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Bay makes fireworks with action-packed ‘Transformers’

Tae Andrews | Thursday, August 30, 2007

First there was Superman. Then there was Spider-Man.

And now there is Optimus Prime — the latest red, white and blue-clad hero to dedicate costume and cause to the defense of this great nation during a big screen summer blockbuster. Prime, in case you happen to have never played with toy action figures as a child, is undoubtedly the George Washington of robots — a founding father and freedom fighter who arrives on earth to defend all of humankind from vicious attacks from the evil Decepticons.

Optimus Prime doubles as a tricked-out semi with more knick-knacks and doodads than the friendly folks at “Pimp My Ride” could ever hope to customize. Like Prime, the rest of the Autobots (the shape shifting robots dedicated to saving us all) arrive with a flurry of whirring clicks and grinding gears as a series of mechanized metal minions pop, lock and drop in and out of their covert and battle modes.

Like the Transformers themselves, the film has a lot of moving parts. Shepherding us in the midst of all this wild mechanical mayhem is director Michael Bay, the previous driver behind the wheel of such massively successful (if not critically-acclaimed) films as “The Rock,” “Armageddon,” “Pearl Harbor” and “Bad Boys II.”

Bay’s cinematic flair for the explosive, the high-octane and the destructive is matched only by his ever quickening pacing and disdain for character development. He scores again with “Transformers,” delivering the summer blockbuster red-blooded Americans waited for, without much success, after a relatively disappointing May with the releases of “Spider-Man 3” and “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.”

Bay’s massive, loud and fun (if stupid) film could not succeed without its humans, despite all of the flashy gear-porn on display. He paints them in the typical Michael Bay aesthetic. The reels are chock full of dirt-streaked, grimy faces and lots of sweat and squinting.

Shia LaBoeuf of the Disney Channel’s “Even Stevens” and, more recently, “Disturbia” fame – an actor whose name sounds more like the special at a French restaurant than the leading man of a multi-million dollar film – adapts to the role of movie star well, delivering his lines with good timing and coming across as a genuinely likable guy.

Alongside LaBoeuf is the foxy Meghan Fox, a stunning beauty and a stunningly bad actress. The only thing more unlikely than alien robots descending upon our planet to wage war with one another over us is probably the fact that the baby-faced LaBoeuf ends up getting with Miss Fox in the end, but with a movie such as “Transformers,” a person has to suspend his disbelief for a few hours to enjoy himself.

Opening on July 4, a day in which American founding forefathers such as Samuel Adams, Thomas Jefferson and John Hancock declared American independence from tyranny, director Michael Bay puts his own signature on the pages of Americana with his signature tendency of blowing things up. In the end, the titanic, shape-shifting and fascist titanium-clad forces of evil find themselves defeated by truth, justice and the American Way. What could possibly be a more perfect Hollywood ending?

As he sees the Transformers for the first time, Shia LaBoeuf exclaims that they are “probably Japanese.” So in the words of that great and technologically proficient people, domo arigato, Mr. Bay. That was one fun ride.