Michael Bay’s Transformers: More than meets the eye, robot crap in disguise

Somewhere in your childhood you probably have heard of the Transformers. Maybe you watched the cartoons, maybe you played with the toys, or maybe you watched the 1986 movie. But if there was ever a bad place to hear about the Transformers, the Michael Bay movies would probably be it. These movies were just plain terrible with the same storyline, same characters and tropes, plot holes enough to drive the Transformers through, and Autobots and Decepticons that just became less and less memorable. And despite this somehow they made five of these movies. They have their fair share of upsides but they’re hardly enough to save the movies. There are no shortage of plot holes and bad storytelling to pick at and if I picked at all of them I’d probably become Cinemasins (note I like Cinemasins but I do not want to be as long-winded as them). This article looks at all five Transformers movies.

1. Transformers (2007)

This was the movie that started it all. The story involved two races of robots, the Autobots and the Decepticons who have the power to change into various mechanical objects bringing their war to Earth as they seek the key to ultimate power which lies in the hands of young teen Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and he is the only one that can save the world. There are no shortage of flaws to be found in this. The passage of time during certain scenes is baffling. The way the Autobot-Decepticon war connects back to Sam involving the glasses passed down to him by his great great grandfather is downright incredulous. And the way this movie goes about Megatron’s defeat. How Sam knew it would work and why it wasn’t the plan from the get-go is beyond me. The comedy all tries WAY too hard to get a laugh and it would only get worse from here. There are plot holes well beyond what I’ve discussed. The human characters weren’t all that likable nor did they serve much purpose to the plot despite the movie focusing on them more than the Transformers pretty much making the title character secondary in their own movie. Despite that there are a few upsides: When the Transformers were on screen they were faithful to the spirit of the cartoon, particularly Optimus Prime thanks to them getting Peter Cullen to reprise the voice and there is NO one else that can make Optimus as awesome. The CG robots and the transformations were impressive. And the designs did well to improve on the robots particularly Megatron changing from a gun to a jet. And Michael Bay did well to resort to practical effects for most of the movie. One of the few times where I admire the man. Overall it’s a decent action flick that I can’t hate even at its worst. I’m not gonna be praising it anytime soon but it’s relatively decent. But sadly the bad parts of this movie would carry through and magnify in the sequels

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

Despite being only a moderate success critically it made a lot of money, a sequel was demanded and we got one two years later. This time Sam is headed off to college prepared to begin a long distance relationship with his girlfriend from the last movie Mikaela (Megan Fox) and put his adventures with the Autobots behind him. Meanwhile Optimus Prime and his fellow Autobots work with a military organization called NEST to find sanctuary on Earth. However when an ancient Decepticon known as the Fallen rises and wants revenge Sam and Mikaela must learn of Transformers’ history on Earth and defeat the Fallen for good. This movie was doomed right off the bat thanks to the Writer’s Guild strike of 2007 giving them only three weeks to write the screen play before shooting. It came to a point where Bay wrote some of the movie (albeit uncredited) Also rewrites had to be done during filming and post production due to Shia badly injuring his hand in a car accident during filming delaying things. There was also difficulty in rendering the CG effects for the movie since the scale was so big it caused one of the rendering servers to quite literally go up in smoke. In any case there are a lot of problems with this movie so be prepared for a super long rant.

This movie generated quite a bit of controversy around it involving Autobots Skids and Mudflap being black stereotypes thanks to them speaking in street slang, being illiterate, and having monkey-like faces. Regardless of how you feel about this it doesn’t change the fact that they’re annoying, unfunny, and overall pointless to the story.

The same can be said for many of the the human characters in this movie including Sam’s parents and his roomate Leo (as well as a few scenes of dogs humping each other). Also Bumblebee reverts back to communicating through Radio at this point even though his voice was fixed at the end of the last movie. Admittedly it was creative in the first movie but the joke was pretty much exhausted at this point. The whole thing involving the Sam absorbing the Allspark is contrived and it leads to Sam going nuts during an Astronomy lecture which once again results in bad comedy. The role of his girlfriend Mikaela is pretty much the role of just about the majority of female characters in Michael Bay Transformers movies: to be mere eye candy. Sam halfway through the movie pretty much states the obvious: “You’re Optimus Prime and you don’t need me.” Much like the last movie the Transformers are almost secondary to the human characters in this one and none of the human characters are tolerable. In this 2.5 hour movie about robots fighting there is about only 30 minutes of robots fighting. Heck the majority of the movie doesn’t even have the robots on screen. 

One of the other character’s this movie introduces is national security advisor Theodore Galloway who is pretty much the big government jerk that wants the Autobots gone in this movie much like John Tuttro’s character Simmons in the previous movie and his traits would carry through to many other government jerks in the sequels. But he is by far the worst of the bunch. Halfway through the movie NEST is disbanded and the government looks for a diplomatic solution involving the Decepticon invasion. Putting aside the incredulousness of trying to reason with the Decepticons the people who want to reason with the enemy in these movies are complete jerks. Why would anyone think people like these would be good at diplomacy? Feel free to disagree. 

The movie completely goes off the rails however when we find out from Leo that the final battle in the last movie which took place in the (fictional city of Mission City there and is mentioned to be LA in this one) and the opening battle in this one in Shanghai were government cover-ups despite the battles being in largely populated areas with loads of destruction by giant robots with no doubt several eyewitnesses, civilian casualties, and millions of dollars in property damage. There is no way the government just casually swept that up. And yeah let’s talk about the big thing of this movie: They kill off Optimus Prime. Ignoring the fact that there is no way the movie would have it in them to kill off the greatest part of their movie, they easily resurrected Megatron minutes earlier this leaves no impact. His death in the 1986 cartoon had more impact than this. I’ve ranted about this long enough and I’ve got three more movies to cover so I’m just gonna wrap things up. Transformers are capable of doing things in this movie far beyond what robots can do for whatever reason (go to heaven, hatch eggs, etc). It was a rushed movie and it shows. Next!

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

In 2009 we got what I wish had been the end of this movie saga but sadly we weren’t that lucky. This time Sam and his new girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whitely) join the Autobots in battle once again when the Decepticons declare war. Optimus believes that resurecting an ancient Autobot leader Sentinel Prime may end the war once and for all but it backfires leading to a major showdown in Chicago. This was Whitely’s acting debut and it shows through her only one expression (thank god for Fury Road). But beyond that her character pretty much serves the same purpose as Mikaela (who did not reprise her role due to not getting along with Michael Bay and it’s mentioned her character dumped Sam off screen). Heck you could have just called her Mikaela 2.0 without question and it’d probably be hilarious. Also anything making Sam even remotely likable in the last two movies is completely gone in this one doing a complete 180 about his mind on being a hero and hanging out with the Autobots and his most annoying traits are brought to the forefront. There are some upsides: Thanfkully however there was more time to write the script, no Skids and Mudflap, and less of Sam’s parents so if nothing else it’s at least better than the last one. The opening has promise with the Transformers being connected to the moon landing which makes for some interesting commentary on moon-landing conspiracy theories. The battle of Chicago is well shot showing just how apocalyptic the invasion is though the Decepticons killing the people they intend to enslave later is questionable. And the idea of humans secretly collaborating with Transformers is not a bad idea but one ruined by a crappy execution. Primarily the whole thing involving Sam and Jerry Wang in a bathroom where the latter tries to warn Sam about the Decepticons. Also Patrick Dempsey (who I usually like and feel bad he was in this movie) plays Carly’s boss Dylan who turns out to be a collaborator who wasn’t ordered killed for whatever reason unlike the others and his character really proves to be a fool in siding with them. Sentinel Prime turns out to be a traitor in this movie (was anyone really shocked by this) as he thought the Autobots had no chance of survival. If he was working with the Decepticons why did they shoot down his ship in the opening? Second why would Sentinel refuse the Matrix of Leadership when Optimus willingly offered it? Despite an impressive final battle this still is not a great movie. The Transformers are still secondary characters, the human characters are more annoying and/or pointless than ever, and even the tone is off. If you do watch this movie just enjoy the final battle.

Transformers: Age of Extinction

This was an attempt to do a soft reboot on the franchise but it didn’t go well. Admittedly Mark Wahlberg looks far more like an action star than Shia and his character Cade Yeager does prove to be a moderately likable and intelligent character although it’s hard to take him seriously when he stresses he’s an inventor. And while T.J. Miller as Lucas was annoying comedic relief thankfully he’s killed off in the first act. Nicola Peltz as Tessa had slightly improved as an actress since the shitty Avatar movie but she still leaves something to be desired. However her character’s purpose is pretty much the same as Mikaela and Carly. Also even though Peltz was 18 at the time of this movie her character was written as 17 which makes her sexualization creepy. Also Tessa dates an Irish immigrant named Shane who is 20 which apparently in this movie is okay given some kind of “Romeo and Juliet law.” It was questionable to make Tessa 17 when it doesn’t seem like it was intended as comedy nor is it funny. It doesn’t add to the plot or conflict between the two as Cade would probably have hated him anyway given his over protective nature of his daughter and the fact that Shane is dating her without permission. It makes me wonder if someone was projecting. Optimus Prime is also resurrected thanks to Cade and I didn’t think it was possible but somehow it leaves even less of an impact than in the second movie. Megatron is also ressurected thanks to the government creating Galvatron from his brain. Their excuse to put him into the field is stupid and it really shows the humans’ ineptitude. Also his motive to detonate the seed really has no meaning behind it. They make a big deal out of him but he doesn’t do anything in the final battle and just walks off once they lose. We also learn of an element called Transformium that the government is using to create their own Transformers. And I thought Unobtainium in Avatar was stupid. There’s a lot of product placement in this movie far more than any Transformers movie and it really makes the movie a sellout. The final battle in this movie in particular is just needlessly long which can be said about pretty much the entire movie. The special effects and action are well shot but it’s not nearly as epic as the movie wants us to believe. But perahps the biggest insult of this movie to the Transformers fans are the portrayal of the Dinobots who were hilarious in the cartoon (particularly Grimlock). Unfortunately here the Dinobots don’t speak removing any trace of personality in them even if Optimus riding Grimlock into battle is an awesome image. We find out at the end of the movie Optimus can fly (where the heck was that earlier). The only good parts I can give full points to are Kelsey Grammer, Stanley Tucci, and Titus Welliver as the bad guys who give performances way too good for this movie. If they weren’t surrounded by everything else they’d really bring the movie to life as villains.

Transformers: The Last Knight

This was pretty much the franchise beating a dead horse at this point. Anything cool you might have seen in the trailer including the little girl Izabella, Optimus Prime turning evil, and the Transformers battling knights are only in like five minutes of the movie. Mark Wahlberg is plain forgettable in this movie and they had the stupidest excuse to write out his daughter (seriously what’s stopping the government from going after her). The rest is typical Transformers crap of explosions and shaky-cam that make the action so hard to make out and boring at this point given how many explosions we’ve seen, awful dialogue, great actors slumming it up (Anthony Hopkins should never say the word dude like that again), and of course a woman who is nothing but eye candy. Also a forced attempt to make Tony Hale’s character the government jerk. Also at this point so much creativity in the Transformers’ designs were completely gone. This movie just plain did not care. Somehow Galvatron is Megatron in this movie again and halfway through he demands from the military his crew of Decepticons leading to an introductory montage ripping off Suicide Squad (seriously were they that low on creative potential). And the franchise had gotten to the point where you can predict everything without even seeing the movie. Thankfully this one didn’t make nearly as much money having the lowest box office opening out of all of them and people started to wake up to the paper thin plot and characters buried underneath the explosions and flashiness.

These movies are pretty much the living personifications of what so many hate about Marvel (feel free to disagree). The story is the same, the question of “Is humanity worth it” is the same, the human characters are the same, the Autobots and Decepticons became more and more difficult to care for. And Bumblebee proved to pull off the Transformers with heart and fun far more than any of these movies did. And overall to sum this whole franchise in the words of Optimus Prime himself…

It’s dated, stale, and pads these movies out way more than they need to. Are there any other criticisms you have about this movie franchise? Anything you disagree with? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!