“The Transformers,” one of the best special effects movies since “Star Wars,” stands as both classic and cutting-edge. Like that trailblazing series that introduced us to The Force, a battle between good and evil spawns an unlikely hero. It's not as slick as our introduction to the Jedi Warriors, but the computer-generated images are nonetheless impressive.
Teenage protagonist Sam Witwicky’s (Shia LaBeouf) prospects in life generally rate as pretty marginal. Even his name, (which everyone mocks) fails to forecast any promise (think Luke Skywalker). He’s a teenager on the outside, who wants in, but can’t find the key.
His everyday life however, is about to undergo a remodel, due to a pair of spectacles, passed down from his great-grandfather, an artic explorer. Their link to a discovery made by Gramps, and kept top secret since the early 1900s by the US Government, holds a value far beyond money.
Unaware of their worth, Sam places them on eBay for a nominal fee. They seem to draw no interest. That’s because the Autobots® and Decepticons®, respectively the good guys and bad guys, have their own style for conducting a bidding war.
The idea for this two-decades-old and still expanding storyline began when Marvel comics teamed up with Hasbro Toys to create a back-story for their increasingly popular combining-toys. These mechanical playthings, originating in Japan, with a few twists can be manipulated into different objects, of which the robots became the most popular. Called Transformers, these shape-shifters inspired comic books, a TV series, and a movie in 1987.
The underpinning saga, having undergone some changes over the years, is a classic story of origin. Primus, the creator and heart of the planet Cybertron, was born in the early chaos of the universe along with an evil twin.
Primus created a race of sentient robot beings as inhabitants for his world, some of which turned to the dark side. A civil war erupted, with combatants dispersing across the universe, including earth. One of the Decepticons, which crash landed near the North Pole, carried a very important package with him. Both the frozen warrior and his cargo, discovered by Sam’s ancestor, have been kept secret, known only to the members of Sector Seven and the president for 90 years.
For Sam, our hero-in-waiting, receiving a car with a mind of its own and consequently a girlfriend (Megan Fox) who wouldn’t give him a second look a week before, give him the sense that something is afoot.
He can’t even imagine. These changes arrive courtesy of the good guys, who fortunately find him first.
By the time Optimus Prime and Megatron confront each other, backed by their fellow warriors, the story is set. Beneath the by-now standard fare of flying cars and crumbling buildings, lies an engaging, if rather incredible, narrative.
“The Transformers” boasts well-executed drama, kick-butt action, and timely comic relief (how do four 20-foot robots make themselves inconspicuous in the yard of a typical residence?). The special effects allow us to easily suspend our disbelief with its cutting-edge animation.
“The Transformers” is not a flawless movie – far from it. There are extraneous side stories that serve little purpose, except to lengthen a movie that’s already too long.
If there are to be sequels (and there will be), ferocious battle scenes and special effects that we’ve already seen won’t sustain the franchise. A story that has the whole universe as a setting has infinite possibilities. With luck, you could find people camping out in line a few years from now to be the first to see the next episode in this series.
The movie opens July 3.
Lester Gray reviews movies for Examiner.com.