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Transformers

Year: 2007
Studio: Dreamworks SKG
Director: Michael Bay
Producer: Steven Spielberg/Michael Bay/Tom DeSanto/Lorenzo Di Bonaventura
Writer: Roberto Orci/Alex Kurtzman
Cast: Shia Lebouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Rachael Taylor, Tyrese Gibson, John Voight, John Turturro, Anthony Andersen, Bernie Mac, Peter Cullen, Hugo Weaving
Michael Bay must feel like America in the age of terror. When he considers the critics and Transformers fans around the world who curse his name he must be asking himself and his films 'why do they hate us?'

Then again, he might be having too good a time to care. He gets to play with World War Two fighter planes, space shuttles that land on giant asteroids and Transformers, and movie studios give him hundreds of millions to do so. What else is he but a big kid who plays with big toys?

You might have heard about the online hatred among Transformers devotees when it was announced Bay was directing the live action version. It's becoming the essential marketing accessory for 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 already are.

Because for all his detractors, the studios are his biggest fans. When you consider the $300m price tags of Spider Man 3 and Pirates of the Caribbean, Bay delivers more bang for half the bucks of those films.

Try to forget everything you know and think about Pearl Harbor and Armageddon - Spielberg is right when he says Bay was born to direct this movie. The most serious trench coat-wearing ComicCon extremists might believe it's about the subtleties of free will and a complex code of honour, but Transformers is about cars, planes and trucks that change into giant robots and kick the crap out of each other and everything around them. Few other directors would have the bravura to do it with the violent impact it deserves.

Bay only agreed to do Transformers if he could do it 'real', and the photorealism of the effects are 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.

As 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 two dimensional tokens like the babe (Fox) and the dependable but funny black guy (Anderson), star Shia Lebouf carries enough charisma for all of them.

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 mid-chase and unfold into giant robots to start firing rockets at each other. If there's one expectation movie-goers will have of the movie it's realistic action, and after taking the CGI engineers more than 24 hours to render one frame of every robot, Transformers delivers.

What's unexpected is the high comedy, new territory for Bay and tailor-made for Lebouf's teen Woody Allen style. Just watch the four giant Autobots try to hide in Sam's backyard with his parents looking out the window.

When it comes to the narrative, seeing the film without knowing all the backstory is easy - the rushed and dismissive exposition will undoubtedly send Transformers tragics into apoplexy but it's fine for the rest of us. And of course, the breakneck pace makes you forget how silly it all is until long after it's over and your heartbeat has steadied.

It's not Shakespeare, Twain or Wilde. There's no wit or subtlety, no subtext or message. Bay's also like America in that he doesn't do small or delicate. He stomps all over the world, playing with billion dollar toys, blowing things up, kicking arse and taking names, believing his own superiority. And like the US military he frequently depicts, when it comes to brute force he is superior.

If you like big loud thrills, don't wait for DVD - the pictures and sound of Transformers is made for a huge multiplex cinema. Bay is the one of the most accomplished directors in his field for a reason, and whatever you think of his movies, Transformers is his field all the way.

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