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Capt. Sage's Review of
Transformers
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Transformers has excellent fight scenes and special effects, and characters that are sympathetic, and comedy that works fairly often. It's hampered by two things. First, it's not the sort of movie one can comfortably sit down with in front of the whole family and watch. Second, it feels a bit cliched at points.

The fight scenes, as I said, were incredible. There was a lot of use of military hardware, both on the side of the humans and the Transformers, and all of it felt like it was being used realistically. The humans called Airborne Warning And Control System (AWACS) aircraft to coordinate airstrikes, and the soldiers took cover as they returned fire. (One of the best things about this film was the respect and professionalism with which it portrayed the military.) The robots disguised themselves as giant tanks and advanced fighter planes for amazing land battles and aerial dog fights (respectively, of course.)

Unfortunately, the battles of the humans against the evil Transformers were more exciting to me than the Transformer vs. Transformer fights, for the simple reason that I could tell who was who. When the good and evil Transformers fought, I couldn't tell who was who. They both looked like giant metal humanoids coming at each other really fast. Their actions were exciting, but I couldn't always tell which was the good guy and which was the bad guy (see the spoiler section below 1.)

I hesitate to recommend this movie for a family audience mostly because of the nature of a great deal of the so-called comedy in this film. Most of the jokes, especially when the film's young protagonists are on screen, are simply locker room innuendos. I think that the rating which said there were "some" such jokes was wholly inaccurate. It should've said "incessant."

The subtle comedy was far more effective and appropriate (see the spoiler section below 2.)

As a semidisaster movie, it felt the need to fall prey to cliches, which I found boring, and more nonsensical than usual (see the spoiler section below. 3.) The movie's plot tends to move quickly, but various weaknesses in the plot distracted me (see the spoiler section below. 4.)

One area in which this movie exceeds its disaster movie and action movie peers is in its portrayal of characters. A few of the minor characters were sometimes made unrealistic for comedic effect, but those bits of comedy worked, so I didn't mind. The main characters were portrayed sympathetically without getting the sense that we were supposed to break out into overexaggerated sobs, or that the good guys were supposed to be perfect.

Transformers isn't family-friendly, and it isn't always coherent, but it has exciting fight scenes, and you'll care about the ending because of sympathy for the characters.

SPOILERS

At one point in the ending sequence, I saw two of the good Transformers walk by and thought to myself, "Wait, didn't they get killed a few scenes ago? I guess not." That's how confused I got between the various Transformers. Basically the only one that I found visually distinctive was Megatron, and I couldn't tell you how I recognized him.

Often the small, subtle jokes in the movie were far better than the loud, obnoxious ones. For example, an evil Decepticon masquerades as a police car, perfect to the last detail, except that a long shot with the vehicle's side near the camera reveals that the motto on the side has been corrupted into "To Destroy and Enslave." Another hilarious moment is when a person sees the Autobots falling out of the sky like meteors and compares the moment to the asteroid-crash disaster movie "Armageddon."

The first bit of illogic I found in the plot was fairly early in the movie. A stewardess on Air Force One finds a boom box on the floor in front of the door to the cargo hold. She shrugs but simply carries it into the hold and sets it down.

That seemed very odd to me. This is supposed to be a trained Air Force One stewardess. Upon finding an incongrous item in a place where it's clearly not supposed to be, is the stewardess' first reaction to simply pick it up and put it somewhere else, or is it to at least entertain the possibility that it might be a bomb and inform someone about it?

Sure, it's just a boom box, innocuous in anyone's eyes, and yes I know the movie needed to get the robot disguising itself as a boom box into the hold, so I can almost accept it. It simply seems to me that when you're around a political leader your mind would be more disposed to consider the possible dangers in objects that are in places they shouldn't be.

Bumblebee's actions as Sam's guardian confused me too. He's supposed to be an alien from another planet assigned to guard Sam. Assuming he can even figure out human actions enough to realize that Sam really wants to talk to Mikaela (granted it is rather obvious) why does he go to such great lengths to encourage them to be together romantically? What does he care?

Bumblebee, oddly enough, does not always feel the need to be with Sam- at one point he runs off and transforms into his humanoid form, then simply returns the next day. All of this was for no apparent reason. Why did Bumblebee feel the need to run off and transform? Even if he did, as Sam's guardian, he should not have left Sam!

Another confusing plot point was how the Transformers knew so much about the location of the Cube and Megatron, and Capt. Witwicke's interaction with them. None of them except Megatron were there, so how did they know all of this? We could say that the Decepticons learned all of this when they hacked into the military networks, which had information on all of this. But how did Optimus Prime of the Autobots know this? He didn't hack into the network, nor did the other Autobots, and his enemies the Decepticons certainly didn't tell him what they learned. So how was Optimus Prime able to inform Sam of what Capt. Witwicke found in the glacier?

Come to think of it, how did any Transformer, Autobot or Decepticon, know what had transpired under the glacier? None of them were there, except Megatron, and Megatron was frozen solid and unable to communicate with anyone. Capt. Witwicke was alone under the glacier when the location of the Cube was burned into his glasses- and even when that occurred, I don't think he had any idea what had just happened to his glasses. The information probably wasn't on the military network for the Decepticons to steal, since the glasses had been handed down through the generations to Sam, and so presumably not catalogued on the network. There was a low-resolution picture of the glasses on eBay, but I find it hard to believe that anyone could suddenly guess, "Oh wait, those glasses must have the location of the Cube on them, because surely Capt. Witwicke somehow triggered the navigation systems on Megatron!" And I find it hard to belive that the tiny pittings on the glasses would be recognizable on an eBay shot as "Highly Compressed Transformer Navigational Data," even to a Transformer.

I appreciate the fact that Optimus Prime and the Decepticons inexplicably knowing all these things moved the plot along, and I was grateful for learning just what the Transformer's goals were. The logical holes still disturb me.

Speaking of conclusions that no one could possibly leap to, there was the usual disaster movie cliche of having a woman correctly identify the source of impeding doom, despite the source of impending doom sounding totally ridiculous or made-up. I had to wonder how any human could possibly leap to the conclusion that a machine intelligence was creating the bizarre effects she was seeing. With absolutely no implication of alien involvement, she goes and constructs an outlandish theory of intelligent machines. I find it hard to believe that a human would entertain that possibility without evidence of alien involvement- they'd at first think it more likely that the effects they are observing are the result of a group of very clever humans. I also found the whole plot thread to be rather pointless. It didn't really produce any information- the audience knows perfectly well that alien machine intelligences are running amok. Presumably the whole point of it was to get the woman, her hacker friend, and the secretary of defense, into the story, but I found it hard to swallow.

The movie almost engaged the cliche of having the main character's family be important, but I'd say this was neatly avoided by an original twist. The main character didn't care that much about his family history and was attempting to sell his heirlooms. Not exactly noble, but understandable and original.

I was pleasantly surprised by how well the movie made sense of the central conceit; that immensely powerful and advanced machines would want to hide as ordinary, humble Earth machines. The Decepticon's infiltrator robot, masquerading as a boom box and a cell phone, of course gave a virtuoso demonstration of the advantages of hiding in plain sight. Starscream, another Decepticon, also shows the utility of blending in with the locals, when in an aerial dogfight scene he hides amongst a flight of F-22 Raptors and attacks them from within their formation, causing confusion. The good guys, the Autobots, also take advantage of their shape-shifting abilities to go about their work without causing alarm to the humans. I also appreciated the movie taking a moment, during the scene where a Decepticon disguised as a helicopter is setting down, to show that the Transformers can project holographic human drivers into their cockpits. This means that humans aren't disturbed by driverless vehicles on the move.