Growing up in the 80s, you can't help but take notice of the Transformers toys which can change from various vehicles to robots, or the cartoon series which had a pretty good run, with its fair share of spin offs having different character variations (Headmasters anyone?), settings in outer space, 3D animation (Optimus Prime as a mean looking gorilla), all great symbiotic marketing strategies between the toys and the cartoons. But one thing about the animated series though, both the Autobots and the Decepticons had lousy aim, which the Movie (1986) sought to correct, and "traumatized" (well, at least me when I was a kid watching this) kids with mortality for the beloved bots.
When Michael Bay was announced to have taken over an updated movie version of Transformers, I was a bit apprehensive, especially when character designs started to leek, and I admit, they were not really pleasing to the eye, and most, if not all, had vehicle model updates. So if anyone's a stickler that the characters must look like their animated originals or the toys, then it is likely you'll probably not enjoy the movie since you can't stand the sight of blasphemous character designs. There are some liberties that the cartoons take, which the movie tries hard to address, especially with the transformation bits, designing which part goes where instead of hiding unwanted bits (especially wheels) magically, though broad strokes for certain characters were maintained.
But I'm glad to say, this IS a Transformers movie, albeit a little updated in Michael Bay style for the big screen, a worthy summer popcorn blockbuster which delivers and satisfies. It bears Bay's signature style, and truly, it was one heck of an adrenaline ride from start to finish, pausing only to allow you to breathe a little (with some comedy which might not be everyone's cup of tea, like that call-center bit), before ripping everything up again. It's loud, it's noisy, with the usual camera work you'd come to expect from Bay's brand of total mayhem when he unleashes the action. There are times when the intricate character designs work against the movie in the action sequences though, with too many details on screen, and the robots seem to be collapsing in a heap of metal when they clash head on. But these scenes of robots clashing in an urban landscape were mighty realistic, as are the slick transformation sequences, and will leave the fan boy inside you whooping for joy.
Fans should be pleased with the effort that went into the live action movie. I was grinning from ear to ear with the little sly bits of references incorporated, like the classic transformation sound effects inherited from the cartoons, and if you keep your ears peeled, you might pick out lines here and there which were reminiscent of the cartoon series and the animated movie back in 1986. The scene in the autoshop with Bernie Mac was fun, especially with the jab at having an actual Volkswagon Beetle parked beside the new look Bumblebee (which I thought behaved like Herbie the Love Bug for the most parts of its introduction, despite the update in look). There were some inevitable Bay movie references like the flare bit for signalling which was a tad too obvious, camera swirling around characters, the slow-motions, and yet another highway sequence.
The story's not as bad as I would expect it to be, but it's nothing to shout about as well, being but just a vehicle (pardon the pun) to move the story from action sequence to action sequence. It managed to cram quite a bit in its 143 minute run time, especially in its many human fronts on dealing with a perceived invasion - you have an updated "Spike" (Shia LaBeouf) and his new girl Mikaela (Megan Fox) being caught in the thick of things with their direct friendship with the Autobots, a group of soldiers led by Captain Lennox (Josh Duhamel) dealing with Decepticon attacks in the Middle East, and Secretary of Defense Keller (Jon Voight) trying to understand the situation by enlisting a group of hackers, which includes Maggie (Rachael Taylor). As you can tell, the humans have quite a bit going on, and Transformers allowed them to get in on the action as well, making it man versus machine too.
Plenty of things went right in my opinion. The casting of Peter Cullen to voice Optimus Prime was a major coup in lending this movie some credibility, as is the replacement voice of Megatron with Hugo Weaving's. The filmmakers too addressed the issue of Megatron pretty nicely - the handgun will just not work in a live action film, and would especially be stretching it a bit should the handgun turn into a gigantic robot. The selection of the Autobots was probably ideal in having Ironhide, Jazz, Ratchet supporting Bumblebee and Prime, leaving the rest for possible future movies. Prime's sympathy for humans again gets exploited by Megatron (though most times verbally, which got repetitive), and what was quite lacking, were the weapons. Prime's black cannon, if I'm right, only managed a very brief appearance, as does Megatron's, as the battles are more fist fights rather than laser gun battles (which they might miss!) And was that Prime's Autobot Leadership Matrix peeking out of his chest?
Watching the Autobots roll out on a highway brought out the goosebumps, and with the door being left open for follow up movies, should this do well in the box office, then we can expect more rolling, and the advent of more characters! And if rumours of the coming of Unicron are correct, then we all know what to expect of Megatron.