Rock Em, Sock Em

Shia's ready for prime time. Courtesy DreamWorks LLC/Paramount

Despite what some are saying, it really isn't a huge deal that in his first live-action incarnation, heroic truck-robot Optimus Prime has a new paint job, or a moving mouth under that face shield of his. Considering that he became a giant mechanical gorilla in at least one cartoon incarnation, such cosmetic changes are minor. Insisting that Transformers adhere faithfully to the canon of the first cartoon is silly, as the animated series regularly ignored its own continuity anyway and featured huge gaps in logic that were obvious even to kids at the time, like: Where does Optimus' truck-trailer disappear to when he transforms? What possible benefit is there for Megatron, a giant robot with a huge blaster on his arm, to shrink down to a tiny handgun? Why were almost none of the characters in scale with one another? And how about that technologically advanced far-future year 2005?

That said, and despite a few nods to the "Generation 1" characters, there is one massive misstep here—the complete absence of the classic theme tune. Worse yet, it's been replaced with Linkin Park's "What I've Done." (And this comes from a guy who likes Linkin Park!) How do you not use the coolest '80s toy line turned cartoon music ever? To add insult to injury, there's a techno version on the soundtrack CD but nowhere in the movie. Needless to say, when the plot calls for a cheesy power ballad, the opportunity is also passed up to use "The Touch," that notoriously inappropriate tune used in the original animated movie when Optimus and Megatron fight to the death. For such omissions, director Michael Bay needs to briefly have his head transformed into a punching bag.

But aside from that huge honking sore point, the movie rocks.

Like the Masters of the Universe movie before it, Transformers tells its story through the eyes of a pair of teenagers who prove integral to an interstellar battle that happens to touch down on Earth—a slightly less offensive choice here, since Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBoeuf) actually was a major character in the cartoon. It really isn't worth sweating the plot details much on this, beyond what we're told upfront: Something called the Allspark Cube, which is basically the Genesis device from Star Trek II, is sought by giant robots from space and apparently hidden somewhere on Earth. Unfortunately for us, the evil Decepticons get here before the heroic Autobots can stop them from wreaking havoc.

So there's that, but then at least a third of the movie is about Sam trying to get a cool car so he can impress high school hottie Mikaela (Megan Fox). Gotta get laid before the world ends, y'know. Fortunately for him, his new bitchen Camaro turns out to be Autobot Bumblebee, who is unable to speak in this movie, possibly as karmic payback for infamously uttering the sole curse word in the animated film.

Meanwhile, Decepticons attack a U.S. military base in the Middle East and infiltrate Air Force One, where it is implied, though not stated outright, that the president is a familiar dim-bulb Texan. Fortunately, Secretary of Defense John Keller (Jon Voight) may look like Donald Rumsfeld, but he's actually semi-competent and holds back from prematurely launching World War III. Deep in the Defense Department files is a project code-named "Iceman"—it seems Megatron was the first to arrive, back in the Hoover administration, but was frozen in Arctic ice shortly after locating the coordinates of the Allspark. Hmmm, think he'll stay frozen the whole movie?

Essentially, what we've got here is a whole lot of maneuvering designed to facilitate a massive robot brawl on the streets of downtown LA, which is pretending to be another city ("Mission City," or something like that . . . it's not important). Above all else, Transformers is the biggest-budget kaiju movie of all time, which, for those who don't speak Japanese or Nerdish, means one of those Godzilla Vs. Other-Monster-Suit Guys Trashing Mini-Tokyoflicks. Only with robots. And what's not to like about that?

Perhaps a few things, if you're a stickler for any semblance of reality, but Bay seems to have realized there wasn't any point in playing things too seriously—he has an Aussie-accented blond bombshell (Rachael Taylor) and Anthony Anderson playing the world's greatest hackers, which sorta tells you what kind of tone to expect. There's a chihuahua named Mojo, who wears a cast on his leg, and in one scene, Bumblebee actually takes a leak all over John Turturro.

Even if you accept the notion of robots from the planet Cybertron who can scan cars and then imitate them, a few things don't quite add up. For instance, what the hell is Scorponok copying—did he scan a scorpion and somehow misinterpret the data? A giant mechanical bug ain't exactly a robot in disguise. And why would a robot from a planet of all mechanical beings have a name like "Bonecrusher"?

That aside, Optimus is the kiddie icon of old, still proudly voiced by Peter Cullen, who nowadays sounds like a raspy Adam West. Megatron gets the biggest makeover, now looking like Power Rangers villain Lord Zedd and voiced so unrecognizably by Hugo Weaving that original voice actor Frank Welker could've just as easily done it. (But if you analyze the new look closely, it seems that Megs' face is now shaped like the Decepticon emblem—clever!)

It's nice to hear the old transformation sound at least once and get a brief bit of interplay between Starscream and Megatron, but for my money, the best nod to the source material is a moment inside a giant military base when all the adult military types are confused by what they see in front of them. Sam promptly steps forward and proudly states, "That's Megatron. He's the leader of the Decepticons."

As kids, how many of us said the exact same thing to our parents?


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