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It’s not uncommon for huge expectations to be thrust upon your average summer tentpole flick. These films often make or break a studio for the year. Enter the most anticipated summer film in years, Transformers. You’ve got diehard transformer geeks who expect a film that will be true to the spirit of the cartoons, a $150 million dollar budget to recoup, and a ton of summer blockbusters already in the theater to compete with.

So, it’s fair to say there’s a lot at stake with this one. Fortunately, director Michael Bay and executive producer Steven Spielberg got some things right in Transformers and likely have created a film that may just have enough clout to be the box office winner this summer.

Apparently, for eons, a war has raged between the Autobots and Decepticons, two robot races who formerly occupied a planet known as Cybertron. Their war ultimately destroyed Cybertron and a device known as the "Allspark" was lost. The Allspark has the power to create worlds (among other things). Perpetually in search of the Allspark, the Autobots and Decepticons discover a clue to the whereabouts of it on Earth. Soon enough, you’ve got robots run amok!

There was plenty of hype around the stunning visual effects in Transformers and director Michael Bay quickly "shocks and awes" the audience with a staggering opening sequence in which one of the evil Decepticons (Blackout?) obliterates a US military base stationed in the Middle East. The seamless transformation of a helicopter into an enormous robot with a fetish for killing humans and blowing things up is worth the price of admission alone…and this is in the first five minutes of the film.

Independent of the amazing visual effects, Transformers offers a story that doesn’t necessarily "shock and awe"', but it’s better than what we’ve come to expect from most standard summer action films. The Decepticons will stop at nothing to get the Allspark and turn Earth into a world of their own, thus ending the human race. The more benevolent Autobots (all of whom are transforming GM cars/trucks…talk about product placement!) are here to prevent the Decepticons from wholesale slaughter of mankind and the hope that they can use the Allspark to recreate their own world.

In the middle of the transforming and destruction is a young boy, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) who’s saddled with the kinds of problems any awkward teen has. He lusts for a girl out of his league, he needs a pair of decent wheels to impress said girl, and little does he know that he’s in possession of a clue to where the Allspark resides. Shia’s performance is wonderful and his natural awkwardness and quick tongue provide a number of moments of light humor that break up the virtually relentless action.

Steven Spielberg surely deserves some credit for the more "human" touches in Transformers. Director Michael Bay knows action as evidenced by his work in Armageddon and Pearl Harbor (among others), but many times his films fail to show the characters in an accessible, three dimensional way. In contrast, Spielberg has exhibited his ability to do just this in Saving Private Ryan, E.T., and countless others. The marriage between Spielberg and Bay works quite well here.

There really isn’t much to quibble about with Transformers. The story is not transcendent, but not terribly flawed. The main characters are reasonably well developed and it’s easy to care for Sam. Visually, the film’s a stunner any way you slice it. You’ve got a handful of laugh out loud moments, and you’ve got a plethora of amazing action sequences. In short, you’ve got the best General Motors ad ever made, a film that should clean up at the box office, and the beginning of a new movie franchise.

Rating: 4.25 out of 5 stars