So not in my Top Ten Summer Films I was looking forward to...but I thought I would provide my thoughts anyway...after all I was a 14 year old boy with dreams of robots and chicks somehow together in the perfect melange of destruction and objectification. Here goes.
As someone who enjoys a hearty discussion on film, one problem that comes up consistently is the idea that certain movies must be judged on their own merit....or "good for what it is". In an effort to preserve consistency, I go back and forth between this idea and the idea that all movies should be judged by the same principles. So for instance, how would you compare X-men First Class(which I loved) to There Will Be Blood(also loved). The answer is of course you can't. They both set out to accomplish two very different goals and in that sense they both achieve that, but then you get into problems of intention. Then you have something like The Dark Knight, or Aliens, or Blade Runner, films that transcend all genre trapfalls and extend into the realms of cinematic bliss. All three of those are or will be considered classic films, not classic sci fi or comic movies, but films, alongside The Godfather and Breathless. Long way to get around to the idea that I'm not sure how to write about this film without giving it a pass in some departments. Let's see what I can come up with.
First and foremost this is the best Transformers film out of the three. Depending on your thoughts of the previous two, that might not be saying much. Personally, the first was a nice bit of my childhood brought to life, I enjoyed it, but not enough fighting robots to balance out Bay's minimal storytelling ability. The second one was a big mess, with Bay trying to put way too many ideas into his film, I didn't hate it like others if only for Optimus in the forest tearing shit up. Sure he amped up the action, but the whole thing was just so confusing and nonsensical that there was little payoff. Also I wasn't happy with the fact that Bay seemed to think the racist twin robots were the greatest invention of all, as well as his consistent use of Sam's parents....and robot testicles do not belong in any film. So like I said this is the best of the three...but really is that praise?
Make no mistake I enjoyed the film, but I've been talking to Manny all day and I still can't come to the fact that I would call this a good film. It is an enjoyable film and one that I left completely satisfied, which brings me back to my first point. Does intention have a place in film critique? I don't know if I can give you the answer, but Bay set out to make a balls to the wall Robot action flick and he succeeded in spades. He seems to have actually listened to the fans and did away with MOST of what was wrong with the previous two. The parents have been toned down, there are still robots with accents(how does he think that's funny?) but they are barely around and at least given purpose here, there is no toilet humor in relation to the robots, and John Turturro never enters battle. Those problems still exist but they are not nearly as offensive as in the previous installments.
As for the story? Again Bay seems to have realized his limitations and keeps it much simpler than the ridiculous Revenge of the Fallen, soo yah...no Robot heaven...no pyramids, and definitely no Smithsonian robots that Optimus cannibalizes. Here it is rather simple, the war on Cybertron brought the Autobots to earth...before the war ended a ship was sent out with the technology to save the planet. The Autobots discover the ship is actually on the moon...and the Autobots and Decepticons race to retrieve it. Got it. Nimoy(who voiced Galvatron in the still far better animated movie from back in the day..."if you're gonna ride Daniel...RIDE IN STYLE") is the long lost Sentinel Prime who was transporting this technology that could save their race. He does an admirable job and has a great presence in the midst of Megatron and Optimus. His character arc is rather predictable, but it's not meant to be a huge surprise. Again the story is better, but it's not why you came to see the movie. It's not as clunky as before and Bay moves quickly from the "human stuff" to the robots, but still scenes constantly just happen. We understand the motivation, but everything is a little too easy. Alan Tudyk for instance, is apparently a man of many talents, including hacking, gun play, accents, styling, crying and some krav maga maybe as well. Bay loves the "just in time" scene and he plays them here over and over with the perfect bombastic music so you know something dramatic is happening. I could keep gong on, but truth is the story works better this time....again it's not saying much but it lets Bay flex his real talent.
Which is of course....giving your eyes a good sexing. Bay knocks the action out of the park. It is remarkable what he does with the robots, and finally we see some real danger, as the robots LITERALLY tear each other apart. The scenes in the trailer of soldiers wearing flight suits, so much cooler than I would have thought. Perhaps my favorite aspect of it all is that Bay finally showed humans taking down robots using intelligence. The solution he has makes sense within the film, aside from constantly shooting bullets at the Decepticons, he shows how the soldiers band together to take down these evil behemoths. Bay really let's Optimus loose in this one. Optimus is PISSED off he is ready to tear shit up, and he does over and over and it's glorious. Optimus shows just how badass he really is, and Cullen makes Optimus a real character. Can't really be said for the other robots, but hey they don't have Cullen voicing them. I would say the other autobot that gets much more playtime is Bumblebee. Bee has always been in the films but here, Bee is shown to be a strong warrior and not just Sam's savior. He constantly is transforming back and forth, often just transforming part of the car into a cannon to make some more shit go boom boom. I cannot stress enough, this is a teenage boys wetdream of robot mayhem. If you don't think you would enjoy that, there is no possible way you could enjoy this film.
What about the rest? Well the new girl is just as pointless as Fox. She is damn hot though, which seems to be all Bay cares about if her opening scene is any indication. I love how subdued Megatron is this, walking around with a shroud and a sword like some lone badass, he is really in the background for most of the film. Starscream is shown at his snivelling best. Soundwave's two seconds are awesome, but I did love how often Laserbeak was used. Shockwave....I don't remember him having a crazy robot snake of destruction but I guess he was cool.
I mentioned Alan Tudyk being a master at everything. The other actors in this film all seem to vying for "most batshit insane" character award. Which can go both ways, for me it worked this time. Malkovich, Turturro, Tudyk, and McDormand all look like they're having a blast, and all seem to know exactly what kind of movie they are in. Personally I loved every RIDICULOUS talent of Tudyk's, and Turturro's insane ex CIA man finally seems to have found a niche.
So like I said, this definitely falls into the "entertaining" movie category. I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and at the end felt very satisfied. Michael Bay can blow some shit up really well, and he knows how to make entertaining movies. A master at story telling he is not, nor will he ever be. So is it a good film or not? Well ultimately no it is not. It is pure entertainment. If you're not ok with that then you probably won't enjoy it, and I ask you what happened to your childhood that you don't want to see robots go frakking insane every once in awhile...and are you really that excited for Reel Steel?
One last thought - I forgot to mention...Bay manages to create real tension this time around as the stakes seem definitely grim, there is a sense that anyone could perish(except Optimus and Sam) but everyone else really feels like fair game.