You might have heard about the online hatred among diehard Transformers fans when it was announced Michael Bay was directing the live action version. It’s becoming the essential marketing accessory to any self-respecting blockbuster, fuelling buzz as good as any advertising campaign. If it transforms (sorry) into box office receipts, Bay, Dreamworks and producer Steven Spielberg are going to walk away even richer than they are.
Bay only agreed to do the film if he could do it ‘real’, and the photorealism of the effects is the movie’s biggest strength. If anything the (dare we say it) cartoony personalities of the robots detract from the serious approach, and as an action film you’ll not likely see bigger or better all year.
Like in most blockbusters the chase and fight sequences are loosely connected by lulls of clunky dialogue and ham-fisted emotion, but one thing brings the expositionary aspect within sight of the off-the-scale action sequences. While most of the cast are one-note tokens, star Shia Lebouf carries enough charisma for all of them. His gawky eagerness carries much of the consciously comical scenes — new territory for Bay — effortlessly.
It starts with an unidentified chopper landing at a US base in Qatar. After repeated warnings to power down it changes into something out of the Mech Warrior series. Within seconds, EMP bursts and missiles are flattening the base, tanks and bodies flying through the air and fireballs reaching for the heavens. Yes, you realise with either a shudder of revulsion or the warm embrace of reassurance, this is a Michael Bay film.
The chopper is a Decepticon, one of the race of evil robots and a sworn enemy of the honour-bound Autobots, both of whom have come to Earth from their war-torn home planet to find an ancient talisman that will end the war. Hero Sam stumbles into the battle by holding a clue to the whereabouts of the Macguffin, and when his new car turns out to be fan favourite Bumblebee, the race is on.
When Lebouf’s off screen, the effects take over. It’s not just a bunch of cars and trucks screaming down a highway with aircraft giving chase; the cars and trucks jump up and unfold into giant robots mid-race to start firing rockets at each other. It took the CGI engineers more than 24 hours to render one frame of every robot, and it shows.
There are people who go to the movies for the sort of thrills you imagine when you used to play with your Transformers or Star Wars figures. So does Michael Bay, and he gets $145m to play with. Don’t expect any more than that, but expect a lot of it.