Director    Michael Bay
Starring    Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Turturro
Release    July 4th (US) July 27th (UK)    Certificate 12A
4 stars


23rd July 2007

So here we are: the year's biggest tentpole movie has arrived and the hype could not be any bigger or nerdier. Grown men have been reduced to gibbering, pre-pubescent wrecks, muttering about Autobots and Decepticons while their girlfriends can only look on in bemusement (males not lucky enough to have a partner have meanwhile been jerking themselves off into a steady fervour for the last six months). The initial signs were not promising - the leaked character designs, the appointment of human hard-on Michael Bay as director - but this is a movie that has defied the fanboys (myself included) and become the one to beat this summer: once the dust has settled, Transformers leaves very few blocks left un-busted.

Fans need not fret: there's precious little wrong with your favourite alien spacebots and they look just as comfortable on the big-screen than they do in the rose-tinted memories of your childhood. Although the line-up leaves a lot to be desired (some Autobots are fairly dispensable and the Decepticons turn up too late in the game to have any lasting effect), the Transformers tear up the road at an alarming rate and look even better when standing tall. Watching them whirr and clank and make that change accompanied by that noise... by God, it's enough to make a man weep. The CG is nothing short of groundbreaking; a shining example of what the medium can achieve when it's used properly. Such frivolity is worth the price of admission alone.

The storyline...well, with effects like ILM's, plot is almost an afterthought. All you need to know is there are good robots and bad robots, they don't like each other and Earth - specifically Los Angeles - is the scene where their playground push-fight goes down. Both the Autobots and Decepticons are searching for an energy source called the Allspark - a cube which contains unparalleled energy and the power to create planets and give them life. Humdrum human Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) is the only one to know the location of said energy cube, so it's a race between good and evil to see who gets to him first. Sex bomb mechanic Mikaela (Fox) and Josh Duhamel's army platoon are merely along for the ride.

Pah, plot is for kids - you're here because you want to see robots fighting, and the metal-on-metal carnage on show here makes Robot Wars look like Crufts. The first half is all reveal; we're gifted tantalising glimpses of the glorious transformation process (pretty enough to shame all rival effects houses) and introduced to our robots slowly but surely. But when Bay hits the accelerator and relocates the action to downtown LA in the second half, a heady whiff of testosterone and petrol fumes stings the nostrils as every alien robot badass under the sun comes together to throw down. On occasion, fight scenes can blur together and can appear like little more than warring collections of meshing cogs and gears, and some Transformers look extremely similar, especially when tumbling arse over tit. But when you've got cars, planes, tanks and more all gunning for each other, it's more often than not a spectacle that'll go unmatched by anything until the inevitable sequel. Count 'em - there's at least a dozen genuinely jaw-dropping moments throughout, and those beautiful, flawless transformations will pop the pimples of a million baying nerds. It's so impressive, you'll have no time to notice inconsequential gripes like flames on Optimus.

With all that high-octane argy-bargy, proceedings could quite easily have turned into a CG love-in, so it's a great relief that the human element offsets it so well. Shia (rhymes with 'hiya', remember the name) imbues Sam with a great deal of humility; he's a naturally charismatic comic actor and likable guy that brings to mind a young Michael J. Fox or Tom Hanks. Fox as Sam's bendy love interest Mikaela is eye-candy of the highest quality but isn't exactly blessed with the deepest of roles; however, she's greasy enough to look the part, even if she is the worst kind of female stereotype. A sexy girl playing a feisty mechanic? You'd never guess this was a movie made by and for boys, would you? Elsewhere, Jon Voight hams it up as a vaguely important US authority figure, Duhamel grimaces and fires guns like only the best himbos can and John Turturro is dreadful as a two-dimensional secret service agent holding a grudge. Dude, focus - there are cars having a fist-fight over there and you're missing them.

Given the sandbox he's been dumped in, Michael Bay behaves much like a kid in a candy store: he's having far too much fun to worry about the usual jibes and accusations. This is his territory and no one does vehicular carnage on a scale this large like Bay does. His eye for shooting action is still extraordinary and although the constant slow-mo zooms and camera masturbation are still present and correct, it at least feels a little more suited to the subject matter this time around. It would have been nice to have seen a little more visual input from executive producer Spielberg; shooting from ground level a la War Of The Worlds would help give a more-rounded sense of the human experience as it's easy to lose a sense of scale when in the heat of battle. However, aside from his predilection for shooting almost every shot against a sunset/sunrise, Bay nails it. Credit where credit is due, sir.

Transformers is the real deal - an action blockbuster that delivers on every promise, it's practically two hours of inter-linked money shots. Really, the only people who could have any gripes are fans of the original. Token nods have been made in their direction - the crappy VW Beetle, the 'More than meets the eye' line, Peter Cullen's return - but some changes had to be made to make the Transformers work on the big screen. Prime's mouthplate is usually absent and his lips (lips!) look bizarre, while other Autobots are largely bereft of the personalities that fans know and love. Diehards, however, were never going to be completely satisfied, and if after two hours of sheer visual ecstasy like this you're still grumbling about semantics, then you're going to die a very unhappy nerd (and very possibly a virgin, too).

Transformers is the action movie that leaves you gasping for more, has you breathless with wonder and secretly pumping your fists every time good triumphs evil. In short, it's the kind of goofy, shameless popcorn flick that'll make you feel like a kid again. Now... where did Mum stash those toys?

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