IMDb; Paramount; Rotten Tomatoes; TV Tropes; Wikipedia
Where to begin? First I'd like to say... well, okay. First... when I was a kid, I watched the original Transformers anime. Actually, this was long before I ever heard the word "anime," or gave any thought to what countries various cartoons came from. It was only much later, retroactively, that I came to think of Transformers as anime. And I was probably wrong to do so. It's never been entirely clear to me, but... I think it's sort of an American cartoon, after all. Not that Japan had nothing to do with it. I'm just not sure how much. In any event, the cartoon was mostly just advertising for the toys, I suppose. Anyway, over the years there have been a number of different Transformers animes and/or cartoons, though most of them I've never seen, and have no interest in. I would like to see the original series again someday, though. (There was also an animated Transformers movie, made in 1986, which was directly related to the original series, I guess, unlike the various subsequent series.)
Another thing I'd like to mention is that I wasn't quite sure in which category to put this review of the live-action adaptation. I was thinking maybe action/adventure, but ultimately I've decided to go with science fiction, because after all, it's about aliens. Who happen to be robots. That transform into vehicles and things. Granted, it's not hard SF, but I think it meets some vague sort of criteria for being called sci-fi. Whatever. One other thing I want to mention before getting started on the review proper is that shortly after this movie came out, a new (definitely American, though again, with some involvement from Japan) animated series premiered, called Transformers Animated. And I saw that whole series before I ever saw this movie (which I watched for the first time shortly after the sequel hit theaters, which I still haven't seen as of this writing). When I started watching Transformers Animated, I wasn't sure how similar it might be to the movie, but I was sure it wasn't directly related. Now that I've seen the movie, I gotta say... there are some definite similarities. And also some definite differences.
Anyway... so the movie begins with a voiceover by Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots (good robots), talking about something called the Cube (aka the All Spark), which had the power to create life, and stuff. Which it did on the planet Cybertron, which is where the Transformers are from. Eventually, the Decepticons (bad robots) rose and fought the Autobots in a terrible war that destroyed their world, but the All Spark was lost, and eventually ended up on Earth. But the leader of the Decepticons, Megatron, tracked it here. The thing I really gotta mention at this point is that any true Transformers fans would have immediately recognized Optimus Prime as being voiced by Peter Cullen, who also voiced him in the original cartoon and animated movie. So to hear his voice in this film was a real treat. Mad props to the old school, yo.
However, it seemed like most of the movie, early on, was about humans. There was a Decepticon attack, however, on American troops in Qatar. Then we see the main character, a high school student named Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), who is trying to sell artifacts relating to his great (great?) grandfather, on eBay, most notably his glasses. Also, Sam gets his first car, a Camaro. The way this happened was kind of weird, unless you're watching the movie and have some inkling of what's going on. But to actually witness it as a character... yeah, very weird. Of course, it will eventually turn out that the car is Bumblebee, an Autobot who has been sent to guard Sam. Which is good, because Decepticons will soon turn up looking for him. They want the glasses he was trying to sell. Of course, the Autobots want the glasses, too. The reason they're so important will be revealed eventually, but I won't give it away (though ultimately, it's all about the race to find the All Spark).
Um... what else? I'm not sure what to say. A lot of stuff was going on, and I didn't follow absolutely everything. The Decepticon who had attacked in Qatar had been trying to hack some computers, I guess, but failed to find what he was looking for, so later another Decepticon tried hacking the Department of Defense from Air Force One, or something. There was some kind of analyst (or hacker, or something) named Maggie (who we kinda liked) who helped the DOD track a signal from the Decepticons. I guess. And eventually she enlisted the aid of a hacker friend of hers. Meanwhile, Sam started getting closer to a girl named Mikaela (Megan Fox). At one point Sam said there was more to her than meets the eye, which is amusing because it's a line from the old Transformers cartoon's theme song, of course. But it's also true of her character, and... well, she turns out to be pretty helpful.
No doubt I'm saying things all out of order. Sorry. I feel like I should mention various characters, including Sam's parents, and the Secretary of Defense, and various soldiers, and at least a couple people from a secret agency called Sector 7, which had apparently been established by Herbert Hoover. One of them, Agent Simmons, caused a lot of trouble for Sam and Mikaela and the Autobots. Oh yes, I forgot to mention that eventually our heroes met the Autobots and learned what was going on. They are led, as I mentioned earlier, by Optimus Prime. There was also Jazz, Ironhide, and Ratchet. And of course Bumblebee, who didn't talk for most of the movie because his vocal processors were damaged (but he did use the radio to communicate, rather ineffectively I felt).
So yeah, anyway, we learn about Sam's great grandfather or whatever, discovering Megatron frozen in the Arctic in 1897, and the All Spark being discovered a few decades later, I guess, and the Hoover Dam built around it. That's where Sector 7 would be, and Megatron was moved there, kept cryonically frozen, and apparently most of our technology was reverse-engineered by studying him. Including cars and such. Which is a detail I rather liked. I mean, I always found it weird that alien robots would just naturally have vehicle modes that looked like Earth vehicles and other forms of technology. Though in this film (as well as Transformers Animated) there was some holographic stuff going on, and the ability as well to transform in slightly different ways to more closely resemble Earth vehicles. Or whatever. I prefer this new idea, which seemed to me only subtly hinted at, that the reason they transformed into things that look like Earth technology is because Earth technology was derived from Transformers in the first place, so the whole situation is kind of reversed. Neat, eh?
Anyway. Agent Simmons... not a great guy, treated our heroes (both human and Autobot) rather badly, but at the same time I felt kind of bad for him. I mean, here he is, a member of this MIB-like organization, which should be about the coolest job in the world... but until now, nothing's really been going on. He might have a license to do whatever he wants in certain situations, but if those situations never arise... well, this must be the first time it's really been a cool job. The first time anything movie-worthy has happened to him, you know? I mean, just imagine being a member of a secret organization that knows about aliens and all that, but having nothing to actually do, and meanwhile watching movies about fictional organizations that do cool stuff on a daily basis. Okay, none of that was even remotely hinted at in the movie, it's just a line of thought I went down on my own. But even in the movie... well, he was mostly a jerk, but he had his sort of cool moments, I thought. (There was a certain line when he had a gun pointed to his head that I quite liked, but... I won't say what it was, not that it's important.)
So, anyway. Um. Whatever, there are a bunch of different characters, who eventually come together. And there are battles against the Decepticons. Plenty of cool action and some decent humor and a sort of interesting backstory, and all that. Not a great movie, but definitely entertaining (I wish I would've seen it at the theater, I'm sure it would've been much cooler on a big screen). Like I said, I didn't follow everything, and what I did follow, I'm probably forgetting some of, as well as intentionally leaving out some things, like how it all ends. Though I'm sure you wouldn't be surprised to know the good guys win. But there's at least one sequel, so you know the story isn't over, really. And... I guess I can't think of anything more to say.