As a card-carrying Transformers fanboy I went into this not knowing what to think. On one hand if there was anyone who could do big fighting robots justice it was Michael Bay, and on the other hand…Michael Bay. I liked The Rock and everything but his is hardly the most glowing filmography.
Transformers has all the trapping of a Bay film – kissing against a sunset as a rock ballad plays in the background, sweeping shots of pilots manning their jets, and knowing nods at his previous work (at one point someone shouts “this is even better than Armageddon!”, a statement that most will find impossible to disagree with) – and although the dialogue has its share of clangers and misplaced humour, not to mention a story that anyone who isn’t used to the cartoon will find baffling, it’s something that most fans will love. Thankfully he gives the scenes that need it room to breathe, so moments like the arrival of the Autobots are almost majestic thanks to the great choice of music.
Shia LeBeouf is remarkably bearable in a role that could easily have been outright annoying and carries the film, while the performances behind the robots themselves are stellar. Peter Cullen reprises his role as Optimus Prime and gives the character the appropriate amount of gravitas, getting far more screen time than any other speaking Transformer and even pinching a few crowd-pleasing lines from the animated film, while Hugo Weaving’s Megatron is effective when he eventually makes an appearance. No need to be annoyed that Frank Welker wasn’t brought back for that part. I’d have liked more conniving Starscream (who wouldn’t?) but there’s always the sequel in 2009, something for which he is set up perfectly.
What really steals the show, though, are the incredible effects. The Transformers are full of detail and moving parts, and never really look like CG, with the transformations themselves deserving all kinds of awards next year. I couldn’t spot where the big CG robot ended and the real car began, especially when they pull off moves like transforming in mid-stride, flipping between modes in mid-air, and wreaking some stunning-looking havoc on themselves and others at the end.
This summer’s blockbusters have almost all disappointed, but this one actually lived up to my expectations. Bay has done a great job of providing what his fans like and also giving those who would go to the showing in a Transformers t-shirt (not me, you understand) plenty to be happy with. Bring on the sequel.