MEGAN FOX, JOHN TURTURRO, PETER CULLEN, TONY TODD, HUGO WEAVING, JOSH DUHAMEL, TYRESE GIBSON, KEVIN DUNN, JULIE WHITE, RAMON RODRIGUEZ
RUNTIME: 150 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: USA

Film Rating: ★★½☆☆

Transformers: Dark Of The Moon (2011)

The third live-action outing for the robots in disguise is, in a rather surprising turn of events, actually the best of the lot. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that it’s almost a perfect modern popcorn flick with only one or two major failings.
The first major failing is the overlong runtime (this clocks in at just over two and a half hours) and the second is, although I hate to seem so cruel, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. People may enjoy criticising Megan Fox but seeing her replacement may end up prompting many to think that she wasn’t all that bad, actually.

So, ummm, what’s the plot of this one? Well, it’s actually not all that bad but I don’t want to give anything away so I’ll just say that it involves the space program, a very powerful device that could win or lose the ongoing battle the Autobots are having with the Decepticons, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf once more) trying to adjust to his new job and reel after reel of impressive, jaw-dropping, action.

Like the two movies before it, this film has flaws (and it’s not going to convert those who enjoy despising Michael Bay) but it gets a hell of a lot right and does a lot to make up for the mis-steps of the second film. Love or hate his style, there are moments here that are so epic in scale and so mind-bogglingly complex and packed full of action that you can’t help but admire Bay for his ability to cope with the sheer logistics of such sequences. There is still a feeling of a bit too much being thrown onscreen every few moments but it’s so damn entertaining that nothing depicted ends up feeling like it’s just a pointless flourish. While it’s not like me to disagree with everyone else (ahem!), I’d just have to say that I actually thought the opening moments were amongst the weakest in the film. Recreating the time and events of the space race and putting a Transformers-shaped stamp on them seemed like a great idea, and made for a very exciting trailer, but the faked footage just feels exactly like, funnily enough, faked footage. The story strand it leads into and develops is great but those early scenes remained at their most effective when only glimpsed in trailer form.

The action is the biggest draw here but, occasionally, the humour isn’t as bad as it could be. It still doesn’t work, for the most part, but there’s less of it shoehorned in amongst the big battles and the jealousy that Sam feels for his girlfriend’s boss (Patrick Dempsey) is actually mildly amusing. The rest of the comedy, while lame, is at least provided by a number of great names bravely shedding some dignity for the sake of simple entertainment. Ken Jeong has one or two scenes, John Malkovich raises a few smiles, Patrick Dempsey is fun, Alan Tudyk is as fantastic as he always is, John Turturro gets some better material to work with this time round and Frances McDormand makes a great, stern, figure of authority. Kevin Dunn and Julie White get even less time onscreen in this outing but that makes their “comedy schtick” easier to stomach. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson return in time to kick ass during the second half of the movie and Rose Huntington-Whiteley is, well, terrible. Maybe terrible isn’t the right word. Maybe I should say atrocious or wooden or vapid. But let’s move on. The vocal cast includes Hugo Weaving and Peter Cullen once again but also benefits immensely from the inclusion of Leonard Nimoy.

Ehren Kruger provides a decent enough script, with a bit more going on than we had in the first two movies, and Bay directs it with his usual bombastic style. The FX work is pretty damn impressive throughout and it’s easy to just sit back and enjoy the spectacle even when things get a little bit confusing (the manoeuvres performed by the soldiers are quite gung-ho, surprise surprise, and the location of characters during the finale isn’t all that easy to keep up with). It might not completely wipe out the memory of the disappointing “Revenge Of The Fallen” but it certainly tries hard and ends this particular trilogy on a high.

Transformers: Dark Of The Moon is released on DVD and Blu-ray and in all kinds of packages on Monday 28th November but buyers beware – as far as I’m aware the disc is rather lacking in any extra features and a more packed release is planned further down the line.

DIRECTOR: MICHAEL BAY
WRITER: EHREN KRUGER
STARS: SHIA LABEOUF, ROSIE HUNTINGTON-WHITELEY, PATRICK DEMPSEY, JOSH DUHAMEL, JOHN MALKOVICH, JOHN TURTURRO, ALAN TUDYK, TYRESE GIBSON, FRANCES MCDORMAND, HUGO WEAVING, PETER CULLEN, LEONARD NIMOY
RUNTIME: 154 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: USA

Film Rating: ★★★★☆

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