Review: Transformers

Mutating aliens war over a power cube that could destroy Earth as we know it. Popular action figures get a live-action adventure mounted on an immense scale.

If games can become hit movies, why not toys? Introduced in 1984 by Hasbro, the Transformers franchise quickly grew to include comic books, cartoons, and the ever-expanding world of the toys themselves, metal and plastic objects like cars and trucks that open out into warrior robots. Molded with care and precision by director Michael Bay and an army of technicians, Transformers should provide a boost in income to every corner of the mutant robot world.

Frankly, the franchise could use a hit. Although they starred in an animated feature in 1988, the Transformers have languished in recent years, despite efforts by Hasbro to repackage them as Beast Wars, Robots in Disguise, and Alternators. Before he left the current project, writer John Rogers came up with a blueprint for a screenplay that respected the story line for the original toys while updating the setting to contemporary suburbia.

As the movie gradually reveals, good Transformers known as Autobots are in a race with bad Transformers known as Decepticons for the Allspark, an important metal cube. Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving), the head Decepticon, has been frozen in the Arctic for a century or so. Other Decepticons crash land in Qatar, where they destroy a US Army base.

Meanwhile, chief Autobot Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) assigns Bumblebee (Mark Ryan) to guard Sam (Shia LaBeouf), who unwittingly holds the key to the Allspark. An overgrown but still nerdy high schooler, Sam is more interested in impressing Mikaela (Megan Fox), an improbably hot classmate better-suited to a Coors Lite billboard, than in saving the planet. The two soon become captives of federal agent Simmons (John Turturro), part of a government scheme to thaw Megatron.

Also in on the plot: beefy computer hacker Glen Whitmann (Anthony Anderson), who along with Aussie blonde Maggie Madsen (Rachael Taylor) can track the evil Decepticons’ progress through the government’s computer networks. With Secretary of Defense John Keller (Jon Voight) and Qatar veteran Captain Lennox (Josh Duhamel), they will all try in vain to bring a human dimension to a story that is essentially about hunks of scrap metal blowing each other up.

Michael Bay may be the ideal director for this sort of project. With an obsessive attention to detail and the ability to make narrative sense out of complete balderdash, he gives Transformers a pacing and drive the story never really merits. Some scenes, notably those set in Qatar, seem darker and more violent than the target audience may expect. But most of Transformers is pitched at a light-hearted level just below parody. The likable LaBeouf and manic Turturro supply some pleasant humor, while Fox is photographed so lovingly that she could divert even pre-adolescents from the whirring, clanking junk heaps that dominate the film.

If you never fell under the spell of Transformers as a child, this will be the most gratuitous film of the year, an andrenalized, testosterone-heavy stew of petrochemical-derived mayhem. But if you grew up imagining life with Ratchet, Ironhide, Bonecrusher, and all their robot friends, Transformers could be just what you’ve been waiting for.

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel, Anthony Anderson, Megan Fox, Rachael Taylor, John Turturro, Jon Voight, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Michael O’Neill, Amaury Nolasco, Bernie Mac, Johnny Sanchez. Voices of: Peter Cullen, Hugo Weaving, Mark Ryan, Jess Harnell, Robert Foxworth, Jimmie Wood, Darius McCrary, Charlie Adler, Reno Wilson.

Credits: Directed by Michael Bay. Screenplay by Alex Kurtzman, Robert Orci. Story by John Rogers, Alex Kurtzman, Robert Orci. Based on Hasbro’s Transformers Action Figures. Produced by Don Murphy, Tom DeSanto, Lorenzo di Bonaventure, Ian Bryce. Executive producers: Steven Spielberg, Michael Bay, Brian Goldner, Mark Vahradian. Director of photography: Mitchell Amundsen. Production designer: Jeff Mann. Film editors: Paul Rubell, Glen Scantlebury, Thomas A. Muldoon. Costume designer: Deborah L. Scott. Music: Steve Jablonsky. Music supervisor: Dave Jordan. Sound: Erik Aadahl. Visual effects supervisor: Scott Farrar. Special effects supervisor: John Frazier. Animation supervisor: Scott Benza. Special visual effects by Industrial Light & Magic. Co-producers: Allegra Clegg, Ken Bates. A DreamWorks Pictures and Paramount Pictures presentation, in association with Hasbro, of a di Bonaventure Pictures and Tom DeSanto/Don Murphy production.

Paramount/Color/2.35/Dolby Digital, DTS & SDDS/143 Mins./Rated PG-13

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