For the uninitiated, i.e., those who somehow remained unaware of the popular 1980s cartoon series, its numerous spin-offs, toys and comics, Transformers are a race of robots from a distant planet, split into two warring factions. The good Autobots are led by the noble Optimus Prime against the evil Decepticons. Both sides can change their shape from giant robot into some form of Earth transportation in order to pass undetected among us humans. After a civil war had decimated their home world, both sides find themselves heading to our planet to retrieve The All Spark- a mystical MacGuffin that imbued the Transformers with life and also manages whatever else is needed of it by the film’s script. Shia LeBeouf stars as a teenager who by way of genealogy becomes caught up in the Autobots struggle with the Decepticons.
The idea of excessive action director Michael Bay directing a live action adaptation of a cartoon about warring giant robots from outer space should pretty much dissuade anyone of the idea that we’ll be getting a Merchant-Ivory style Oscar contender. This is a movie about giant robots pounding the snot (Or is that motor oil?) out of each other. Bay dips into his usual bags of tricks- kinetic camera work augmented by quick editing as well as his usual fetishizing of heavy military equipment. With dialogue and plot complexity not too far removed from the original cartoon, the film gallops along at a pace that makes you forget its lapses of logic- like why do these giant, multi-ton robots only thud when they walk at certain times or why DO robots need moving mouths to talk? Also distracting, but not as easily dismissible, are the overly comic performances of John Turturro as a government spook and Anthony Anderson as a computer expert.
But despite the fact that some will argue that the human characters are our access point into the Transformers world, most will be coming out to see the giant robots themselves. Meticulously created and animated by the computers at Industrial Lights and Magic, the Autobots and Decepticons look as convincing as possible on the screen. They move through their environment flawless, thousands of parts within them moving, creating the impression that a giant robot could truly be unfolded out of a car or helicopter. When it comes time for the final throwdown between the Autobots and the Decepticons, with frightened Los Angelinos scurrying underfoot for cover, Bay infuses it with a dynamic energy that makes it the most thrilling and dizzying action sequence seen all season.