Thursday, April 22, 2010

Archive: "Transformers" (2007)

Well, believe the hype because Michael Bay has officially created this year's definitive summer blockbuster. Based on the line of Hasbro toys and the TV show from the 80s, "Transformers" is a movie that perfectly contains everything you would expect to see in a summer blockbuster: the straightforward story, the likable humor, the flawless special effects, and to top it all of, there's giant robots kicking the crap out of each other. Yes, Michael Bay sucks sometimes, but whether you like him or not, you have to admit that this is the movie he was born to make. This is a director that certainly knows how to blow stuff up and make it look good, and "Transformers" provides endless opportunities to show off that talent of his.

There are two robotic races in an intergalactic battle that has brought them to Earth. The bad guys are the Decepticons and the good guys are the Autobots. Both races are in search of a mysterious device called The Cube, and it's the duty of the Autobots to keep the Decepticons from retrieving it. (It's absolutely hilarious how many times some triumphant phrase involving The Cube is uttered.) A map to the location of The Cube is encrypted on some artifact that happens to be in the possession of young Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), a somewhat nerdy but still pretty cool student whose ancestor made some remarkable discovery long ago in the Arctic Circle. In possession of his great grandfather's artifact, Sam ultimately holds the key to mankind's survival, provided he hasn't sold it on eBay already.

Sam Witwicky and his dad go to a car dealership and pick up an ominous banged-up yellow Chevy Camaro. Hoping that this new car will boost his chances with the ladies, Sam courageously offers a ride home to a babe named Mikaela (Megan Fox). After Mikaela asks if she even knows him, Sam casually states that they've been in school forever and that he's in four of her classes right now. Next thing he knows, the Camaro begins playing tunes that fit the mood, and when Mikaela insults the Camaro, it kicks both her and Sam out only to quickly return as a shiny new model. This is definitely no ordinary ride.

That's because it's actually an Autobot named Bumblebee; Sam and Mikaela are soon confronted by the leader of the Autobots, Optimus Prime, and they learn about their sudden duty to save the world. When the other Autobots gather, there's a humorous moment as these massive robots attempt to hide themselves in Sam's backyard, realizing that transforming into their respective GM vehicles isn't hidden enough. (And yes, there is indeed a point where the film seriously feels like an extended GM commercial.) It's here where the already thoroughly entertaining teen comedy stuff segues into the robust robot action. Along with the teens, there are other sets of characters getting involved in the robot bustle, as well.

As some subtle political satire, there's the U.S. Secretary of Defense (Jon Voight) in charge of military operations while the president does nothing and requests for some ding-dongs. There's a group of military members led by Sgt. Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and Sgt. Epps (Tyrese Gibson) who survive an attack in the Middle East. There's also a group of hackers led by a surprisingly attractive woman who seems to be totally right on everything. Lastly, there's a shadowy government agency called Sector Seven who have been hiding the existence of the Transformers from the rest of the government. All of these details, however, are only the dressing to the core good guys vs. bad guys plot element, which allows for a flimsy story not to get in the way of all the action. The balance between the story lines is a bit awkward, so it's a good thing that everything converges for the big climactic finish.

The Decepticons and the Autobots do talk, but they're mostly just yelling things about destroying or saving humanity, respectively. There are also plenty of puns on "transforming" and being "more than meets the eye," but aside from that, the sole responsibility of infusing the entire film with a sense of personality rests in the hands of Shia LaBeouf. Just as he did in the hit "Disturbia," this young actor does an admirable job of injecting his own hip and fresh personality into the movie. This infectious vibe of his puts us in the mood and holds our attention long before the towering Transformers even grace the screen.

The Transformers themselves are a thrill to watch. They flip and twirl in mid-air, changing right before our eyes; their movements are ingeniously animated, especially the scorpion-like Decepticon encountered early on. They all move and shift with such grace and smoothness, and you can see the hubcaps, the windshields, and all the other parts they're made up of if you look closely. The camera swirls around these massive mechanical creations as they battle it out in the middle of a busy city street, smashing everything that gets in their way. The amount of CGI used is astronomical, but it's not an excess; it's simply an epic extravaganza.

"Transformers" works because it's so obnoxiously absurd. It's a lot of fun that acknowledges in almost every single scene how ridiculous it is, and then not only accepts that, but also makes it a priority. The action is over the top, but it truly ought to be, or else it would not be nearly as fun. Since the movie falters when it's not in full motion, it's a great thing that it's so extraordinary when the action kicks up. Whether you're a 12-year-old fanboy or not, this movie will temporarily transform you into one. The real transformation here, though, is that from a modest line of toys to the most explosively exciting summer movie of the year, which was promised from the start. Although I'm not entirely sure how, Michael Bay has pulled it off.

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