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Shocker! Transformers is a good movie!

I had the opportunity to see Transformers the other day. After a particularly difficult day with Captain Destructo and the Mistress of Chaos, I decided to flee the house after my backup arrived. Not knowing where to go, I found myself at a theatre watching a movie I wasn't that interested in. I'm glad I did.

Considering the source material was a line of children's toys featuring robots that can be changed into cars and planes, the writers did an excellent job of putting together a solid story. It didn't insult my intelligence; and in a movie of this type, that's a remarkable achievement. The most implausible thing in the movie (so long as you accept the central premise) was the existence of a huge abandoned neo-classical building in downtown Los Angeles. Rather than focus the movie on the robots -- which would have been stupid -- they chose to follow a number of different characters who have been sucked into the Transformers' interstellar war. You've got a bunch of soldiers heading home from Iraq, a horny teenage boy and his lust object, an Australian signal analysis babe and her befuddled hacker friend, and Donald Rumsfeld.

The action is unrelenting as you might guess. Things blow up. Frequently. People are chased by crazed giant robots. But they get away! Robots throw other robots through buildings. Many, many times. It sounds tedious, but I found it to be pure visual poetry.

I was especially impressed with the comedy though. This movie is funny. And it's not the 'that's so stupid, it's funny' kind either, but real laughs. Here's a selection of clips from the movie. The scene with the soldier in a firefight trying to get past an Indian call center guy so he can call in an air strike is typical of the light tone that made this flick so enjoyable.

Here's a great trailer, if you need more encouragement.

The marketing campaign for Transformers is the first that has penetrated my son's mind. I don't know where he heard about it, but he knows about this movie and wants to see it. I promise you Max, when you're old enough to read this, I'll go rent it and watch it with you.

UPDATE: One of the things I enjoyed about the movie was that it was devoid of the sneering political point of view I find in so many movies of late. The military, right up to the Secretary of Defence, were the good guys. It was refreshing. But is there a deeper message in the film? The blogosphere is a-buzz. First, conservative film site Libertas weighs in:

The films politics are decidedly pro-American, pro-military, and even *gasp* pro-freedom. Bay’s affection for the American military is obvious in every scene they’re in. They are uniformly portrayed as heroic, extremely competent, selfless, and even kind to Arab children. The theme of the film is spoken out loud more than once: No sacrifice, no victory. And the Autobots have come to liberate us from the terrorist Decepticons because the Autobots believe freedom is the right of everyone. Yes, there is a gentle, somewhat affectionate jab at Bush, but Jon Voight’s Secretary of Defense makes it clear at every turn that the President is running the show.

[...]And after all the relativist junk we’ve been suffering through, it does mean something to watch the fight for freedom portrayed with valor, good and evil distinguished, and the dreaded-until-needed military industrial complex save the day.

John Rogers, one of the writers of the movie and someone who evidently considers himself 'progressive', fires back -- maybe a bit too aggressively:
Second, hopefully this may slooooowly spin you around to the idea that being "pro-American, pro-military and even *gasp* pro-freedom" are not just conservative values. Progressives are also pro-American, pro-military -- in my first draft, the Army guys actually have bigger role, although they're a little grungier and working-class than all shiny and model-y -- and *gasp* pro-freedom. We just believe you serve these values in different ways. Demonizing each other is a way the Bastards in Suits try to keep the game going, and keep their little scams in place, so we don't suddenly notice that we're all on the same side, we all support the troops. We all rather like each other, and despite our many disagreements maybe we'd like all the professional hate-mongers to bugger off now, please.
Hmm. What I took from the Libertas review was that he was grateful that the movie didn't need to remind you that everything was controlled by 'Bastards in Suits' running 'scams'.

The last word should go to Ezra Klein:

We can go back-and-forth doing a sort of tendentious reading of key scenes (The president is a ding-dong eating dunce, the military folk are hair-trigger types who nearly invade the wrong nation, Optimus Prime is colored sort of like an American flag, Megatron is kept frozen and the All-Spark hidden via a giant public works project, etc), but we're missing the point. The point is GIANT GODDAMN ROBOTS. They're REALLY BIG.
But it doesn't. The Atlantic's Matthew Yglesias has this to say:
Indeed, it's the very shallow nature of Transformer's plotting that makes it so pregnant. The standard format for a not-very-original action movie pits a Hero against, of course, a Villain. But beyond the Villain, the Hero must also do battle with the Faceless Institution whose inability to grasp the true nature of the situation imperils the entire situation. This Institution comes in, roughly speaking, two guises. In some films, like Bad Boys, the Institution is portrayed as comprised of feckless bureaucrats who don't understand the Hero's need to Get Things Done. In other films, like Transformers, the Institution is portrayed as comprised of power-mad authoritarians who can't tell the good guys from the bad guys.

Now, of course, better, more sophisticated stories can have more nuanced ideological content (the Terminator films, for example, provide both a critique of the military industrial complex and a statement of the security dilemma), or else possibly none at all, or, perhaps, an ambiguous message (First Blood) that'll be read according to pre-existing prejudices. The key in all cases, though, is not to look for specific commentary on the passing tide of events (i.e., the SecDef in Transformers kinda looks like Don Rumsfeld) but for what broad values the film appeals to and endorses.

If anyone knows what he means, let me know.

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Comments

Great review! I might actually go to the theater for the first time since Titanic!

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