Science fiction and fantasy                                            


directed by Michael Bay

Transformers poster  
The original Transformers cartoon made a great concept for a toy, with its "robots in disguise" gimmick. Turning this idea into a modern, slick science fiction film in 2007 wasn't the most obvious of ideas. The logical flaw in this is still the same as it ever was: why would the robots need to change back into a humanoid shape at all, when cars, trucks, tanks and planes are usually so much faster and stealthier?

Transformers is quite good at sweeping minor details like this under the carpet.

After war had destroyed their civilisation, the robots scattered across the galaxy in search of a certain cube with vast powers. The story then cuts to modern-day Qatar, where an unidentified helicopter shows up, sporting the identification number of a helicopter that is known to have been shot down already. Soon a giant rampaging robot is on the scene, attacking a US military base and effortlessly hacking into their computer networks. It's all very chaotic.

All of this testosterone-drenched warfare couldn't be more of a contrast with the life of Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf). He's a high school hustler, shamelessly selling his great grandfather's antiques so he can raise the money for his first car. He's not the most popular boy in class, and in the manner of adolescent boys everywhere he's hoping that a decent set of wheels will raise his status and help him get a girlfriend. Luckily for him, there's a black and yellow-striped Camaro for sale that exactly fits his requirements.

Sam's new car behaves strangely, however, as though it wants to help him with his love life. It breaks down at opportune moments, and the radio skips between music stations as though it has some kind of message. This gives Sam a chance to meet Mikaela (Megan Fox), who turns out to be much more than just the arm candy of the class jock. But why would a robot car care about his love life at all? That's another one of those minor details that never gets explained.

Meanwhile, the Defence Secretary (Jon Voight) is briefing a group of systems analysts about the robot threat. The events in Qatar have all of the experts baffled, because what they are seeing doesn't look like the technology of any earthly power. The US are poised to go to war with a foreign country, as soon as they can work out which one is behind the attacks.

Transformers could have been yet another mindless action movie, but it's actually quite funny. It's not short on action though, most of it involving frenzied, oversized robots with a knack for very quick, complex changes. Fast, a little silly, and with plenty of gags about the pains and embarrassments of adolescence, this film is very watchable. Shia LaBeouf has just the right combination of qualities as Sam Witwicky: not too sweet, not too dorky, nor so clever he becomes annoying, he's still intelligent, witty and vulnerable. Part of his appeal is that he's a long way from your conventional hero.

This is just as well, because the Decepticons and Autobots aren't the most subtle of adversaries. The Autobots are as selfless and noble as the Decepticons are evil and bent on world domination. Fortunately they do turn out to have some personality, at least on the Autobot side.

What's true for the Autobots is true for the whole movie: it's a relief and a pleasure to discover that it does have some personality, when it could so easily have been yet another dull slugging match between special-effects enhanced symbols of good and evil.

Film Details

Year: 2007

Categories: Films

  Science fiction

Classification: 12

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4 star rating

Review © Ros Jackson
Read more about Michael Bay