The Good. I went to the movie with the intension of seeing a decent tokusatsu (special-effects) movie, and it does deliver. The audience was really involved in the film, and they cheered at the end. It had lots of action and some good variations on the transformation. The story is utter crap, but that is not the main reason someone watches a tokusatsu film. They did bring back Peter Cullen to voice Optimus and other voice over actors from the original cartoon series. If you want to see giant robots smashing everything in sight, the movie does not disappoint. I did enjoy it on that level.
The Bad. The main problem I had with the movie is marketing it as a "Transformers" movie. It's not a Transformers movie. I compare it to the Dean Devlin Godzilla movie because it is a good tokusatsu movie that is divorced from the original source material. If they marketed the movie as a unique property, I would probably be more accepting of the movie as a whole. Furthermore, the character design was too radically different from the original show (gen 1), and some of the character personalities were changed. Their behaviors seem out of character for some of the Transformers.
Another problem I had with the movie was the slow pacing through the first hour (of a 144 min. film). The first hour was a light "Dawson's Creek" episode focused on the human characters. A lot of it could have been edited out for pacing and brevity. Also, the movie introduced a lot of human characters that did nothing. They didn't have a role or function in the movie. They just appeared and faded into the background without any real contribution. They definitely could have been edited out. It would have made the plot more coherent.
It also bothered me that the story is told from the point of view of the human characters. In the cartoon series, the story is told from the perspective of the Transformers. I found that element of the cartoon series made it very unique and different. Since Astro Boy, anime has frequently allowed the audience to relate and sympathize on some level with the villains and nonhuman entities. In Japanese story telling, the villain is not just evil. There are usually circumstances that drive essentially good characters to perform evil acts (see Akira Kurosawa's "Stray Dogs"). However, Michael Bay probably wanted characters that the American audience could sympathize. Therefore, the Transformers seem a little distant and cold.
The Ugly. Although the CGI looks acceptable, there are some problems. In some of the combat scenes, the fighting is frenetic and all over the place. I had a hard time distinguishing between the different transformers. Where does one end and the other begin? This is the real problem with using extremely intricate mech designs. Many of the fights become large sloppy blurs of twisted metal on the movie screen. Some scenes remind me of Dragon Ball Z fights, which result in quick blurry motion lines on the television screen. Too confusing...
Optimus Prime, Original Cartoon
Optimus Prime, 2007 Movie
The other problem is the relationship between the robot forms and the vehicle forms. In the original cartoon, the vehicle designs relate highly to the robot designs. For example, Optimus Prime is a semi-truck in vehicle form. In robot form, Prime's torso still looks a lot like the cab of a semi-truck. You can clearly see the balance of form and function. This is the real genius of transformers. The mechanics of the transformation were believable to a certain extent. This translated well to the action figures. They transformed the same way the cartoon did. However, the movie disregards all sense of function for the sake of form. The movie displays intricate mech designs and cool vehicles, but it's difficult to believe that the robot forms can mechanically change into the vehicles.
The conclusion. Well, I recommend everyone see the movie at least once as a good tokusatsu film. It's fun, and big robots kicking ass is always cool. However, it sucks as a Transformers movie, and they should stop marketing it as such...
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James Leung Man-Fai