The Transformers and I have a strange history - or rather, it’s more of a non-history.
When the smash hit cartoon was broadcast to a generation of adoring young fans, I missed the whole thing. I was working and never saw a single episode. Oh, I knew what they were - a walk down a toy aisle at Woolworth's was an education in itself - plus the relentless advertising campaign for the toys - featuring that theme song. I don’t think anybody living in the Western world could have avoided hearing the Transformers song, and then there were the comics.
I’d seen campaigns like this before - I saw the multitude of toys and comics released when the Ghostbusters cartoon was big, there’d been He-Man and the Masters of the Universe all over the store shelves on Christmas and of course the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, tastefully retitled Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles for the young target TV audience.
But the Transformers seemed to last and last and last. When toys of Donatello, Leonardo, Michaelangelo and the other one whose name I can never remember had long left the shelves and entered the bargain bins, Optimus Prime, Megatron, and Bumblebee still stood proudly, unbowed and unreduced in price for a quick sale. Transformers fans seemed to latch on to this and stay with it for reasons that I couldn’t quite figure out. Crazes like Pokemon hit like a runaway tsunami and disappeared just as quickly, but those robots had staying power.
Maybe it was because the whole concept was the exact reverse of established practice - He- Man and She-Ra were cartoons that begat toys and merchandising. The Turtles were a comic that begat a cartoon series and a merchandising empire. Transformers were toys in the first instance. Toys that with a few twists and turns became another toy. Essentially 2 toys in one. A car and a robot. Hasbro struck gold - and the cartoons became the backstory to the struggle between the good guys (Autobots) and the bad guys (Decepticons) which was largely expanded upon in the comics.
In talking to Markie, a friend who was a huge fan back in the day - and still is - I discovered that the difference that made transformers that much cooler and a whole lot more acceptable to an older audience was that they had story arcs which didn’t patronise kids. In many instances, Transformers was their first exposure to science fiction.
That didn’t change the fact that I had no intention of watching the Transformers movie when it was released back in 2007. Never saw the original, no point in seeing this - right?
That lasted until I was sitting in the multiplex waiting for (I think) one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies to start - probably At World’s End. I saw the trailer for Transformers and literally had made up my mind that I was seeing the movie before the title was even shown at the end of the trailer.
I remember the purists, who’d followed the series being outraged at the time because Optimus Prime had flames painted on his bodywork, and Bumblebee being a Camaro rather than a VW Beetle was also a problem, among many others. But that’s okay - I sympathise. I’m the same way whenever they change a superhero costume for a film.
But as I had no prior knowledge of the continuity and having been blown away by the trailer - I was sold. Sold to the extent that I was back again opening day for the sequel - and again for Transformers: Dark of the Moon - this time, the mayhem is in 3D.
There are a lot of surprises and swerves in this film, and I had managed to avoid any big plot revelations apart from those given in the poster and trailer. As this added to my enjoyment, I will return the courtesy and keep this review spoiler free.
Okay - having got that out of the way, lets see that I can tell you.
The story is more complex than the previous two movies and despite its two and a half hour running time, moves at a relentless pace. Harry Knowles noted that he felt an oxygen tent was needed at the end of the film, and he’s not too far wrong. Watching the film is pretty exhausting and attention intensive. That can also be said of the previous films in the trilogy, which I watched on disc in the build-up to this. The screen is always busy, especially in the second during the Egyptian battle. In fact, the pace is so tight, and the editing so rapid, you really need to watch the film two or three times just to appreciate the complexity of the effects during the transformations. They are among the best CGI effects I have ever seen -period. In this film, with the added factor of 3D, the visuals are breathtaking.
As the title implies, a ship from the Transformers home planet of Cybertron crash landed on the moon many years ago. It was to investigate this crash that Apollo 11 was launched in 1969. The moon landings aren’t the only part of recent history tied in to this story, the Chernobyl meltdown wasn’t all it seemed either.
It’s no secret that there is an all out war between the Autobots and the Decepticons. This is the one we’ve been waiting for, and it does not disappoint in any way, shape or form. The battle is absolutely epic in size, scale and destruction of property. Much as I was quick to point out that 3D added nothing to Thor a few weeks ago - here, it’s the final flourish. It’s the cherry on top. In fact, I heartily recommend seeing this one in 3D - it IS worth laying down the extra few bucks for the sheer spectacle.
Megan Fox is gone - but I can’t say she’s missed. Newcomer Rosie Huntington-Whitley is the new leading lady, an ex model making her acting debut. Her performance here is far better that could be expected. Shia LeBouf returns as Sam, along with returning supporting characters Agent Simmons, Sam’s parents, soldiers Lennox and Epps. Surprisingly (for me, anyway) John Malkovitch and Frances McDormand also have some meaty roles in the film, along with some "blink and you’ll miss ‘em" cameos by cast members of the TV show "Chuck" - but what surprised me was the voice of Leonard Nimoy providing the voice of an integral Transformer, let’s call him the Spockbot - to reveal the name of the robot would be to venture into spoiler territory.
Critics have been harsh and predictably unsparing with their venom towards all the Transformers films and on geek sites, it seems the fan community has severe issues with director Michael Bay. I refute both those stances. It seems that movie audiences are also voting with their feet, and seeing the film.
As a non-fan of the cartoons, I like what I see on the screen. They’re big dumb action movies, ideal for whiling away an afternoon or evening. They won’t change your life or your outlook, they won’t cure cancer or the common cold. They don’t address the world’s faults or injustices - they’re pure entertainment. They show giant robots capable of turning themselves in to exotic and adrenaline pumping muscle cars, fighting similar robots with similar powers - in so doing, ensuring lots of property damage to large metropolitan cities. They’re loud, effects laden, explosive eye candy and they pretend to be nothing else. For that, and their entertainment value as sheer, much needed escapist fun - I salute them.
This has a good chance of being my movie of the summer. Captain America: The First Avenger has a lot to beat.
Meanwhile, I actually have a box set of all the cartoon episodes in my collection now so I’ll be digging into those 32 discs and getting myself up to speed at long last.
Copyright © 2010 - 2011 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.