The live-action adaptation of the Transformers franchise mixes a shot of the '80s cartoon, a dash of Michael Bay's signature brainless action style, and a pinch of Spielbergian wonder.This isn't a recipe for a perfect action movie, but if Bay knows anything, it's how to make a movie for 10-16 year old kids (and inner 10-16 year old kids). At its best moments, Transformers shuts off all critical thinking portions of your brain, enthralling you with metal-grinding action sequences and midriff-baring smart-but-tough girls wearing fake eyelashes and six coats of lip gloss. At it's worst, it's just a blur of video game characters. But again, for that target audience, the movie is a grand tale of great power and great responsibility, of good and evil, and of giant robots who kick major ass.
There was much trepidation among the original show's fans when it was announced that, due to a corporate tie-in with GM, many of the characters would be transforming into different vehicles than they once did. For instance, Bumblebee, a spunky, young Autobot has always fittingly transformed into a yellow and black VW Beetle -- now turns into a Camaro. The muscle car of choice for high-school football players everywhere might not sound like the right alternate form for the beloved Autobot, but the truth is that the characters are spot on for the handful of lines they each get. The cosmetic changes only really matter in that they make the characters sometimes indistinguishable, especially while in motion. Though if the filmmakers wanted us to know or care about each individual Transformer, they would also have done better to cram fewer into the story.
What makes the film pass instead of fail is original Optimus Prime voice Peter Cullen reprising his role. Cullen sounds like a cross between a badass action hero, the guy who does the movie trailers, and God. His voice, in combination with the actual character of Optimus Prime, creates the ultimate giant-robot incarnation of the archetypal warrior king: full of bravery, emanating wisdom, and frequently transforming into a kick-ass Mack truck. In Bay's universe, Optimus and his Autobot comrades find a perfect landscape for their epic struggle to defeat those who would use their power for evil. It's not just a universe of fast-paced power and style, but also a universe that almost begs even cynical viewers to recapture a childlike delight in entering a world where humanity's own magnificent saviors are 50-foot-tall robot aliens that turn into cars. For that 10-16 target audience, it probably won't have to ask twice.