Well, what can I say?? This movie is almost un-reviewable. It is exactly what you would expect from a huge summer blockbuster movie. Pretty people put in unbelievable (read: unrealistic and moronic) circumstances that allow for a lot of explosions and collateral damage flying at the screen, all pumped up to the nth decibel level. Not that all of that is a bad thing. I mean, that’s what summer entertainment is! And, sometimes, it can be great fun. As is the case with Michael Bay’s ‘Transformers,’ based on the popular line of action figures from the 80’s. This is a great big, loud, expensive, special FX-heavy summer movie…just the kind of thing movie audiences expect to be released over the July Fourth holiday weekend (except for the absence of Will Smith).
At the outset, we are in Qatar at a military base where several soldiers are taking a well-deserved breather, when all of a sudden, big, machine-gun wielding robots show up and effectively annihilate the base. A small unit of soldiers (Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson among them) survives the attack. Cut to high school dweeb Sam (Shia LeBeouf) giving a lame presentation in his history class about his great-great-Grandfather, an Arctic Circle explorer. Sam’s Dad buys him a beat up old Camaro (a reward for good grades), which mysteriously appears at the Auto Shop of a cameo-ing Bernie Mac. The car is great and Sam hopes driving some cool wheels will help him score the resident hottie, Mikaela (Megan Fox). Once again, cut to the Secretary of Defense (Jon Voight) giving a press conference about the aforementioned attack in Qatar, indicating that the only identification of the mysterious attackers retrieved is a weird voice signal. The people gathered at said press conference are the #1 minds in the area of voice analysis and code breaking in the country who have been summoned in order to try and decipher the strange signal. Soon, the soldiers are back in the States to give eyewitness accounts of the alien attackers, Sam’s cool car starts acting weird by stealing itself in the middle of the night and transforming into a walking, talking robotic menace, and the analysts are discovering that the voice signal may be otherworldly. Of course, all of this set up is just an excuse to get to the real meat of this film’s existence: the computer generated FX of car’s transforming into giant robots, of which, we learn, there are two camps: the good Autobots, and the evil Deceptacons, both after (what else??) a source of ultimate power called the Allspark.
This leads to several scenes where ordinary machines transform spectacularly into enormous, dangerous robots from another planet! Surprisingly, this is not the movie’s greatest strength. We all knew the effects would be terrific…do you really think Michael Bay (and Exec. Producer Steven Spielberg) would’ve let this movie leave DreamWorks if the effects were not spectacular? This movie does not disappoint in that department at all. The transformation sequences are truly a terrific wonder and achievement in computer generated graphics. It all looks seamless and beautifully blended with the live actors, mere playthings in a movie like this. No, the greatest strength, in my opinion, of this film is the tongue-in-cheek approach the movie adopts. This is evidenced almost immediately, in the opening credits, where a title card reads “In Association With Hasbro,” the same Hasbro that makes Hot Wheels and half of the toys that most of the moviegoers played with as youngsters. At this moment, everyone in my screening knew what he or she was in for. Further, there is a moment when Mikaela asks Sam if he thinks she’s shallow. His answer: “There is more than meets the eye…with you.” This is, of course, a reference to the Transformers cartoon tagline, “More than meets the eye.” This movie doesn’t try and reinvent the source cartoon or try to update it for a new generation. It just takes the basic premise for the cartoon (Autobots vs. Deceptacons) and creates a fairly simple story around it.
Performances in this type of movie are typically barely worth mentioning. Here, the acting is perfectly fine, no major thesping going on here, just a lot of running and ducking and shouting. LeBeouf, Fox, Duhamel, Voight, Gibson all do what is required of them fine (LeBeouf actually showing a bit of charisma and confidence in a leading man role), as does the rest of the cast (which, in addition to Bernie Mac, also includes Anthony Anderson as an uber-hacker, and John Turturro as a super secret agent).
But the real calling card here is the Transformers themselves: Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Megatron and the rest. They look great and Bay has definitely succeeded in bringing the classic cartoon into the 21st century for both older fans and younger action hounds to enjoy.
My favorite line: While running down the street, fleeing from a Deceptacon attack, one bystander shouts to a friend of his, “This is so much better than ‘Armageddon!’” ‘Armageddon,’ of course, being a similar Michael Bay, blowing things up, summer blockbuster from a few years back.