Thursday, July 5, 2007

You're A Soldier Now! - A Review of Transformers (The Movie, not the Franchise)

My July 4 pseudo-weekend was great fun, from beginning to end. On the actual holiday, Becky and I loaded up a cooler full of beer, delicious rice-fruit salad, broccoli salad, taco dip, and family reunion dessert, all Becky's creations, grabbed some chairs, and went out with a cohort of D.S.I. people to enjoy the festivities at Regency Park in Cary. I had a great time, and even rode a mechanical bull.

Tuesday night I went to see Transformers. The complaints about this movie have been well documented. I find Nick Faber's review of the film to be both concise and true. I'll expand upon it thusly:


The film is basically one long, bad sketch, the premise of which is "What if the Transformers were just, you know, regular dudes?" There are far too many stupid asides, sight gags (a chihuahua pees on a Transformer), and lame shots across the pop-culture bow for the script to have any urgency behind it. When we are finally given a scene that isn't encumbered by horrible bits, Michael Bay's "throw indistinct flashes of light at the camera, combined with loud clanking noises" style of directing*, keeps the audience from seeing what we paid to see: giant fighting robots. This really disappointed me, because the robots were very cool: when a police-car Decepticon turned into a car in midair and shot off at full speed, the theater broke out in applause, and the battle between an interstate-skating Decepticon and Optimus Prime (who was, incidentally, played less as a fearless leader and more as a bumbling sitcom alien, albeit one with a huge sword coming out of his arm) was quite thrilling.

To make matters worse, writers Roberto Orci (who, according to IMDB, wrote an indeterminate nubmer of episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess), Alex Kurtzman (writing the upcoming Star Trek movie), and John Rogers (he wrote Catwoman!) apparently studied at the Moran and Mack school of screenwriting, because the film is really irresponsible with its minority characters. There are two black "mammies"** and two big ole' fat black goofballs, one of whom hilariously crashes through a glass door, and another who is phoned in by the talented or not-talented (I'm not sure yet because he keeps taking roles like this) Anthony Anderson. Tyrese Gibson's character seems to exist solely to say words like "dawg" to Josh Duhamel's withered stump of a soldier. Bernie Mac plays "the cool-but-slightly-flustered black dude" he plays in the Ocean's 11 films. The one Latino character often lapses into Spanish and is chastised for it by his buddies, in a move that is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, but comes off as chauvinistic. And then there's Jazz.

Jazz's only line that means anything, other than the mild shit-talk he throws at Megatron when he's fighting him and is summarily dispatched, is something to the effect of "This looks like a good place to chill and kick it."

C'mon guys. I'm not mad that you have a "hip hop" (read: African American) Transformer. I'm really not. I'm just mad that all of the black characters in this movie were curious goofballs (with the exception of Gibson's, who was more of a curious bad-ass). And unfortunately, this kind of lazy filmmaking perpetuates itself: mammies are easy to make jokes with (see Norbit and Big Momma's House), it's easier to write hollow jive dialogue than to have a character who uses African American vernacular and still says something meaningful, and it's easier to show white, middle class audiences stereotypes than it is to ask them to think about race.

I realize I'm coming off as a prickly liberal for writing this, but I figure that it has to be said, because it seems obvious to me that Hollywood is really inadequate in its treatment of race. Transformers would still be a one-star movie without all of the racial issues, but the offhand way in which the stereotypes are thrown around is really disconcerting.


Uh, also...God Bless America.

*That said, I'm not going to spend too much time lambasting Michael Bay. He isn't an artist, or if he is, he's a bad one. And his movies are mostly unenjoyable explosion-fests. I know. But if I were a producer, and wanted to make an explosion-fest, I would want a director who was the right kind of asshole to figure out the direction of a movie that has n explosions, a huge crew, and a huge production budget. Something tells me that Michael Bay is that guy. The movie still largely sucks, though.
**Ups to Jeremy Griffin for pointing this out to me.


Nick Faber said...

Great review, Joe. I guess one positive about this movie is the amount of discussion it's been responsible for, at least in our circle of friends.

My one sentence review would have been, "It's like Michael Bay wrote the screenplay and then the studio gave it to Dane Cook to punch up."

Joe Stanton said...

Haha, yep. And I agree that this movie is good in that is fostered some serious thought. Sometimes bad movies do that better than good ones.

Remi said...

The other thing (and Nick pointed this out to me) was the really egregious placement of GMC/Chevy cars and (especially) trucks. It was like every time a new transformer was introduced, we'd get the 'awesome music' and a slow pan centered on the name of the frakkin' car. How much do you think it cost to have that much screentime for the GMC logo.

Same goes for eBay. There were some bad sentences in there to justify saying 'eBay'.

Which is to say that I agree with you. I wanted to like this movie so bad. To be honest, the thing that disengaged me the most is that the Autobots were chumps. Is it too much to ask that the heroes be, you know, heroic?

In the latter part of the movie it felt like every time they engaged with the Decepticons (who had no personality) they got their asses whomped in really embarassing ways. I don't mind if the good guys are overmatched, but it felt like they were incompetent boobs. I believe I leaned over and said, "No wonder they lost the war," to Nick at one point, and that makes me sad. I want to believe that the heroes of a dumb action movie actually have it in them to pull it out in the end. Even Optimus Prime could only throw down effectively against a dude who had only had three seconds of screen time.


alison h. said...

1. well, jazz was actually my favorite character in that whole movie, if only because i just really like saying "gimme dat pontiac solstice!" and also because he just got ripped in half like some kind of punk.

2. the product placement in this film was second in transparency only to richie rich, which i saw recently on like tbs and was intrigued not by the overuse of a particular product, but rather by the sheer number of different products a single movie could push. it was easily 200.

3. this movie has EVERYTHING.

4. honestly, i would've rather been at home watching independence day, but in a way i felt like i was just watching independence day, except none of the male actors in transformers were anywhere near as sexy as will smith.