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At what point would a serious assessment of Transformers mean anything? It's the Citizen Kane of giant fighting robot movies, but that's not saying a whole lot. Judging from audience reaction, if this is the movie you've been waiting for, this is the movie you've been waiting for.

Whether or not it follows the plotline of the original animated series doesn't matter. If it doesn't, it's not a big enough violation to have offended the fans attending with me who screamed like teens at Candlestick Park at the Beatles' last live concert every time Peter Cullen intoned "I …am …Optimus Prime."

It's not like he does that a lot. In fact, for director Michael Bay, you might even say the film shows some restraint in waiting to give us the leader of the heroic Autobots. At its heart, Transformers wants to be about a boy and his first car, which unfortunately for Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) puts him at the center of a millennia-old intergalactic war.

At least it might be millennia-old; the script occasionally varies in its understanding of its history, as well as its tone. Bay opens with a gritty war scene, ostensibly (and hey, rightfully) reminding us of those guys in the Middle East putting their lives on the line for reasons they don't quite understand. And yes, taking on a black ops Huey that turns into a spiky killer robot makes the whole Weapons of Mass Destruction thing seem rather unimportant.

That segment lays out a lot of clichés about soldiers, including the handsome Josh Duhamel, and sets them as the frontline against the Decepticons. When they pop up at various points later in the movie, though, it's just one more firecracker in the overall Fourth of July celebration that is Act 3.

While that's all sweaty, young Sam sweats for a different reason: unrequited lust for Mikaela (Megan Fox), the short denim-skirted Maxim girl that doesn't realize that she's shared every class with him since first grade. Good thing he has Bumblebee, disguised as a beat-up Chevy Camaro.

Through the radio, Bumblebee communicates ideas to Sam that he considers just coincidence. When a driverless police car assaults him, however, he and his nascent girlfriend realize there's more than meets the eye here.

Sorry, but I think I got further along in the review without using that phrase than the movie did.

Transformers has all the typical elements of a Michael Bay film. That patent 360 degree pan in slow-motion is here, underscoring the emotional connection between Sam and Mikaela that Bay won't illustrate any other way. Emotions spike and dip in a herky-jerky fashion depending on the needs of the scene, not the need of the narrative. Everybody sweats a lot and looks grimy.

But it also has lots of action that looks good. The robot transformations are pretty cool, though Bay often fills the screen up so much that it's hard to focus on what is actually happening. The every bit as charismatic as his press LaBouef also does a great job of anchoring the movie. When he schools the Secretary of Defense (Jon Voight) on Megatron, he clearly speaks for every fan who's had to explain the continuity to a parent or cynical friend. It just doesn't matter, but LaBouef makes us believe it possibly could.

To complain about the logic feels like the proverbial glass house. The driving macguffin, the legendary All-Spark, can't be any less intelligent a plot point than midichlorians - okay, bad example, but you get the point. It's a toy line with a mythos that amazingly makes for a watchable movie. Not a great one, but watchable.

What it really begs for, though, is the Bay touch on other toy adaptations. Just imagine My Little Pony (who makes a cameo here) all sweaty and grimy, defending right, justice and hair play while dealing with the inner turmoil of not wanting to act in the Spring Fair's Revue, or trot while everyone else is cantering.

Perhaps Hasbro can launch a whole production company to run with their toys. G.I. Joe may be a given, and has been in development for quite some time. But can you imagine Wes Craven on Furby? It's just a thought. Watching Transformers leaves you with plenty of time to think, but man, do them robots look cool.

Rating (for Giant Robot Ass-Kickin' Movie):

Rating (for actual cinematic achievement):

Derek McCaw

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