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Film Notes: Transformers

It seems almost churlish to ‘review’ Transformers – a film about giant robots that turn into vehicles and fight each other. I mean, that summary says it all, doesn’t it?

That is not to say it is a great film but it is a good film and, more importantly, very enjoyable. It is probably the greatest film based on people’s nostalgia for a cartoon series created to advertise a line of Japanese toys, ever.

I should point out that I’m not a Transformers geek; I’m the wrong age to have got into the cartoon, and I don’t really have any strong feelings about the whole Transformers canon (cartoon, comic books, animated movie), apart from thinking that the idea of big fuck-off robots that transform is genius.

Therefore, I had no preconceptions going into this film. I just wanted to see how cool CGI could make the Transformers look on screen. This attitude meant I was pleasantly surprised. Not only do the Transformers look amazing (my girlfriend and I spent the trip home pointing at cars and saying, ‘Is that a Transformer?’), but the film is entertaining and funny (and deliberately so) and well made. It could possibly be the best film that Michael Bay has made.

The story starts off by introducing us to Sam Witwicky, played by Shia LeBoeuf, who is trying to flog his explorer grandfather’s old things to his school mates in order to help buy his first car. When his dad takes him to buy it, the car chooses him and it turns out to be a Transformer. Due to the necessities of a plot, Sam is in possession of an item (his grandfather’s glasses) which contain a map to the location of the All-Spark (which can create life). The Decepticons (boo, hiss) want it to destroy Earth and the Autobots (hurrah) want to stop them. And that’s about all you need to know, really.

There is some side story, which basically tries to explain what is going on in context of the rest of the ‘real’ world, with a far-too-attractive young girl doing sound analysis for the Pentagon on the hacking the Decepticons do to locate the All-Spark and explaining everything (and not being deported to Guantanamo Bay), but that section of the film is not interesting or necessary and verges on the slightly annoying on occasion, stretching belief to breaking point. Anyway, plot mechanics aren’t important – the MacGuffin is the glasses, which have a map to the All-Spark, but they don’t matter in the slightest because the All-Spark is not actually at the location on the glasses (the government-funded Sector 7 already has it, along with the frozen Megatron, at a secret location), so that was a waste of time and effort.

However, you don’t mind. You are being entertained by the humour and charm of LeBeouf and the sight of robots transforming into cars and lorries and helicopters and planes, and then fighting (there is a scene where Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots, punches one of the Decepticons so hard it knocks out his eye before Prime sticks a sword extension thingy from his arm into the Decepticon’s head – now that’s what I call family fun). The film is a visual treat – the transforming looks stunning and the robots look real enough to believe in, so everything else is almost eclipsed. They even manage to instil some character into Bumblebee (loved the use of radio music for his voice as a source of jokes), which comes into play at the end, and the annoying Decepticon spy robot (who sounds like a cross between a Jawa and Jabba the Hutt’s little creature).

Fortunately, LeBoeuf keeps you connected to the film as the very believable human lead, with great delivery and poise in the middle of a big action flick. Megan Fox, who plays his love interest but is also handy with car mechanics (what a bit of luck), has the misfortune to be incredibly gorgeous (as exclaimed by Sam’s mother in the film, in a very funny scene in Sam’s bedroom); she has a beautiful face and a stunning body (Bay leeringly lets the camera linger over her whenever possible), and she has to work the most to remind you that she is also acting rather well in the scenes with Sam. Of the supporting cast, John Turturro has the most fun as one of the top people in Sector 7, realising that you have to act big when you are playing second fiddle to CGI robots.

And it’s the robots that work, and work well. The camera swoops and swirls around them during the transformations, as hundreds of pieces of metal swoosh and clank and whirr in giddying jigsaw puzzle of configuration, and you believe that they are existing in the scene with the actors. Watching this is a joy of mindless action; explosions and chases and punches and mid-air transformations keep you constantly dizzy with excitement. You can’t ask for more than that. In the same way that Pirates of the Caribbean was an entertaining film from an unlikely source, Transformers is a dementedly enjoyable (if not brilliant) movie.

Rating: DAVE

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