Andy Bockelman: Rock em Sock em 'Transformers'

— For a movie primarily about gigantic robots beating each other senseless, "Transformers" actually has a very humanistic feel to it.

When teenager Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) finally gets his first car, he thinks that his life will be nothing but thrills.

Little does he know what he has in mind is but a fraction of what is in store for him.

When the old Chevy Camaro disappears one night, he follows it to find that it has transformed into a towering robot. As weird as this is, it only gets more confusing when he encounters a police car that shifts into another robot which starts threatening him. Such incidents are occurring elsewhere, though. American armed forces are running into more of the advanced machines in the Middle East, and the Pentagon is having problems with their computer security. As Sam soon discovers, the destructive behemoths behind all this are the evil Decepticons from the planet Cybertron who have come to Earth on a mission in which Sam is a key component.

Fortunately for humanity, Sam's car (whose name actually is Bumblebee) also is from Cybertron, and has called for help from his fellow Autobots, led by the benevolent Optimus Prime.

LaBeouf plays the role of panicky-yet-courageous hero nicely, and is well matched with Megan Fox as Mikaela, the girl that he worships, who winds up his partner in intergalactic battle. Many high-profile actors appear in the film, including Jon Voight as take-charge U.S. Secretary of Defense John Keller, Anthony Anderson as cowardly computer expert Glen Whitmann, and John Turturro as Agent Simmons, a thoroughly obnoxious G-man who creates more problems than he solves.

Other recognizable names in the cast are Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Rachael Taylor and Bernie Mac.

However, most of the human cast is overshadowed by the Autobots and Decepticons, whose voice talent includes Peter Cullen (the only voice artist to reprise his role from the original cartoon) as Optimus Prime, Hugo Weaving as Megatron, leader of the Decepticons, and many others.

"Transformers" arguably is director Michael Bay's best film. The maker of action flicks such as "The Rock" and "The Island," Bay never has been considered to have much artistic taste, filling his movies with complicated camerawork and dimwitted dialogue. Even his "Pearl Harbor" could have been much better had it not been in the hands of someone with a music video mentality, the forum in which Bay cut his teeth. His debut movie "Bad Boys" was the freshest entry of his resume, but he promptly tainted it with a sequel.

Still, Bay seems to have found the perfect project in "Transformers," since his "watch first/think later" style lends itself to the nonstop action that is necessary in a movie such as this. Surprisingly enough, there is a lot of heart behind Bay's flashy work this time around, giving it the kind of genuine feeling that the '80s cartoon possessed.

At one point, while watching the Autobots make their flaming entry to Earth, a teenager proclaims "This is a hundred times better than 'Armageddon!'" Maybe the math is a little exaggerated, but the idea is right in saying that "Transformers" easily outdoes Bay's 1998 blockbuster.

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