Transformers: Bay’s Bombastic Blockbuster Is Big Fun!

Transformers Movie ReviewIf you’re looking for a movie with action, adventure, romance and good old-fashioned explosions, then you probably need look no further than Dreamworks’ Transformers. Even though it’s a Michael Bay film, Steven Spielberg’s fingerprints are all over it – from the slightly nerdy hero to the relationship between a shadowy government agency and the kids who may be able to provide the one hope of saving the planet; from the kid who gets his first car, to the girl who breaks up with the jock ‘cause he’s an ass – think Indiana Jones meets E.T. via Robot Wars and the WWE… 

Transformers opens with a battle between a U.S. force in Afghanistan and a scorpion-like robotic creature. This serves to introduce Sergeant Lennox [Josh Duhamel] and Tech Sergeant Epps [Tyrese Gibson], who reappear later on. From there we move to a high school classroom, where Sam Witwicky [Shia LaBeouf] is giving a report on his explorer grandfather – that doubles as a solicitation for funds [buy one of Grandpa’s historic relics, now on eBay!]. He weasels a sufficient grade to keep a promise to his father – and they’re off to get him a car.

Despite the dealership’s owner’s best efforts to sell him something, Sam winds up with a battered ’76 Camaro [yellow with black racing stripes – and dings, dents, rust and what appears to be singing] – a car the dealer had never seen before [and which “helped” him make the sale]. Before you know it, Sam is giving a ride to the hottest chick in school, Mikaela Banes [Megan Fox], a lass who breaks up with her jock boyfriend because he’s an ass an a bully. Somehow, with the car’s help, Sam manages to not completely blow it with Mikaela, setting things up for the pair’s unlikely encounter with their first Decepticon…

Sam and The Cube

Okay. This is a Michael Bay film. That means righteous action sequences and top-notch CG stuff. Normally, it would also mean rapidly sketched in characters and a rocket blast into the “stuff blows up real good” part of the flick. Thanks to a script by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman [the duo who made Ethan a real person in Mission: Impossible III, and are attempting to rejuvenate the Star Trek movie franchise], even minor characters feel real, which makes Bay’s bombastic set pieces more effective.

The relationship between Sam and his car – an Autobot warrior called Bumblebee – is central to the film as it shows us that the Autobot is as much of a character as the teen. A scene wherein Mikaela insults the Camaro uses humor to demonstrate that Bumblebee is sentient – and feelings. It also shows that the Autobot has a sense of humor. Suddenly, a creation of CGI is a person! A person made of metal and glass, but a person nonetheless.

The first hour of the film sets up the coming clash between the Autobots and the Decepticons. We meet various governmental figures – like Defense Secretary John Keller [Jon Voight] and the agent-in-charge from Sector Seven, Agent Simmons [John Turturro]. We learn about Grandpa Witwicky’s discovery of something inside the Arctic Circle – something so amazing, it apparently drove him crazy.

Optimus Prime

We see Optimus Prime [Peter Cullen] rescue Sam and Mikaela from that Decepticon – and learn why the Autobots and Decepticons are here on this particular planet [it has to do with a cube called the Allspark, which seems to generate some kind of life-giving – or destroying force]. We watch as a boom box Decepticon infiltrates the Pentagon and Air Force One, leading to the world’s communications. And, finally, we enter the secret sanctum of Sector Seven – deep within Hoover Dam – and find both the cube and a gigantic Decepticon, Megatron [Bryan Cox].

And even with that synopsis, there’s a ton of stuff that’s been left out [like the computer geeks who work for the Department of Defense, and the hacker whom one such geek goes to for help]. For a Michael Bay flick, this not an uncomplicated piece of work – even though it’s the result of a toy franchise…

Megatron

Transformers is fun, big fun! That’s due to its being a combination of characters we can care about [including the Autobots] and stakes that matter [the end of the world]. The non-CG stunts may not match those of Live Free or Die Hard, but they are pretty darned impressive – and mesh well with the CGI material. Bay’s direction is pretty straightforward – his pauses for character stuff are unforced and his action sequences will blow you away.

When an Autobot or Decepticon transforms, if you watch closely, you can see where every bit of metal and glass – every windshield and hubcap – fits into the construction of the bipedal machine character it becomes. This attention to detail adds a further level of verisimilitude to the film and the seamless integration of live and CG action carries more weight because of it.

The film runs a bit over two hours [discounting the closing credits] and is, as Calvin and Hobbes might say, just packed! The audience reaction [including mine] at the screening I attended was boisterous, enthusiastic and wholehearted. I haven’t seen a movie get that kind of applause since Raiders of the Lost Ark [and I was applauding, too!].

Final Grade: A

EM REview Posted by Sheldon Wiebe
Originally Posted 07/03/07

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