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'Transformers' Movie Review

Definition of a Summer Blockbuster: See "Transformers"

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

By

Optimus Prime in Transformers

Optimus Prime in Transformers.

© 2007 DreamWorks LLC. TM & © 2007 Paramount Pictures
Finally, the hype surrounding one of this summer’s big releases is justified. Transformers delivers the thrills we’ve been waiting for all year long and love him or hate him, director Michael Bay pulls off something films with bigger budgets and more stars (Pirates of the Caribbean 3, Shrek 3, Spider-Man 3) couldn’t accomplish. Transformers is the over-the-top slam-bam action dramedy that almost single-handedly redeems the 2007 summer blockbuster season.

Based on a line of Hasbro toys, Transformers puts the fun back into moviegoing, blending comedy with the robot action and adding a dash of romance along with eye candy for both sexes into a film that never takes itself seriously yet doesn’t poke fun at or offend those who grew up loving the toys. Smartly cast with awe-inspiring special effects, Bay and company have created more than just a movie. Catch it in a theater because on DVD it just won't be the same. Watching Transformers on the big screen is a real cinematic experience. The preview crowd I was with cheered the robot heroes and really interacted with the film (not to the degree it was annoying), totally caught up in what was unfolding on the screen. And strangely enough, the idea of robots battling each other with the future of mankind hanging in the balance almost seems plausible because of how ingeniously the make believe world of Autobots and Decepticons has been brought to life in Transformers.

The Story

Following a brief bit of narration in which the backstory of the Autobots and Decepticons is revealed, Transformers focuses on the story of high school student Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and his desire to own a car. Sam’s dad has promised he’ll help buy him his first car if he can raise some cash on his own and if he delivers a report card studded with As. Sam's so anxious to own a car that he even resorts to using eBay to try to sell some of his great-great-grandfather’s possessions which the famous explorer used while making an important discovery in the Artic.

Megan Fox and Shia LaBeouf star in Transformers

Megan Fox and Shia LaBeouf in Transformers.

© 2007 DreamWorks LLC. TM & © 2007 Paramount Pictures
The great-great-grandfather’s discovery and Sam’s first car, a beat up canary yellow Camaro, lead directly to Sam’s involvement with the Autobots (the good guys) led by Optimus Prime (voiced with evident relish by none other than Peter Cullen). Sam’s initial suspicion that there’s something fishy about his Camaro are confirmed when the car displays a mind of its own by choosing only to play ‘love’ songs after Sam offers shapely beauty Mikaela (Megan Fox) a ride. That act of intelligence is followed up shortly by the Camaro transforming into a gigantic yellow robot (the Autobot Bumblebee). It seems Sam’s great-great-grandfather’s glasses hold the key to the location of an item that both the Autobots and the evil Decepticons (the bad guys) want to get their mechanical hands on. Sam's use of eBay to sell the glasses has alerted the robots to his whereabouts and thus turned him into a major player in their robot war.

Meanwhile the United States military is drawn into the battle after their base in Qatar is attacked by a helicopter that shape-shifts into a super nasty robot. Further attacks on the military and civilians, along with an infiltration into Air Force One’s computer system, convince military intelligence and the Secretary of Defense John Keller (Jon Voight) that there’s more going on than meets the eye. The military readies to go into battle against an enemy they’ve never seen before and one they have no idea how to crush. Everything comes to a head as Sam, Mikaela, the US military and the Autobots face down Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving) and the Decepticons.

The Cast

If there was ever a question of whether Shia LaBeouf can carry a film it’s answered in the affirmative with Transformers. Acting opposite tennis balls on poles, LaBeouf’s comic timing is impeccable and even his delivery of the more serious lines of dialogue is utterly believable. LaBeouf’s appealing without being a pretty boy and he’s the glue that holds the entire film together.

Fox hangs in there during the action scenes although it’s evident the foremost reason she was cast was because she’s drop dead gorgeous. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson play Army Rangers who survive the initial attack in Qatar and who help lead the charge against the Decepticons. Duhamel and Gibson take a serious yet playful approach to their characters and it works.

John Turturro’s deliciously funny as a federal agent who knows more about the robots than anyone on the planet due to a secret government project he’s been involved with called Sector 7. And Jon Voight adds a certain gravitas to the production by playing it totally straight, or at least as straight as possible considering the fact the film is built around a toy line.

What Worked/What Didn't

I didn’t expect to care about the robots (I’m a huge Bumblebee fan now) and I also didn't expect Transformers to be so hilarious. It's not advertised as a comedy but if it were I'd be willing to bet more women would check it out. That’s not to say the film doesn’t treat its subject matter with respect. While Bay and writers Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman do take liberties with the characters, they never stray from the essence of the popular toys.

Transformers does have its faults. During the robot fights it was nearly impossible to track who was fighting who. It's also weird that the showdown takes place on busy downtown streets rather than someplace more appropriate. And the idea of a super model-type as a computer hacker just didn’t sit right, especially after swallowing the idea that Megan Fox is a gearhead who grew up fixing cars. Although it’s possible there are women as beautiful as Rachael Taylor who enjoy hacking and gorgeous babes who love tearing apart engines, it just doesn’t work well to have two such women in one movie. A geeky guy or gal in place of Taylor would have fit in more smoothly. But this is a Michael Bay movie and he does love to showcase beautiful women, so it wasn’t completely unexpected.

The Bottom Line

The fast-paced action leaves you without a second to catch your breath and longing for a remote control to rewind and slow down the fights and transformations. There’s so much going on and Bay doesn’t let up once the film enters the third act. But even if you can’t tell exactly what’s going on, it’s incredibly entertaining to watch. The wizards at ILM worked their magic in new and astonishing ways and the result is a film in which huge robots have their own distinct personalities. If it weren’t for their bulky metallic frames, these robots would almost seem human.

First and foremost Transformers is an action film, but it’s also surprisingly touching and uplifting. The sides are clearly defined and the battle between the Autobots and Decepticons will leave you drained but cheering.

Grade: A-

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