War of the Worlds
Transformers is the latest movie to hitch a ride on the 80's nostalgia wave. I missed the boat on these shape-shifting robots when I was a youngster, and given director Michael Bay's track record, my hopes weren't high for this tentpole summer blockbuster. But such low expectations paved the way to having a good time, for I ended up enjoying Transformers as an entertaining celebration of that loud, noisy, explosion-filled time of year known as the summer movie season.
An alien invasion of Earth is afoot, although the threat comes not from any of the planets in our galaxy. Rather, robotic beings from the planet Cybertron have entered our world with a specific goal in mind: finding the Allspark, a cube containing an immense amount of power and energy. These beings, living machines with the ability to transform into whatever shapes they wish, are split into two factions: the Decepticons, evildoers who wish to resurrect their frozen leader Megatron (voice of Hugo Weaving) and use the Allspark's power to turn mankind's technology against itself, and the Autobots, a peace-loving troupe --headed by the noble Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen) -- that has assumed responsibility for protecting the human race.
Among those caught in the crossfire are two soldiers (Tyrese Gibson and Josh Duhamel) who are part of a squadron attacked by a Decepticon in the Middle East, a pretty computer nerd (Rachael Taylor), and Sam (Shia LaBeouf), a high school kid whose ancestor's artifacts hold the key to finding the Allspark and will decide the fate of the world itself.
Ironically, although the slogan and theme behind Transformers is that there's more than meets the eye, what you see with the movie is pretty much what you get: two-plus hours of almost nonstop action, with stuff blowing up every five seconds and nary a break to let viewers catch their breath. Headache-inducing action flicks are no stranger to Michael Bay, considering he previously destroyed half of Florida in Bad Boys II and most of the solar system in Armageddon. But the surprise here is that he seems a little more sure about what he wants to do with the Transformers universe and does a pretty good job of it.
Aside from a little comedy sprinkled here and there, Transformers lacks a cartoony atmosphere, playing the story very much in Independence Day fashion as an intense alien invasion tale. The film seems a lot like that 1996 blockbuster in many ways, from the spectrum of characters wrapped up in the plot to the nearly insurmoutible odds posed by the invading Decepticons. There's still a definite cheese factor (undeniable considering the many blatant examples of product placement scattered throughout the feature), but this straighter-than-usual approach makes the action more involving beyond the idea of children of the '80s seeing cartoon characters they grew up with duking it out in a live-action movie. The effects work is very impressive, with rousing robot battles and cool-looking transformation scenes that take the warring machines from stylish Camaros and mighty big-rigs to their alien forms.
But other than looking quite good and containing enough action to keep your adrenaline pumping for the next decade, Transformers reveals a mixed bag of tricks. No amount of great CG can cover up the cheesiness of the Autobots' faux-inspirational dialogue (coming across as extremely pretentious in what's essentially a two and a half hour toy commercial), not to mention the corny way some of the robots introduce themselves. Also, the action gets to be a little much: it rattles the senses for so long and then ends on an extremely abrupt note.
The acting and characterizations are a little sketchy here too: LaBeouf turns in a likable performance as an average kid who just wants a car but ends up getting pulled into an intergalactic war, and John Turturro is wonderfully crazy-go-nuts as a man from a super-secret division of the government. However, virtually everyone else is filler.
Still, for a movie that knows what it wants to accomplish, Transformers does it pretty well. Check it out -- let your eyes be entertained while your eardrums disintegrate. Have a complete blast!
MY RATING: *** (out of ****)
(Released by ParamountPictures/DreamWorks and rated "PG-13" for intense sequences of sci-fi action violence, brief sexual humor and language.)