MovieMantz Review:’Transformers’

Rise of the Machines

by Scott Mantz

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox
Directed by: Michael Bay

I pride myself on being a non-conformist, which is probably why my favorite Michael Bay movie is the one that made the least amount of money (by far). That would be 2005's “The Island,” which cost more than $125 million to make, yet made less than $36 million at the box office (though, to be fair, it more than tripled its domestic take overseas).

Unlike Bay's previous films — mindless popcorn flicks like “The Rock,” “Bad Boys,” “Armageddon,” and, yes, even “Pearl Harbor” — I was impressed that “The Island” actually had something to say. In addition to being an entertaining and very stylish sci-fi actioner, it was also a provocative film that was infused with a surprising level of emotional depth and substance.

Its commercial failure must have hurt, so it's not surprising that Bay has gone back to doing what he does best — blowing stuff up. Teaming up with Executive Producer Steven Spielberg (now there's a collaboration I never thought I'd see), Bay brings his slick, hyper-kinetic, testosterone-fueled filmmaking style to bear with “Transformers,” an action-packed visual extravaganza that’s bound to keep moviegoers coming back for more all summer long.

Based on the classic 80s cartoon series (which itself was based on Hasbro's popular toy line), “Transformers” tells the story of the Autobots and the Decepticons — two opposing races of robots that left their home planet in ruins after a grueling war. When they bring their conflict to the earth, it's up to a lanky teenager named Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) to save the day, thanks to an artifact in his possession that holds the key to mankind's survival. With the help of the hottest girl in school (Megan Fox), Sam vows to help the Autobots defeat the Decepticons before their battle turns the earth into a barren wasteland.

Perhaps taking a cue from Spielberg's 1977 classic “Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” screenwriters Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (“The Island,” “Mission: Impossible III”) keep the story focused on an unlikely hero who finds himself at the center of a universal event. The results are often amusing, but the real fun begins when director Bay takes full advantage of the finest car chases, special effects, fight scenes and explosions that a $145 million budget can buy. It's hard to see how anyone — even the most jaded moviegoer — won’t be impressed by what's on display here, especially during a spectacular 45-minute finale that really is more than meets the eye (and then some).

The cast members seem to be game for what's at stake here, especially Shia LaBeouf, who's on something of a roll after his surprise hit thriller “Disturbia” grossed $80 million and topped the box office for 3 straight weeks. If that film didn't make him a household name, then “Transformers” should do the trick, thanks to an “action star” performance that's funny, charming and appealing (traits that will no doubt come in handy for his next big project — the fourth “Indiana Jones” movie, which opens next May).

Kevin Dunn and Julie White are also very funny as LaBeouf's clueless, over-protective parents, but the rest of the characters feel more like underwritten clichés — especially John Turturro, who plays a bumbling government agent who gets humiliated by one of the Autobots. Less defined are a group of Special Forces Rangers — played by Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson — who survive a deadly Decepticon attack on their military base. Megan Fox may be the resident hottie and the object of LaBeouf’s attention, but at least she proves that she can hold her own when she takes charge during the explosive finale.

As for the Autobots and the Decepticons, longtime fans are going to go nuts when they see heroes like Optimus Prime and villains like Megatron transform for the first time. The overall effect is nothing short of a triumph for Michael Bay, who has outdone himself with an amazing movie that could wind up being the biggest summer popcorn blockbuster since 1996's “Independence Day.”

It's not as thought provoking as “The Island,” but that's okay. Having fun is the name of the game here, so if any movie is going to transform me from being a non-conformist, then “Transformers” is the one.


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