I was brought up on Autobots versus Decepticons. Giant robots shooting or pummelling each other whilst kicking around earth looking for power cubes. I liked the cartoons, the toys and even the occasional comic. The movie managed to pack in the essentials - the ongoing struggle of Optimus Prime's staunchly good leader of the largely wheeled-vehicled-based Autobots as he faced off against the manipulative, in-fighting plane-or-weapon-based Decepticons, led by the dictatorial Megatron - but a big-screen adaptation was never really on the cards until relatively recently. Advances in visual effects technology have finally made it all viable, and when Hollywood action blockbuster maestro Jerry Bruckheimer got on-board, we were set for something pretty damn big.
The AllSpark is a giant energy cube that is the source behind all robot life on the planet Cybertron, but when a war erupts between former brothers Optimus Prime and Megatron, the former wanting to rule through peaceful diplomacy, the latter through dictatorial oppression, the AllSpark is lost. Searching for it across galaxies, the two robot factions eventually find a signal coming from Earth, but when they arrive, all hell breaks loose, with a whole bunch of relatively helpless humans caught in the middle of it.
Transformers is surprisingly good, considering the fact that it had to be marketable for a fairly young generation. No film could have pleased everybody, but this one comes pretty close to satisfying most - from hardcore fans to passers-by to kids. It keeps all of the essentials - huge set-pieces, massive battles between giant robots - whilst mixing them up with all of the teens-in-peril fodder required for this kind of PG-13 affair. Sure it makes no sense: big robots capable of changing into machines land on earth and kick off a thousand-year-old battle to obtain a cube that has the capability of turning any mundane machine into a sentient robot? Oh, really? Come on guys, can anyone say “one ring to rule them all?” Suspend a little disbelief already, this is pure popcorn fun - it doesn't need to have any founding in reality, it merely needs to make just enough sense for you to follow it as a sci-fi/fantasy story.
Don't get me wrong - the film isn't without its flaws. To be fair, it only gets things right about half of the time, but considering it has arguably the best use of CGI effects that we have seen on the Big Screen since Spiderman, most viewers will be more than pleased with the overall result. From the amazing opening gambit, where one of the Decepticons sneaks into a military base and obliterates it, you know you're in for a vibrant visual feast, where those great 80s cartoon robots finally get some graphically realistic representation on the Big Screen. The film cascades along from one massive action/stunt set-piece to the next, the breaks populated mostly by comic sequences, although there are a few dry military intelligence scenes to try and progress the story. The story itself hangs by a thread, but we don't really need to worry on that count. I suspect if you piece it all together, it makes little sense (when exactly did Megatron set out to find the cube and why did it take the other Transformers so long to find him/it?) but that doesn't matter much, cause when you boil it down, it's a lot of fun with some huge robots kicking the hell out of each other - and us.
Although the robots are the stars, there are some nice characters on show here - with the two main human kids involved coming across as surprisingly likeable: Shia (Indy 4) LeBoeuf's Sam Witwicky and his would-be paramour Mikaela (Megan Fox) - as well as many of the soldiers in the story, including Las Vegas' Josh Duhamel and Flight of the Phoenix's Tyrese Gibson. There's also a superb cameo from the late Bernie (Ocean's Trilogy) Mac. LeBoeuf and Duhamel, in particular, take otherwise clichéd characters and make them really quite endearing, mostly through the sense of humour that they allow to come out. The flipside to all of this is that we do get a whole bunch of big names who are utterly wasted and actually quite painful to watch, from Jon (Ali) Voight's rigid-but-stupid Defence Secretary to John (Zohan) Turturro's irritating Section 7 special agent. Utterly wasted, they stand alongside The Shield's Anthony Anderson as embodying worthless, annoying parts. At least Anderson does his best, hampered by having to share the screen with the vapidly pretty Rachael Taylor (looking - and sounding - like a young Nicole Kidman) as the least probable DSP student.
The robots themselves have a few issues, their best action sequences generally coming when they take on and devastate the human military defences. Blackout's opening assault is breathtaking, and the subsequent desert scene with his spawn Scorponok is also pretty amazing, but when the Transformers hit the city and start scrapping amongst themselves, things get a bit messy and difficult to follow (Bumblebee's opening skirmish with Barricade is all a bit of a blur). Out of all of the hand-to-hand robot confrontations, only one early Optimus Prime (versus Bonecrusher) battle stands out, the closing confrontation with Megatron (voiced by Agent Smith aka Hugo Weaving) - for the most part - going off somewhere in the background until both characters are left crawling around on the pavement for no apparent reason. Still, the weapon-based robot battles are also pretty good, with Ironhide's slow-mo dive facing off against the Decepticon Devestator marking another outstanding bit off effects work, and the transformations themselves are astounding, particularly those done by the cars and planes mid-battle.
The robot comedy sequences are equally hit-and-miss, with the Autobots' rummaging around Sam's garden being ok, but the corresponding scenes involving the irritating Jar Jar Binks of the movie, Frenzy, being painfully Gremlins-like in presentation. Some of the most pointless scenes in the movie involve Frenzy and the two-dimensional Government stooges, along with the utterly unbelievable DSP students. Still, you have to take the bad with the good, and the movie is glossy, good-looking and fun enough to keep you entertained irrespective of the cringeworthy sequences.
Transformers is possibly better than anything fans could have envisaged coming to the Big Screen as a live-action interpretation of their childhood TV favourite. Michael Bay - who was not a fan of the show - was the perfect man for the job, with all that made Pearl Harbour so insipid and heartless being utilised here to superb effect. He has managed to craft a summer blockbuster that works for kids and adults alike and is likely to be regarded by the majority as thoroughly entertaining - at the very least. Recommended.
Our Review Ethos