Review: Transformers (2007)

I was too young for transformers (the toys, that is), but my nephew wasn’t. He was one of many prepubescent boys enamored with these toys that with some twists, pulls and yanks could turn from an ordinary item into a fearsome and funky looking alien robot.

My assumption was that a movie about these transformers might be entertaining to this narrowly targeted set of boys, but would put the rest of us to sleep. It turns out that the movie Transformers that was released last year has transformed my vision of how entertaining such an absurd premise for a movie could be. The result is not exactly high art but a movie that is surprisingly entertaining and well done. In short, any age group except possibly those under age eight can guiltlessly enjoy a fun movie like this.

Granted, I was expecting to snooze through this movie and was even carefully rearranging the pillows on our couch so I could pretend to be watching it through half open eyes. Instead, I found this movie felt like a mixture of many fun movies, including Independence Day, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Back to the Future. Usually when a movie feels like elements of other movies, the result is an unfulfilling mishmash. That is not the case here. While not quite as much fun as any of these films, it is nearly as much fun as any of them. This is one movie that had you paid $10 a ticket to see it in the theater, you might have actually felt you got your money’s worth.

For those of you who missed the Transformers experience, there are good Transformers (the Autobots) and bad Transformers (the Decepticons) and in this movie at least they have chosen Earth as a nice place to wreak havoc. They decide, what the heck, why not screw with the American military in the deserts around Kuwait, quickly kill virtually all the humans there and destroy their base too? The Decepticons are good at hiding themselves as ordinary things like radios but can quickly morph themselves into fearsome war machines. One can understand why our military would be baffled and quickly rule out an alien robot attack, so why are they going after North Korea instead? Do the robots have slanted eyes?

Most of the movie though actually revolves around a teen named Sam Witwicky, who is of course quite a bit geeky and not exactly a hit with the girls. Between wacking off in secret and lusting after the really hot Mikaela (played by Megan Fox), Sam (played by Shia LaBeouf, who recently showed up as Indiana Jones’ illegitimate son) soon has his hands full. It all starts when Sam’s father buys him a beat up Camaro as his first car. The car though just happens to be a transformer, and he is one of the good but spunky kind. It turns out that Sam’s grandfather was part of some convoluted arctic expedition that first discovered the evil Megatron, who fortunately was conveniently immobilized deep in the Arctic ice cap. His grandfather’s spectacles are of great interest to the Autobots and the Decepticons because they point to the “All Spark”, a funky looking cube that can either bring an end to the robot war (if the Autobots get it) or give the Decepticons the power they need to win the war.

Yeah, well, I don’t make this stuff up, I just report it. It sounded hopelessly hokey to me too. Poor horny Sam is in for many adventures, but fortunately, throughout the movie he gets to hang out with the very curvy Mikaela, who turns out to be something of a bad girl. He is kept too busy chasing his car, engaging in theatrics with Transformers and helping our military to use his right hand that much or even put the moves on Mikaela.

Strangely, most of the characters in this movie rise above mere stereotypes. Sam has fun self-deprecating sense of humor. His parents are largely clueless, even when giant Transformers are trying to hide in their back yard. The movie falls apart though in trying to give the Transformers personality. Try as they might, they still come across as inflamed bit buckets with attitudes encased in metal, but without a cheat sheet, it is hard to tell the good Transformers from the bad ones. One thing is for sure: if you have Transformers in your neighborhood, they are likely to make a mess of things. Do not invite them in as they excel in lowering property values.

For boys of a certain age, and I am guessing that age is around fourteen, this is probably a perfect movie. For the rest of us the movie is fun entertainment but nothing too special, although it is hard not to be amazed by the CGI or the number of expensive props that were destroyed in making this movie. For a movie that is nearly two and a half hours long, it moves at such a brisk pace, you probably will not feel the need to nod off. No question about it, Shia LaBeouf is a talented young actor and he is in his element in this movie.

If you have to see a movie about robots, this is the one to see and is much more fun and engaging than, say, I Robot, which I recently reviewed. Still, while it manages to appeal to most of us outside its targeted age group, only teenage boys or young men who never quite grew up will care much about the Autobots and the Decepticons or who will eventually triumph in world domination. (Hint: it is not the bad guys.)

Transformers goes to prove that with a good enough script, directing and special effects you can take a silly plot and make it a lot of fun. Most movies like this would quickly flop on their bellies. This one does not exactly soar into the stratosphere but does quickly take flight and provides an entertaining view.

3.1 on my 4.0 scale.

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