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Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio Commentary By Director Michael Bay; Two four-part documentaries; Making of the Scorponok sequence; Concept sketches; Trailers.

MICHAEL Bay may have his critics but there’s no denying the man has a flair for directing big screen carnage. Think of the freeway chase in Bad Boys 2, the spectacular battles of The Rock or even the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. It’s with actors and storyline that he sometimes seems to struggle.

Who better, then, to transform the concept of warring giant robots into a rollicking big screen adventure? The results are predictably impressive, even genre-defining. But as good as Transformers is in terms of spectacle, the film does hit a few dud notes in terms of plot and characterisation.

Essentially, it’s the story of two robot races – the evil Decepticons and the heroic Autobots – who bring their age-long battle to Earth and hide out in cars, trucks, helicopters and jet planes as they continue to search for a cube that holds the key to their fate and ours.

Caught in the middle is nerdy Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), a teenager on the verge of owning his first car and attempting to win the girl of his dreams (Megan Fox’s curvaceous Mikaela). Sam seems an unlikely hero until it emerges that one of his ancestors may have discovered the very cube the robots are looking for while exploring the Arctic years ago.

With the help of the Autobots (Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and co), Sam sets about retrieving the cube while keeping out of the way of the US military, whose troops (including Josh Duhammel and Tyrese Gibson) find themselves at the frontline of the battle for Earth’s survival.

Bay’s movie has so many things working in its favour that it becomes easy to overlook some of its flaws – but it does serve to showcase the best and the worst of the director.

On the downside, the film is deafeningly loud, needlessly over-plotted, hopelessly patriotic and prone to the usual giddy excess of his past movies. A lot of his cast shout instead of act (Bernie Mac and Anthony Anderson in particular), while others hysterically over-act (John Turturro and Jon Voight).

The inclusion of a torture sequence is unnecessary (and includes a voice-over lifted straight from Superman) and there’s far too much plot during the middle section that drags things out to a needlessly long running time (in excess of two hours).

But when it gets things right, boy does Transformers deliver (no doubt boosted by the presence of Steven Spielberg as an executive producer). The numerous transformations are as breathtaking as they are thrilling, while the robot battles are supremely well choreographed.

It’s tribute to Bay’s ruthless pursuit of perfection that there isn’t a dud special effects shot in the film, while the action scenes raise the bar in terms of spectacle. Viewers can’t fail to be amazed by some of what takes place on-screen. It’s the ultimate boys’ own smackdown (that girls can enjoy too).

And in Shia LaBeouf it has a genuine star performer. As Sam Witwicky, LaBeouf displays a genuine likeability that mixes excellent comic timing with believable vulnerability and an unlikely cool that could only come from an actor at the very top of his game.

LaBeouf never feels dwarfed by his robot co-stars or out of his depth against the action sequences. His performance is a revelation and proof positive that he’s currently one of the hottest young stars of the new crop of Hollywood A-listers in waiting. LaBeouf gives Transformers its heart and its soul, not to mention its excellent comic timing.

Put together with Bay’s visual flair, it’s a winning combination that helps to ensure Transformers is a rollercoaster experience of thrilling intensity. So, go and get dizzy.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 2hrs 23mins