This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
Readers of a certain age, that age being roughly around my own increasingly late twenties (eek), will by this point have noticed that much of their precious childhood pop culture memories are being exploited for their value in much the same way as a stripmine. For brevity’s sake I’ll leave out the “Han shoots first” rant that so often informs value judgements about this sort of thing, and skip straight to the end result, that being that a Michael Bay helmed graverobbing of the fondly remembered cartoon series created to sell plastic toys to kids was not looked forward to much from this end. Surprisingly, or perhaps not given your opinion on the veracity of reviews on this site, it’s one of the better films of the blockbuster season. Yes, we were shocked as well.
So, there’s this planet home to a race of technologically advanced sentient robots. Typically, such a creature’s first instinct would be to wage war on humanity, but seeing as we were an inconvenient distance away they turned on each other. Tragic, really, but if you will trust a faction called “the Decepticons” you probably deserve what’s coming to you. With Optimus Prime’s Heroic Autobots defending, er, whatever value system happens to be important to five story tall robots, the resulting war turns their homeworld into a ghastly old mess. So it’s not just humans that are good at that, then. Most reassuring.
As part of this barney, an exceptionally important McGuffin whose exact nature would be somewhat tedious to describe is buried somewhere on Earth. This is eventually unearthed by an explorer who immediately starts ranting about five story tall robots. What a loon! To then funny farm with you, Grandpa. Things go quiet for a while, until the grandson of aforementioned grandpa, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) who unknowingly possesses a pair of his Grandpa’s specs with an intricate map detailing the location of the McGuffin etched on their surface gets a new car. Enter five story tall stompy robots.
This doesn’t go entirely unnoticed by the human denizens caught up in this mess, from Jon Voight’s largely ineffectual government agencies trying to keep some sort of lid on a Decipticon menace that’s already wiped out much of a middle eastern base apart from Captain Lennox (Josh Duhamel)’s small band of elite troops to Sam, whose car appears to have a will of its own, in a five story tall robot sort of way.
Let’s lightly skip over what passes for a plot here, seeing as it’s never more than a very thin scraping to enable big stompy type robots to fight other big stompy type robots. And by the very beard of Wotan, when they start fighting it ain’t done by half measures. While Bay would still improve by having someone pick him up and shake him until he agrees to keep the camera still for more than five microseconds during action sequences, Transformers contains what would be difficult to argue as anything other than the best effects work yet seen in cinema. When you start talking about summer spectaculars, this is as spectacular as you are going to get. Therefore, by this undefeatable logic, it’s clearly the best movie of the summer.
Of course, you can prove anything with mere logic, and there’s still a sizable, vocal proportion of people who seem to loathe this film as though it had eaten little Maddie McCann. To malapprop a Kermodeism, there’s two opinions on this matter, theirs, and the correct one, mine. If you can’t appreciate the sheer fun on display in this film you might as well check you heart at the door, as you clearly aren’t using it any more. “It’s too silly!”, they yelp like whining yappy-type dogs, often citing the genuinely amusing ‘hide and seek’ Autobot section outside the Witwicky house, as thought they were watching something other than a film about five story tall robots hitting each other. Soulless, joyless buffoons, the lot of them. I have no idea what they were expecting in a film based on a comic designed to sell plastic toys to kids, but I suspect they are being a tad unrealistic.
“Too much of it is spent dealing with the humans!”, they mutter quietly, now suitably chastised by my buffoonery accusation. Actually, I’d be more inclined to give them this point. There’s a good chunk of this that isn’t particularly necessary, particularly John Turturro’s inept comic relief secret government agency, much as we like John Turturro. Thankfully, most of the pesky human interaction is with Shia LaBeouf, who’s by a long distance the most charismatic actor here. It’s another likable performance from the lad tipped, quite reasonably, as the Next Big Thing.
There’s a halfway sensible reason to not fill the screen exclusively with five story tall robots bashing each other over the head, largely based on the fact that there’s umpteen interchangeable animes that do exactly that sort of thing that have never reached more than a very niche audience. Funnily enough, most people care about other people. More so than five story tall CG robots. Hence, there’s a fair amount of human interaction in the film. Curiously enough, there’s a reasonable degree of intersection between ‘nerds who like anime more than people’ and ‘people who don’t like this film’. Not that we’re casting any aspersions here. Besides, they’re robots in disguise. If they were stomping about all the time, they’d just be robots, thus losing their unique selling point.
No, you don’t have to be a joy-deprived, bloated, sweaty nerd with the social skills of a toaster to dislike Transformer, but it certainly helps. In terms of pure, popcorn munching mindless entertainment there’s few better examples at all, never mind released this summer. Sure, it has an extraordinarily limited scope in terms of what it wants to do, but when it does it a well as this then it doesn’t really matter too much.