TRANSFORMERS (sci-fi action)
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Travis Van Winkle, Josh Duhamel, Jon Voight and Megan Fox
Directors: Michael Bay
Time: 125 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)
WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? Michael Bay's "Transformers" showcases alien robots that masquerade as ordinary vehicles like cars, jets and trucks, and thereby 'hide in plain sight' from us. The movie, however, also transforms from one genre to another and another - apparently to update and revitalise the franchise (which originated from a line of toys by Hasbro) for today's viewers and fans.
The Transformers toy line, for the benefit of the uninitiated, was launched in 1984, and was promoted through both the comic books by Marvel and a cartoon TV series. Although the comics outlived the animated series, it was the TV series that captured the hearts and minds of children worldwide more than any other piece of Transformers media from its 23-year history. Since then, there have been two animated movie versions - in 1984 and 1986. This live-action CGI-enhanced version looks set to take the franchise much further both in terms of sequels, spin-offs and merchandise.
WHAT'S IT ABOUT? The movie starts like a modern-day desert war drama, with US soldiers in Qatar being attacked by a helicopter that changes into a gun-toting robot. That, ladies and gentlemen, introduces viewers to the robotic Transformers - and we get a taste of Michael's 'Bayhem' of machine-gun splatter, commotions and explosions!
Next, Bay takes us into Pentagon war-game territory where we find Secretary of Defence John Keller (Jon Voight, probably impersonating Donald Rumsfeld) seeking help from civilian experts to try and make sense of the data from Qatar. Of course, nothing is supposed to make sense - yet.
Cut again, and we move into "American Pie" high school comedy, with 11th grader Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) telling his class about his explorer grandpa and buying a beat-up yellow Camaro so that he can impress school mate Mikaela (Megan Fox) into going out with him. Sorry folks, no prizes for guessing that Grandpa Witwicky had stumbled onto an energy-giving cube from outer space, and that the Camaro is actually an Autobot named Bumble Bee.
There is more comic relief before we get to the main action pieces. This comes in the form of a cute little robot that causes havoc on Air Force One in the same way that prehistoric 'squirrel' Scrat cracks us up in the "Ice Age" films.
When Bay gets down to the real business of unravelling the war between the protective Autobots, led by Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen), and the evil Decepticons (led by Megatron), the awe-factor comes in huge and loud doses, and these are spiced with dollops of humour as well. Optimus Prime and his Autobots are not just awesome to behold, they possess human qualities like courage, compassion and wit as well. And yes, their actions will make you cheer, laugh and even shed a tear or two.
HIGHLIGHTS AND LOWLIGHTS: Additional humour is provided by John Turturro, who goes way over the top as Agent Simmons from a top secret government agency called Section 7. However, diehard movie fans will probably see references to "King Kong", "The Love Bug", "E.T." and "Black Hawk Down" - in addition to the aforementioned "Ice Age" and "War Games". Sure, plot-holes and logic lapses are plenty in this testosterone-fueled fantasy that reflects America's love of cars, and the prolonged street battle scenes involving the robots and humans can be rather confusing. Well, that's just Michael Bay for you.
With the computer-generated robot sequences blending so seamlessly with live-action, the human cast seem almost redundant. Nevertheless LaBeouf and Fox hold their own as young leads whom the audience will certainly root for - and as supporting stars to the CGI creations. There is a message somewhere about Earthlings being essentially good, but it is easily overwhelmed by the mayhem.
THE LOWDOWN: If you grew up in the Eighties with Transformers toys, you are going to relive your childhood fantasies with this one. Go on, knock yourself out.