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July 3, 2007 |

By Phillip Stephens | Film | July 3, 2007 |

Fans of the original “Transformers” enterprise — the toys and the cartoons — have been ambivalent about their childhood associations being thrust onto live-action cinema helmed by critical whipping boy Michael Bay. Though their concern is certainly understandable, it’s probably too much of a hat-tip to Transformers’ silly premise to expect a real work of artistry. I don’t at all mean this in a bad way, being an avid fan of both toy and cartoon who wept like a 5-year-old bitch during the 1987 animated film; but expecting something akin to art when dealing with an inherently silly show about cool robots and their concurrent marketing value as toys is pretty disingenuous. In that sense, Michael Bay — the overgrown child, the Spielberg (who produces here) clone with large chunks of his brainstem left in the Petri dish — is more than adequate to helm a live-action throwback to a cartoon, a giant fucking spectacle - he’s ideal!

Bay essentially does justice to the “Transformers” oeuvre, provided one’s estimation of said oeuvre isn’t overly generous. He packs his film with enough kerblooie to get the essential point across: Giant robots and exploding things are fun. The plot, as you might expect, is paper-thin and paper-retarded, making just enough sense to occur in sequence and get us from one boom to the next, though easily 45 minutes of it could’ve been excised. Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) is an average knob until he winds up with a self-aware Camaro that turns out to be an Autobot Transformer. Yada yada yada intergalactic war yada yada yada good robots vs. bad robots yada yada yada fighting over some omnipotent technological cube; it doesn’t occur to the filmmakers to make much of a back story and it shouldn’t occur to the audience; the back story exists solely in the stores of nostalgia and pop culture associations of theatergoers, who will likely wet themselves with glee in hearing Peter Cullen reprise his 20+ years voiceover skills in the role of Optimus Prime as a live-action, endlessly pixilated new avatar.

So, Transformers should be a good time for old guard geeks and young enthusiasts. The technical rendering and melee sequences are, of course, remarkable. It’s just a shame that the film has to be so heavily couched in Bay’s stupid — his stupid gauge of the profound, his stupid sense of humor, his stupid jingoism and technophilia, all of which threaten at intervals to make the movie more obnoxious than fun, and all of which certainly dooms the film to premature forgettability.

But again, when dealing with the remake of a cheesy old cartoon, it’s best to loosen most of your expectations and let the spectacle itself do the talking. Transformers is one of the better so-called blockbusters to be released this year; other epics such as Spiderman 3 and that Pirates horseshit were weighed down with a kind of profundity they could never really balance out. Transformers is proudly ridiculous, leavened with enough bad comedy and insane special effects to leave no bones about its fleeting entertainment value. Bay somehow makes his own galactic ineptitude work for him - it’s easy to ignore everything else and enjoy the ride if there’s really nothing else to ignore.

Phillip Stephens is the lead critic for Pajiba. He lives in Fayetteville, AR.

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Film | July 3, 2007 |

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