You know you're in a Michael Bay movie when a bunch of uniformed guys walk across an airport apron in slow motion with the sunlight just so.
It's just a few minutes into Transformers - hey isn't this meant to be a giant robot movie? - and there it is: a bunch of desert-weary US grunts alight from their snazzy, tilting-prop V-22 Osprey aircraft. They sure look darn brave (they should be - the Osprey, after a troubled development, earned a rep as a killer chopper-plane). Bay gets to show and tell a lot more from the Pentagon toybox in the next two-plus hours as the movie suffers predictable attacks of gung-ho-itis.
But here's the thing. Bay might have a tendency to shoot techno-fetish recruitment posters. And the source material - the Japanese-inspired toyline which also became a cartoon series/halfhour ad for the toys in the 80s, winning itself a fanbase among the post-Star Wars generation - comes with a pretty slender mythology: good Autbots vs the bad Decepticons using Earth as a battleground while disguising themselves as trucks and planes and really cool cars. But somehow, Transformers has become a highly enjoyable popcorn film delivering high-powered animation that can make you believe a Kenworth can turn Kongbot just like that, dazzling action and engaging characters.
Yes it's meant to be a giant robot movie, but it also feels like a kids' adventure flick from the back pages of executive producer Steven Spielberg which knows action flicks won't cause a bloodrush if there's no heart to pump it. That comes in the form of teen Sam Wiwicky (LaBeouf) who gets his first car only to find it's actually a bot named Bumblebee sent by head goodie Optimus Prime to help Sam save the world from Megatron and the Decepticons.
Meanwhile, the Pentagon is trying to fight off giant android incursions, which means Jon Voight gets to shout a lot as Secretary of Defense while John Turturro offers a comedy sideshow as a oily federal agent from the office which of course knew all along about the giant androids from outer space.
There are a few decorative young women, including Megan Fox as the resourceful object of Sam's desire. All of which sets us up nicely for the crash-bang set pieces, including a fairly wondrous car-but-not-really-a-car chase.
It does hit a few snags towards its protracted climax - the inevitable all-in roboscrap which must set some sort of decibel record. And guess you can't really criticise a film based on a toyline of overdoing the product placement, huh? It comes with the price of the ticket. But it's one of the few blockbusters this year worth the admission charge. Oh, and the medical bill to have your hearing tested and your brain reinserted afterwards.
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, John Turturro, Jon Voight
Director: Michael Bay
Rating: M (medium level violence)
Running time: 143 mins
Screening: SkyCity, Hoyts, Berkeley cinemas
Verdict: An action movie made out of doll parts shouldn't be this much fun.