By:Brian Thomas
Review Date: Monday, July 02, 2007

We look forward to summer movies as entertainments that deliver thrilling action sequences, dazzling special effects, chills up our spines and gags that keep us laughing. Transformers does all that to perfection, zipping along at a pace that makes its 144 minutes rush by without a slack moment.

The satisfaction it delivers is no doubt helped by a sense of lowered expectations. This is a movie based on a TV cartoon show nearly 25 years old, which was created to sell a line Japanese robot toys. Add to the equation that it’s directed by Michael Bay, whose films traditionally rake in loads of cash while suffering the critical hoots of reviewers and public alike. We enjoy his films, but don’t really respect them, including the ambitious Pearl Harbor. Well, allof the trademark Bay techniques that he developed shooting music videos and Playboy cheesecake vids are still with him. Windblown characters move in slow motion through golden sunlight to the strains of generic heroic music in shots that could have come from any military recruitment ad. But here, at last you get the feeling that Bay is working in exactly the same groove as the audience, giving us cheese and laughing along with us.

Wisely, there’s no attempt to “re-imagine” the basic plot of the cartoon, only enhance it by generating the web of a live-action movie around it (possible spoilers within synopses, but we’ll try to conceal any major surprises). Transformers concerns a race of robot-like living machines whose civil war has spreads across the galaxy as both sides search for a power object that could secure victory. This technological/magical talisman – a huge cube known as the Allspark – is found on planet Earth by the leader of the evil Decepticons, Megatron (Hugo Weaving), but the alien is frozen in Arctic ice before he can use it.

A century later, a platoon of soldiers fighting in Afghanistan (to make things topical) that includes new father Sgt. Lennox (Josh Duhamel of Turistas) and Tech Sgt. Epps (Tyrese Gibson of Waist Deep) is attacked by an unknown enemy that enters their camp as a military helicopter, but immediately transforms into a powerful robot that decimates their ranks. Our surviving squad of heroes struggles to reach their superiors with a photo scan taken by Epps of the intruder, even as it pursues them across the desert.

Meanwhile at the Pentagon, Secretary of Defense John Keller (Jon Voight, taking the entire thing dead seriously) tries to find out who this enemy combatant is, as armies across the world gear up for battle, and another intruder – a Decepticon in the form of a boombox known as Frenzy (Reno Wilson) – has hacked into defense computer networks on board Air Force One. Only Maggie Madsen (Tasmanian hottie Rachel Taylor of Man-Thing), one of the Pentagon’s intern decoders, finds the signature of an alien intelligence within the hacking signal, bringing in her outside “assistant” Glen Whitman (Anthony Anderson) to help.

Meanwhile, California teenager Sam Witwicky (current movie golden boy Shia LeBeouf of Disturbia) has no idea that the coordinates for the Allspark are in his possession, passed down to him in the artifacts of his great grandfather Archibald’s exploration of the Arctic. Sam cares nothing about his famous explorer progenitor, hawking his belongings on eBay to raise money for his first car, which he sees as his lone avenue toward impressing his out-of-his-league dream girl Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox of TV’s Hope & Faith). A bit of a hustler, in the already in-the-works sequel, I wouldn’t at all be surprised to find both Sam and secret grease monkey Mikaela working for used car dealer Bobby Bolivia (Bernie Mac), who sells Sam and his dad (Kevin Dunn of Gridiron Gang) a mysterious rusty (but bitchin’) old yellow Camaro found on the lot.

The strange car indeed helps Sam connect with Mikaela, but later that night Sam is alarmed to find it driving itself to a nearby junkyard, where it transforms into the robot named Bumblebee (Mark Ryan) to send a message to his compatriots across space that he has located Captain Witwicky’s heir. Soon after, Bumblebee’s nearest compatriots arrive, hurtling into the ground like meteors. Fortunately for Sam, he’s been found by the Earthling-friendly good guys first. These “Autobots” sre the enemies of the Decepticons, and go with Sam and Mikaela to his home to secure the map to the Allspark, leading to a funny sitcom sequence of Sam trying to conceal the giant robots from his concerned parents.

Meanwhile, a secret government agency known as Sector 7 (led by John Turturro at his shiftiest) has used Maggie’s discovery to track down a connection between the aliens and Sam, with the Decepticons close behind. The teens are taken into custody, with all parties converging on the Allspark for a major confrontation.

Like an old Japanese monster movie, Transformers finds ways to get its heroic children (or teenagers at least) into top level government meetings. And just like in those movies, it all comes down to a last act full of giant monsters smashing through a major metropolis. Transformers is designed to keep you on the edge of your seat throughout with heavy duty action sequences, but the climactic battle at the end is a mind-blowing orgy of chaotic stunts and f/x beyond anything previously achieved, with robots flying around crashing through buildings while puny humans scamper to get out of their way. It’s fast, frantic, and above all FUN. The bar for science fiction spectacle has once again been raised.  

With the standards of summer movie thrills increased by advances in digital effects, we’ve been overdue for a movie that shakes things up a bit by giving us a fresh – if cornball – ride, much like Raiders of the Lost Ark once did. Transformers is that movie, and I wish I was watching it again right now.
Copyright © 2007 Brian Thomas, author of the massive book VideoHound’s Dragon: Asian Action & Cult Flicks, available now!

Mania Grade: A+
Maniac Grade: B+
Reviewed Format: Theatrical Release
Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, brief sexual humor, and language
Cast: Shia LeBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Rachel Taylor, Anthony Anderson, Jon Voighy, Joihn Turturro, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Bernie Mac, (voices) Peter Cullen, Hugo Weaving, Bryan Cox, Mark Ryan
Writers: Robert Orzi & Alex Kurtzman, John Rogers
Director: Michael Bay
Distributor: Warner Bros.