Most folks (mostly male, mostly in their 30s) will remember the Transformers as a massively popular toy line put out by Hasbro in the ’80s. A hit cartoon series followed, ushering in the Toyetic Era of popular culture, when TV shows and toys (“He-Man and the Masters of the Universe,” “G.I. Joe,” “My Little Pony,” “Smurfs,” “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” “Transformers”) were synonymous with one another. Well, all those toy-collecting kids have grown up now and are demanding nostalgic entertainment in the form of big-budget, live-action movies based on their childhood obsessions. Paramount and DreamWorks Pictures have gratefully acquiesced, at least in the case of Transformers, delivering a $150 million summer tentpole release based on the franchise.
The new film version is written by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman (Mission: Impossible III, The Legend of Zorro, The Island) and directed by Michael Bay (Bad Boys, The Rock, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor), ensuring at the very least that things will be blowing up in colossal pyrotechnic clouds with clockwork regularity.
In speaking about this Transformers movie, it’s best to follow the studio’s lead and keep most of the plot hidden--not because there are a great deal of secrets to be spoiled, but because it’s largely nonsense. The film’s opening narration begins by telling us about this gigantic techno-mystical doohickey called The Cube. What is The Cube? Well, not even the narration is sure, admitting it has no idea what the device is, what it does or where it came from. (Good thing we got that settled.) Whatever the hell this Cube thingy is, it crash-landed on Earth centuries ago, and now two warring tribes of aliens are on the hunt for it.
The main storyline turns out to be the one about the teenager with the car. Seems Sam’s vehicle is from a race of good transforming mechanical space aliens known as Autobots. The helicopter killing Marines over in Iraq is from a race of bad transforming mechanical space aliens known as Decepticons. This leads to the film’s most ridiculous bit of dialogue in which a heroic Autobot proclaims, “We were betrayed by the Decepticons.” Really? Maybe that’s what you get for trusting a race called the Decepticons! These two sides are at war apparently and have shown up on Earth looking for The Cube, which they suddenly start calling The AllSpark. The Cube/AllSpark may grant Transformers life ... or maybe they die if it touches them--the film isn’t real sure on that point. I’ll leave it to bigger nerds than I to debate such intricacies. The point is everybody, including the U.S. Government, is trying to get their hands of this big metal MacGuffin.
Eventually, a whole mess of transforming alien robots show up on terra firma. As soon as these robots/GMC product placement ads start talking, uttering silly punch lines and calling each other “Bumblebee” and “Starscream,” most audience members over the age of 11 will have a hard time suspending their sense of disbelief. But, to the film’s credit, it lures viewers into the mindset of a giddy, sugar-hyped, action-crazed 11-year-old more often than not. As preposterous as much of the film is, the sight of seeing two giant robots pummel the motor oil out of one another is just insanely entertaining. (Seriously, try not to cheer when Optimus Prime whips out his sword and starts kicking mechanical ass.)
People laying down dough to see this film are there for the action, and they won’t be left wanting. Michael Bay is not one for exposition (or subtlety or logic or credible dialogue), and at least the last 40 minutes of the film are eaten up with one massive, seat-rattling battle sequence. The CGI effects are terrific, and every penny of that $150 million budget shows on screen (unlike the $150 million that got dumped on Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer). Old-school Transformers fans will also be happy to note the dozens of winking references to the original TV show and the old animated film. Optimus Prime, for example, is voiced by Peter Cullen, who did the same duty back in the ’80s. Nice touch.
Despite a few tweaks to the classic characters, this is Transformers in all its undiluted glory. That said, it’s still pretty juvenile stuff and isn’t nearly as cool as it was before I hit puberty. Fans, have fun. Kids, go nuts. Aficionados of serious science fiction, step away from the cineplex.
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