Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is a normal high school student, trying to save up for a car, get good grades, and get the girl of his dreams, Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox). Unfortunately, the old Camaro his father buys for him turns out to be an interstellar robot and Sam finds himself in the middle of an intergalactic war between good and evil. I know the feeling. When I bought my last used car, the pouch behind the passenger seat was full of rap tapes from the 90’s.
I think everyone had reservations about Transformers when it was announced that Michael Bay, purveyor of big, dumb action films, would be the man in the director’s chair. Adding to those problems was the news that the film would be, gasp, live action, rather than the traditional animation we’d all grown up with. Pins and needles all around, especially for those of us who aren’t Bay fans.
Then the credits rolled, and Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen, the original and only voice of Prime) delivered the opening line. When I heard that reassuring voice, reaching forward 20 years to soothe my nervous heart, I knew that things were going to be okay. That respect for the history of what is probably the greatest cartoon franchise of all time simultaneously gave me the chills and killed all fear. I was going to be okay, because it was the real Prime, no matter what else happened.
That being said, Transformers is without a doubt the best Michael Bay movie since The Rock (kind of a backhanded compliment, but it is meant to be a compliment. No, really!). Unlike certain other movies that I won’t mention by name, like Pearl Harbor, all the elements of this film work, from the comic relief (Anthony Anderson, playing a computer hacker, and Bernie Mac, playing a sleazy used-car salesman) to the romance between Sam and Mikaela (perhaps the most surprising result of all, considering this is the director who brought us animal crackers prowling on Liv Tyler’s thigh). Shia LaBeouf proves himself to be more than up to the task of befriending the Autobots and being a source of comic relief without being annoying.
While there are a lot of humans present, including Jon Voight as the Secretary of Defense, Tyrese Gibson as Sgt. Epps, and Josh Duhamel as Cpt. Lennox, the action centers on Sam and the Autobots versus the Decepticons, and the relationship between the Autobots and the humans. The film does a great job of introducing the war, how the Autobots came to land on earth, and how they came to adapt their robot forms. People forget that these are essentially giant aliens who don’t know how to act in the world, so there is going to be some bumbling and things they don’t understand. It’s funny and a bit cute, but not in a bad way. This is, after all, an adaptation of a cartoon.
At its beefy 150-minute run time, someone could assume that the film is overly long, or drags, but I never even noticed time passing. Usually, after an hour, I start to fidget, but I didn’t get up once. It’s not the best film ever, but it’s the best ‘big dumb summer movie’ this year. I was entertained the entire time, which is more than you can say about most of the filth and sequels that have made it to the screen this year. It’s the perfect antidote to sequel-itis and overly-serious blockbusters. Fresh, funny, and a great time.