There’s something hotwired into the male strand of DNA that makes us like to blow shit up, and to see shit blown up. Since we spend the fourth of July celebrating the birth of our fine nation by blowing shit up, I figured it made sense to see Transformers, a movie made by a director (Michael Bay) who likes to blow shit up and based on a toy that is designed for boys who want to pretend to blow shit up.
I suppose I should confess that, as with most treasured geek things, Transformers means nothing to me. I’m a wee-bit too old to have played with the toys or cared about the cartoon; I’ve never even seen the show before, though I know the tagline “More Than Meets the Eye” from commercials. I know that some people my own age watched the cartoon but dudes, that was college… why weren’t you all getting all angsty watching The Seventh Seal. Philistines.
But I wanted to see big robots doing battle and that’s what I got. What I didn’t expect was a John Hughes 80s movie grafted onto it, but the humor actually made it more bearable. The film looks amazing, and the digital compositing is terrific. The robots really blend into the environments. But the fact everyone was goofing off around them made it all one extended joke, which thank god it was. I mean, it’s a movie based on a toy. And as Pirates of the Caribbean—the first, non-crappy one—proved, you can take the worst premise and turn it into humorous fluff.
Which isn’t to say Transformers is as good as Pirates of the Caribbean. There’s no central, “WTF” performance like Johnny Depp, though it appears John Turturro gave it his best effort. (He’s horrible.) And Anthony Anderson, who proved himself with his killer role on The Shield, reverts back to screaming all the time for humor. But Shia LaBeouf is a star, the generic girlfriend was hot, the plot was funny, and lots of shit blew up. It’s a good time for the entire family, assuming you’re OK with an extended masturbation joke. (Where’s Long Duk Dong to bring it all home for the Hughes fan?)
It would make a good double header with Live Free or Die Hard, which I saw over the weekend. If anything, Die Hard 4 is an even more over-the-top action film. And it’s less Michael Bay-esque, which is to say it’s not edited and shot solely for over caffeinated 11-year olds. The worst thing about it is that it’s turned John McClane—so memorably vulnerable in the first movie, particularly when it came to his foot problems—into generic action superhero man.
But it’s even more balls-out action than Transformers. It’s basically an extended sequence of action scenes with little bits tying them all together. While everything it’s all well and good, the last one involving the world’s most mobile fighter jet pegs the stupid meter at 11. And I can’t hate on Justin Long too much for his “I’m playing a teenager in this movie even though I’m nearly 30″ role, despite those horrible “I’m a Mac” ads. I signed an agreement to let CGM be used in a movie he was in called Accepted, though I’ve never looked closely enough at the movie to see if it actually appears anywhere in the final movie.