The Transformers Movie. Or is it Transformers the Movie? Or just Transformers? Well, Transformers the Movie was the animated epic that was based on the classic Hasbro cartoon. I say based because the movie was a glossier, better-animated version of the TV show, where heroic Autobots actually died and things were really, really serious and dark. I can say I was a fan of the franchise, at least of the original series up until that first, momentous movie- I kinda outgrew the toys and like how I lost interest in the X-men when they suddenly splintered into various mini-teams, the Transformers went into CG, turned into weird animals or even- gadzooks- became anime-style shadows of their former selves. But when I heard word of the Transformers live-action film, I admit that I was intrigued. Michael Bay was doing it? I was intrigued and not a bit worried. I've read and heard of the many 'Bay-isms', the iffy stuff like Prime having lips and Megatron not transforming into a gun... but I was willing to give this a fair shot.
And now, after watching the adrenaline-rushing, turbo-charged, all-cylinders rolling action of the flick, I guess my worries have been allayed, and I have to say 'Yea' to Bay.
Transformers, based on the classic cartoon, opens up with the war between two factions of a robotic race, the good Autobots and the evil Decepticons spilling onto present-day Earth. Basically, the Transformers are all looking for an object known as the Allspark- the source of life and energy that created their world, which is now hidden somewhere on the planet. The Decepticons are also looking for their leader, the maleficent Megatron (voiced by an almost unrecognizable Hugo Weaving trying his best to channel original voice Frank Welker), who came to Earth many years before but disappeared.
For the first third of the film, we see mostly the Decepticons as they go about infiltrating the US military network, gathering information on their missing leader and the all-important Allspark. The movie opens with a sinister, silent chopper landing on a US base in Quatar, and you just KNOW something is wrong. The copter turns out to be a Decepticon and the kick-ass destruction that happens soon after is just a taste of the chaos to come.
Meanwhile, the Autobots are also on the move- one of them, plucky little Bumblebee, making contact with Sam Witwicky (Shia La Beouf), an American teen and grandson of the explorer who found Megatron and the Allspark several decades ago. From here on in, it's a running battle between the Autobots led by Optimus Prime to link up with the humans and keep the ultimate power from falling into the hands of the ultimate evil.
First off, this is a Michael Bay film, so it's all here- magnificent panoramic panning shots of bad-ass soldiers, dramatic slow-mo shots of everyone else at the most innocuous times, romantic moments in the midst of deadly danger, kinetically-exciting action and big, big explosions with lots of military hardware flying around. Oh, and there will always be someone waving a signal flare around. But what separates this from films like Bay's The Rock, Bad Boys II and Con Air are GIANT FREAKIN' AMAZING TRANSFORMING ROBOTS. The CG used to bring these metal menaces to life is unbelievable- convincing and utterly seamless. AND they put in the classic transforming sound in there too. Awesome!
Of course, this ISN'T our Transformers. Not really. Yeah, Peter Cullen is in there, bringing the classic tones of Optimus to life and giving the film instant validation. However, that's about it. Optimus is the closest in look, personality and feel to the original bots- everyone is radically different and more organic in design. It's actually quite hard to discern this from that bot, save Optimus and Bee. But you know what? It works. The Transformers look and move awesome, and that's what keeps this film alive and kicking you in the nuts and keeping you on edge with some explosive action when the big robots leap and transform and body-slam each other larger than life.
A lot of the movie though has to do with the flesh and blood actors, and you have to deal with quite a bit of set-up, a lot of over-the-top and pretty overblown performances and lots of shouting- enough that you'll start to tap your fingers and wonder "Where are the frickin' robots??!" But at least the humans are cool. Josh Duhamel (Las Vegas) and Tyrese Gibson play bad-ass special forces troopers serving in Saudi Arabia who have to switch from fighting terrorists to battling shape-changing aliens, and you'll root for them the whole way because they're pretty cool (Bay's military characters are always cool). Megan Fox as Sam Witwicky's love interest Mikaela is... well, a FOX and you just can't take your eyes off her (heh).
As the lead human, Shia La Beouf is likeable in the pivotal role of Sam and the spiritual successor to the cartoon's 'Spike' character- the human youth who bonds with the Autobots. He pulls it off with a character who's part-loser, part-normal guy and all-hero once the chips are down, and it works. John Turturro is borderline psychotic as the movie's answer to the Men In Black. He's over the top so much he walks a thin line between being funny and thoroughly annoying. There are tons of other oddball characters, from Jon Voight's apparently thoroughly-out of the loop Defense Secretary who ends up fighting the 'Cons hand to hand, to Sam's oddball parents, the hot Aussie government analyst babe and her weighty hacker friend. Everyone gets a lot to say- far more than the robots. Even extras and bit players on Bay's cast get to ham it up- which strangely fits in the movie since it really doesn't take itself overly seriously.
It's a loud, eye-blistering ride- laughs come with gasps, and Transformers fans will have giddies passing up and down their spines all throughout. After a ways of setup, when the Autobots finally gather onscreen, transform before your eyes (Gotta LOVE Jazz's ultra-cool transforming sequence) and Optimus finally speaks, you just know it's IT. It's frickin' Transformers. For real.
Of course, it's not perfect- there are parts that kinda drag, and there are iffy bits like how the big honkin' robots can just walk around seemingly unnoticed even though in plain sight. The 'Soundwave' of the movie- a little 'Con named Frenzy- is much too jittery and cartoony for such a sinister character- almost part Gremlin and part Jar-Jar. I wish that the individual Autobots and Decepticons had more character moments (perhaps on the DVD?). And I wish that some of the bigger action scenes could have been a bit easier to discern... a bit too much of the shaky-cam, sadly.
But for the most part this movie succeeds in one important thing- it makes you believe that Giant Transforming Robots EXIST. It's a pleasing, rabble-rousing popcorn flick which hits the right buttons with all the little cool bits, nods to the original and the high-octane action. A winner, in my calculation.
So what are you waiting for? Till All are One? Get off your rockers now, transform and ROLL OUT to the nearest theater!