I know what you're thinking. You read the headline and thought "this is what Vader's kept me waiting six weeks for? His thoughts on Michael Bay's latest Spectacular Spectacular?"
Transformers began as a cheaply produced animated television show in 1984, devised to sell the new range of toys created by Hasbro. The basic premise - a race of robotic beings bring their eons old war to Earth, where they indulge their fetish for imitating human tech (cars, trucks, the odd fighter plane or portable CD player) - is so mind bogglingly moronic that bringing any expectations of sense or drama to a movie adaptation can only lead to disappointment. What was truly depressing about Michael Bay's Transformers (2007) was not what a poor effort the film was, but rather the fact that the movie-going public embraced it as the best that the contemporary Hollywood action film had to offer. Everyone drank the Kool-Aid and made the film a tremendous hit at the box office, as though we'd all made an unspoken pact to forget about films like Die Hard (1988, John McTiernan).
Most film critics, I felt, were too kind to Bay's film. The general feeling seemed to be that decrying the films lack of quality would be a waste of time in the face of a multi-million dollar marketing onslaught and rabid fan expectations. Conversely, reviews of the new sequel - the just released Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen - are a bit harsh for what, to my eyes, is essentially a larger helping of the same dish Michael Bay served up in the first film.
Michael Bay is regularly given ridiculous amounts of money to make films with, and yet his films look like the work of a director who desperately needs to go to film school. His grasp of visual grammar is so poor that his action sequences are usually incoherent messes. The first Transformers was actually a better experience on home video - Michael Bay's restless cameras and ADD editing become more comprehensible on a smaller screen.
The new film has all the exact same problems and virtues as the first - an opening action sequence set in Shanghai is spectacularly staged, but had me confused at times as to which of the robotic machines on screen were good guys or bad guys. The only time the poor editors are permitted to linger on a shot for longer than 2 seconds is when the visual effects team have come up with a particularly spectacular shot involving complex particle animation. In fact, visual effects buffs - fans of rotoscoping, rendering, and compositing - will find much to enjoy during the excessive running time.
Elsewhere, it can be said that Shia LeBeouf once again demonstrates how fortunate the franchise is to have such a charismatic and capable actor to hang all the silliness from - as in the previous film, he is always believable, even when given the most ridiculous of scenarios to enact. John Turturro seems more comfortable here than in the first outing, and finds a better screen rapport with LeBeouf. Megan Fox - so fresh in the first film - is starting to resemble a Transformer herself from a misguided devotion to cosmetic work. She enters the film backlit and draped across a motorcycle, as though Bay forgot for a moment he was shooting a film instead of a pin-up calendar. Kevin Dunn and Julie White return as LeBeouf's parents, and again we are given a pair of capable and naturally funny actors wasted in thankless roles - the sequence where White, as Judy Witwicky, gets high on brownies during a visit to her son's college is a prime example of the type of "humour" we can find in a Transformers film. The audience I saw the film with was laughing, which is a little depressing.
The film is top notch technically, but is that really saying much when the budget is in the realm of $200 million? Composer Steve Jablonsky is no hack, but he's provided the film with another identikit, one-size-fits-all score (much as he did for the first film), aided by several credited additional composers, a team of orchestrators, with a prominent "thank you" to Hans Zimmer in the end credits. The film has made something like $200 million in five days, so it's unlikely that Hollywood will learn any lessons or attempt to make any improvements when the franchise makes the inevitable third outing.