For much of my young life, I was a diehard Transformers fan. I have distinct memories of receiving my first Transformer, Jazz, as well as Soundwave, Hot Rod, and of course, Grimlock, my favorite toy of all time. Heck, one Christmas Santa brought me Fortress Maximus–probably the most enviable toy I ever owned as a kid. FM was the equivalent of the aircraft carrier for G.I. Joe fans, or the Eternia playset for Masters of the Universe.
At the age of fifteen, I wrote a fan fiction novel about Transformers. It’s now out there in the wild of the Web, and not hard to find. I lost most of my interest in Transformers in high school, when my attention turned to even geekier pursuits such as playing Magic: the Gathering and reading The Lord of the Rings.
Still, I’ve always had a lingering fondness for ol’ Optimus Prime and company. Which is why I realize it’s a bit odd it took me so long to see the recent Transformers movie. I mean, I like science fiction blockbusters, and among everyone I know, I was probably the biggest childhood TF fan–so why the apathy? A few reasons, I think. A certain dislike for the flashy but insubstantial filmmaking style of Michael Bay; the ugly robot designs; and a genuine lack of interest in Transformers these days.
Anyway, I finally watched the movie over the weekend. As I’d suspected, it was entertaining, but it didn’t make me want to go out and buy any Transformers toys; which, frankly, represents a pretty big thumbs-down from me (I’m the guy who wishes he could get a Horatio Caine action figure, after all–my standards are pretty low). Again, I thought the Transformer designs were much too complicated and cluttered, especially in the faces, which made it impossible to empathize with them as characters. To me, they were big piles of metal that looked like they’d fly apart at the slightest bump.
What there was of a plot was confusing. Why, at the end of the film, are Megatron and Optimus Prime discussing the relative merits of humanity? At that point, Megatron has spent all of twenty minutes around humans, so his wanting to destroy them all–to say nothing of his understanding how important their continued existence is to Optimus Prime–sort of comes out of left field.
That’s only one minor point, really, but it’s indicative of my general feeling watching the movie. I enjoyed all the little asides to fans of the original cartoon, but most of it was just weird. Why the bizarre John Turturro character, who acts like a G-man version of Stanley Spadowski and somehow gets more lines than Megan Fox? Why the moment where Bumblebee pees on said G-man? The so-called “humor” of the film generally left me cold, especially the scene where the Autobots scurry around the house of human friend Sam (Shia LeBeouf) like Keystone Cops. Having looked up to the staid, respectful Optimus Prime of the original cartoon as one of my childhood role models, it seemed a bit undignified for Peter Cullen to have to deliver lines like “Oops, sorry, my bad” and fret about being spotted by Sam’s parents.
I want to be clear–I’m not criticizing the movie for not being a direct cartoon-to-meatspace translation of the original cartoon. I might have gone even farther from the show’s premise to up the realism of the flick, though I also would have ratcheted back the Transformer designs.
I watched the movie less as a Transformers adaptation and more as a standard science fiction movie–this year’s heir to Independence Day and Armageddon. And on that level, I still think the film fell a little short. The action sequences were confusing, the characterizations with wafer-thin, and Michael Bay’s odd and yet, somehow clich