As many will recall, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” raised many a critic’s eyebrow when it was released late last June. It single-handedly incited the biggest argument to date in regards to the ever-increasing valley between critical reception and mainstream opinion (the film scored a pretty pathetic 20 percent on Rotten Tomatoes but earned more than $800 million worldwide — the year’s second biggest hit after “Avatar” — and left a horde of naysayers muttering angrily to themselves like manic homeless people, shaking their heads in disdain over the sorry state of humanity.
While I, perhaps predictably, found myself on the side of “Revenge of the Fallen’s” detractors (read my review here), I must admit that I was a mite caught off-guard by some of the vitriol and vicious hyperbole that was expressed. Sure, it was a sloppily written, joyless pile of CG-porn, but then, so was the first installment. I was actually far more outraged by the 2007 original, which suckered me in with an incredible trailer and then beat me over the head with idiocy for two-plus hours. I ultimately ended up placing it on my Worst of the Year list, decrying its nonsensical action sequences, half-note characters and sub-“American Pie” humor — three criticisms that seemed far more prominent in written condemnations of the second film. I mention this, not to brag or elevate myself above the critical pack, but just to illustrate that, because of my utterly unpleasant previous experience, “Fallen” offered no new nasty surprises and wasn’t the cinematic suck-bomb for me that it was for many reviewers. It was kinda boring, made very little sense, and was mostly unfunny, but it didn’t come anywhere close to inspiring me to commit seppuku in the theatre aisle.
Now, “Transformers 3” — so far, without a subtitle — is in pre-production, with a guaranteed July 1 release date burned into 2011’s summer movie-season calendar, and I can’t help but wonder what, if any, effect the press’ acidic response to “Revenge of the Fallen” will have on Michael Bay’s approach to the third chapter. I mean, sure money talks louder than the written word, but how could he and sole returning screenwriter Ehren Kruger not take some of the more incisive pieces ripping apart “Fallen’s” script – such as Topless Robot’s hilarious article – to heart? (Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, who worked on the first two films, opted out of coming back — a smart move, given their bright future with the rebooted “Star Trek” franchise.) After all, one would assume that the goal is always to improve with each entry, right? Anyone?
One of the biggest problems with these “Transformers” movies is that they apparently have no understanding or interest in their title characters. You could rename the movies’ “Gobots” or “Voltron,” and you’d only have to make a few superficial changes. I suspect this has a great deal to do with the well-documented fact that Bay and his collaborators write the majority of the various Autobot and Decepticon dialogue in post-production. Hence, rather than feeling like they’re playing on the same field as the human actors, they’ve felt distanced and isolated, on the side-lines waiting until they’re called in to beat each-others’ heads in. Certainly, the old TV cartoon show wasn’t exactly rife with layered personalities or rich mythology, but one of the most crucial aspects in adapting a relatively shallow property like “Transformers” or “G.I. Joe” is to expand upon what’s already there and give it added dimension. In all honestly, I wouldn’t be as annoyed by the franchise if I didn’t think there were some genuinely interesting places to go with it.
Although I’ve got more than my fair share of issues with Bay over his content and direction, it’s often hard to fault his casting choices. Shia LaBeouf is a serious talent who is, by far, the most compelling part of the series (yep, you read that right.) and Megan Fox, love her or hate her, has enough come-hither charm to earn her the global sex-symbol status she’s been reveling in, while the presence of actors like John Voight, John Turturro, Kevin Dunn and Tyrese Gibson is rarely (emphasis on “rarely”) a bad thing.
As reported by Deadline this week, the list of slumming top-notch thespians got a little longer, with the addition of John Malkovich, Frances McDormand and Ken Jeong (he of “The Hangover” and “Role Models”) to the “Transformers 3” cast. Though I don’t fault Jeong for enlisting (the dude’s had a crazy-busy year — he’s earned the right to make some extra cash in a big-time blockbuster), and wasn’t surprised to see Malkovich signing on as Sam Witwicky’s boss (gotta make up for that lost “Spidey 4” fee!), McDormand was a shocker. Sure, she’s been in pricey crap before, with “Aeon Flux,” but at least that venture was an unknown commodity quality-wise, while “Transformers” just plain ain’t. I’m sure she’ll do just fine in her role as a National Intelligence Director, but it’s unfortunate that a better tent-pole endeavor didn’t snap her up first — assuming that’s what she was looking for, of course. Still, all will be forgiven if the “Transformers 3” DVD has a featurette on her husband Joel Coen’s first trip to the set. The sight of that pleasant, introverted, insanely-gifted man quietly observing the notoriously abrasive Bay orchestrating chaos via pyrotechnics, robots and scantily-clad nubiles would be pure comedy gold.
Of course, I somehow doubt that the casting of an Oscar winner and a two-time nominee will influence whether people see the movie either way. No, unlike the filmmakers, the fans understand the appeal of the ‘bots themselves, and many are currently dying of anticipation to know who’ll pop up in the third flick. Word from the studio is, obviously, pretty much mum in regards to the plot and/or new characters, but at a recent trade show, Bay confirmed that the new Ferrari 458 Italia will join the car-nage. Who could it possibly transform into?
Well, I’m hardly the most knowledgeable keeper of “Transformers” lore around, but some light research seems to indicate that this could theoretically mean that either the Throttlebot Chase (an impatient, but courageous good guy) or the Omnibot Overdrive (a loner Autobot with an ego problem) are due to make an appearance. Intriguingly, though, in an interview with IGN, producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura, when asked which robots he’d like to see in part three, enthusiastically revealed his love for the Mini-Cons, which are human-sized bots that pair up with larger-sized Autbots. If these creatures do in fact make the cut, this could mean that Blurr (the fastest talkin’ and movin’ Autobot in the land) could appear, as he is paired with a Mini-Con named Incinerator. Although Blurr is usually depicted as being a blue Ferrari, Bay and his team have played fast and loose with continuity before, so you never really know …
Also noteworthy in that interview is di Bonaventura’s apparent disinterest in Unicron, whose immense size, he feels, “dwarves emotion” (I’m just going to leave that one alone …) and would be a little too out-there for a live-action movie. He also likens him to Galactus from “Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer,” which doesn’t sound like a very promising sign.
The last real nuggets to glean from the bits and pieces of information leaked about the project are in regards to whether the film will be projected in 3D or not. Existing in a post-“Avatar” world, conventional thinking would seem to say “yes.” However, Bay has been extremely vocal about his dislike for the format, stating that his style is too “intense” for three-dimensional viewing. This could evidently be construed as chest-puffing arrogance, but I actually agree with the man. I think that, given his frantic shooting and cutting methods, one viewing of a 3D “Transformers” movie would have the majority of the audience morphing into Mr. Creosote from “Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life” and doing the Technicolor yawn all over their armrests. Reelzchannel recently printed a breakdown of Bay’s artistic concerns with the 3D post-conversion process (he pretty much hates it, flat-out.) in which he declares that the final choice regarding how the film is presented is his, and solely his, to make. Probably true, but I’d be stunned if he and Dreamworks ended up passing on the opportunity for inflated ticket prices.
Either way, I’d wager that there’ll be no shortage of people turning out on July 1, 2011, for more rampaging robots, 3D or no 3D. I know I’ll probably be in there somewhere, but how about you guys? How do you IJM readers feel about a third “Transformers” movie? Are you excited? Blasé? Have you enjoyed the series up to now, or are do you share my irritated aversion towards it? Do you hope Skids and Mudflap return? Roll out on our comments section and make your opinions Optimus Prime-clear!
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Follow Cam Smith on Twitter at http://twitter.com/camspcepisodes.