Hurrah, hallelujah and break out the bubbly. For the first time in a long time indeed, we have a blockbuster that is truly worthy of the title. Transformers is big, loud and dumb – I mean, it’s a film based on a cartoon that was based on a toy, for crying out loud – but when it’s this much fun, who really cares?
Director Michael Bay wastes no time getting straight into the action – character development doesn’t really matter a lot when you’ve got a bunch of giant freaking robots to play with. Less than five minutes in, a team of American soldiers in Qatar comes under attack from a rogue helicopter gunship, which turns into Blackout, one of the evil Decepticons. Blackout latches on to the military computer at the base, sucking out all the top secret data. Yup, there’s actually a plot. The Decepticons are searching for a piece of technology from their home world. It's called the Allspark, and can give life to machines. The Allspark is somewhere on Earth, having crashed into the Arctic wastes back in the late 1800s (so why are they only looking for it now?) And, of course, the good guys – the heroic Autobots (yay!) – also want to find the Allspark, to stop the Decepticons getting it and destroying the human race.
Into the mix comes American teen Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf), whose Dad helps him to buy his first car – a rather beat up 1976 Chevy Camaro. You guessed it, the car turns out to be Bumblebee, who’s a sort of forward scout for the Autobots (yay!). And by one of those wonderful Hollywood coincidences, Sam’s grandad was the explorer who led the expedition that found the Allspark. Wow, who would have thunk it? The storyline has shades of Spielberg’s classic ET – boy befriends strange alien and tries to protect it from the nasty US government. But this time the strange alien is a giant yellow robot that can turn itself into a cool Camaro and can certainly take care of itself. And he’s got a bunch of giant freaking robot mates to help him, led by Optimus Prime – played, in a nice touch, by original voice actor Peter Cullen. Throw in a hot schoolgirl (Fox), a slightly insane government agent (a standout performance from Turturro) and a bunch of giant robots that beat the crap out of each other while tossing around the odd knowing reference to the internet and the like, and you’ve got an action ride that barely lets up.
Michael Bay’s got a knack for turning out big, action-heavy flicks full of poorly-drawn characters, absurd plot and clunky dialogue. But you know what? This time it actually works in his favour. Rising star LaBeouf imbues Sam with enough energy and charisma that you’re carried along on his adventure, cheering for the little geeky guy to save the day and win the girl. There are a few dumb plot points and plenty of cheesy lines; but when the seamless CGI kicks in and you’ve got Optimus Prime (yay!) and Megatron (boo!) going at it mano a mano (robot a robot?) then all of that doesn’t matter and you just sit back and enjoy the biffo for what it is – big, loud, hardcore entertainment.
SECOND OPINION | Mike Anderiesz ★★★ The good news is that this is probably the best blockbuster of the year so far. The action sequences are simply stunning, there’s due reverence paid to the franchise, the two main girls are so hot it’s frankly icky a man of my age should even mention it, and there’s a show-stealing performance from John Turturro — far too good an actor to be in a movie like this, which makes it all the more brilliant that he is. And it’s loud! This is the second loudest movie I’ve ever seen after ‘The Wall’ which was a full 25 years ago. For all these reasons, I enjoyed Transformers about twice as much as I thought I would.
Then again, it is a Michael Bay movie, meaning it’s overlong (a good half hour, with the pace seriously flagging in the first half) under-characterised (with obligatory stereotypical hackers, nerds and military types shoe-horned in for no apparent reason and then left to dangle for the rest of the movie looking for an heroic act to justify their presence) and Bay still wouldn’t know a good joke if it sat on his face and wriggled. Remember the ‘animal-cracker’ scene in Armageddon between Ben Affleck and Liv Tyler? Well, expect a whole lot more of that, which didn’t seem to raise many chuckles even among an otherwise enthusiastic audience
That said, it is Bay’s best movie to date, proving he might have finally found his niche in the 12+ category as opposed to anything more adult or demanding. This allows him to get away with murder, though not literally, as whole city blocks are destroyed while keeping the body count to precisely zero. All of which makes the prospect of sequels something to look forward to. So see and enjoy, but leave your brain at home — sounds like the perfect blockbuster to me.