Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Superhero Media: Transformers (2007)

I hadn't seen this film for a number of years, but I remember loving it back in 2007. Yes, I really enjoyed Michael Bay's Transformers when I first saw it, shortly before I started studying cinema. You see, Bay makes big, dumb, fun films for an audience that doesn't want to think about them too much, and that's ok. And actually, Transformers was probably the perfect franchise for a series of big, dumb, fun films, the cartoons having always been dumb and fun, but occasionally aspiring to something greater. Really, there are quite a few moments to enjoy in Transformers, the Autobots and Decepitcons look good, but a little busy, the fight scenes are pretty decent and Michael Bay can shoot the hell out of a car chase. The real problem of the film is, once again, a focus on uninteresting characters at the cost of those with far more stake in what is happening around them.  

No, I'm not one of those fans who complains that there are more humans than Transformers in the film, I do think it was a good choice for the first one. However, Sam is a big problem, he literally has no reason to be in the film other than owning the glasses that both sides are hunting. I don't think Sam's motivation, of wanting to have sex, is that bad, it does fit his character, but his entitlement, narcissism and ignorance of his own privilege render him nothing more than an irritant rather than a character. Mikaela is the daughter of a car thief, why couldn't she initiate the plot by stealing Bumblebee? The sub-plot of Captain Lennox and his men surviving a Decepitcon attack, learning how to fight them and bringing that knowledge back home is really good, why wasn't the film about that? That would have been really cool, actually.

It was an interesting experience going back and taking another look at Transformers, the sexism and racism made for uncomfortable viewing, but at the same time, there were some great moments that felt overlooked in the broader discussion. Jon Voight is in this film, (remember that? I didn't) playing a surprisingly forward-thinking and pragmatic Defense Secretary who is willing to listen to the most outlandish theory from his lowliest subordinate when she brings him evidence of the impossible; I don't recall ever seeing that in any film. Having Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime is pretty damn fantastic and lends a shocking amount of gravitas to the character's dialogue. When Bumblebee and Mikaela decide to go back and join the fight, despite his being wounded and her being scared, is possibly the centerpiece moment of the film, but I didn't remember it. In short, Transformers is a study in contrasts; it's not good, but has great moments. Has a brilliant (for the most part) cast, but resorts to uncomfortable stereotyping. Perhaps worth another look, but far from a classic.

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