Early into the pandemic this year, I was convinced to finally watch the entire Twilight saga. Having never been a fan of the books and only seeing the first movie, I went into the series with low expectations. Now, are the Twilight movies groundbreaking, masterful cinema? No. They’re fair to bad at best. But I did find a sort of charm and enjoyment in the ridiculousness of the stories.
Since then, I’ve spent a lot of time this year revisiting classic franchises and working through new ones. I rewatched the MCU’s entire Infinity Saga, the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man trilogy, the Chronicles of Narnia trilogy, and watched all the Mission: Impossible movies for the first time. And I loved all of them!
The next franchise I decided to watch was the Transformers movies. And let me tell you…these movies make the Twilight series look like The Godfather. Sweet Jesus these movies are bad.
Before this, I had only ever seen the first two Transformers movies. I actually enjoyed the first one when I saw it in theaters. I even had it on DVD! But I didn’t have any interest in continuing the franchise after Revenge of the Fallen.
But now I have seen all the Transformers movies and my suffering is complete.
First, I’ll throw some positives out there. There are two aspects of these movies that I do actually love: the transforming effects and the sound design.
The time and care the visual effects artists took to make the transformations look as good as they do should be celebrated. Especially in the first movie, you see every piece of machinery moving, sliding and locking into place. It’s mind-blowing and certainly the piece that made these movies stand out initially.
And the sound design for the transformations and other movements from the Transformers is so unique and interesting too. I don’t know if I’d put it on the level of iconic as the lightsaber or Darth Vader’s breathing, but it’s incredibly identifiable.
All things considered; this isn’t a truly awful movie. There’s a reason why five of these movies got made, and I think they all ride on the shoulders of this one. Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) gets his first car, which turns out to be a Transformer, and gets swept up in the Autobots’ (the good ones) quest to find the All-Spark. The military gets involved, because of course they do. The Autobots face down their mortal enemies the Decepticons, Sam gets a girlfriend, and the day is saved. Hooray.
The pacing of this movie is exhausting. It takes way too long for the military storyline to meet up with Sam’s. There’s not enough story or character development to keep me invested in the soldiers. We know the main soldier has a wife and daughter he’s trying to get home to, but that’s about it. The military also has a team of analysts trying to decipher a Transformer code… and then the analysts disappear for a solid 45 minutes. Optimus Prime and most of the other Transformers don’t show up until nearly an hour into the movie and Megatron – the main villain – only shows up for the last 30 minutes!
This movie also presents early versions of what will become the very worst of the franchise. Later movies will become oversaturated with obvious product placement, and here we get name drops of E-bay, Black Berry, beauty shots of all the car logos and even a Mountain Dew machine turns into a Transformer at one point. And it will just get worse from here.
The humor in these movies is so juvenile and sometimes borderline offensive? From Bumblebee “peeing” on a human to the masturbation conversation between Sam and his parents to jokes about their dog’s sexuality… it’s just all so cheap and lazy.
And then there’s Mikaela, played by Megan Fox. In the 13 years since this movie was released, Megan Fox has been through a bit of a redemption. Sure, she was cast in these movies to be beautiful and…that’s about it, but that’s no fault of Megan’s. It’s directors like Michael Bay who pan the camera up her half-naked body in gratuitous shots that created the idea that Megan was nothing more than the “hot girl.” It’s a little sad to watch now, because you can see she’s trying, but she’s only given so much to work with in the first place.
And this is the “good” one.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
Right out of the gate, I need to talk about the title. The Fallen is a Transformer and the main villain of the movie. Once again, however, we barely see him and most of the time he’s sitting on a spaceship. And he never actually gets revenge. For anything. What was he trying to get revenge on in the first place? Optimus Prime, I think?
Anyways, Sam Witwicky is back and trying to go to college when he starts seeing strange symbols that pulls him back into the war between the Autobots and Decepticons.
Sam’s parents are interesting supporting characters in these first three movies. It seems like most people really don’t like them, but they’re so ridiculous that they’re one of the few things I genuinely enjoy. When they drop Sam off at college, Mrs. Witwicky accidentally eats a pot brownie and it’s so stupidly hilarious. For some reason, in Revenge of the Fallen, they’re given another dog and Michael Bay includes multiple shots of the two dogs humping each other. Which is not as fun.
And then Sam’s parents get kidnapped by the Decepticons, and even though I watched it happen I literally forgot they were still involved in the story until they showed back up an hour later in the final battle, which is another shining example of the terrible pacing of these movies.
There’s a scene when Sam is leaving for college where he says goodbye to Mikaela and the camera just spins around them the entire time. I literally got dizzy watching it because it was going so fast.
The longer this series go on, the more questions I have about Transformer anatomy. They can apparently smell, bleed and die, but they also have parts that can be replaced like regular machines. I can’t stop thinking about it but it’s absolutely the last thing I need to spend brain power on.
Like, when Sam gets to college, he’s hit on by another beautiful girl, except this one turns out to be a Transformer that’s covered in human skin?? How was that allowed to happen? She sprouts a tail and her tongue is on the end of some weird tentacle thing and it’s absolutely disgusting.
The movie certainly expands on the idea of what a Transformer is and looks like, which leads to the introduction of the breathtakingly horrible and offensive Skids and Mudflap. Think Jar Jar Binks but 100 times worse.
Skids and Mudflap are horrible caricatures that only scratch the surface of the quality of humor in this movie. We’re treated to a tiny, horny Decepticon that humps someone’s leg, seeing a grown man take his pants off and only be wearing a jockstrap, AND a giant Decepticon with actual testicles. That are specifically pointed out by another character.
Oh yeah, and Optimus Prime dies, is brought back to life and yells “GIVE ME YOUR FACE” when killing The Fallen. So yeah.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
Dark of the Moon continues Sam Witwicky’s journey with the Autobots as a Transformer ship is discovered on the dark side of the moon. An old Autobot ally, Sentinel Prime, is discovered on the ship with five “pillars” that can teleport stuff through space? Sam is also trying to find a job – oh and has a replacement girlfriend for Megan Fox. Things blow up, Sentinel Prime betrays the Autobots and kills one of them because he made a deal with Megatron. Sentinel and Megatron set the pillars up in Chicago to bring their home planet Cybertron to Earth? And then Chicago is absolutely destroyed in the final battle.
The supporting cast in this movie is the most bizarre of the franchise. John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Patrick Dempsey, Ken Jeong, Alan Tudyk… heck, even BUZZ ALDRIN shows up for a few minutes.
The Transformers series has a strange obsession with revisionist history, and Dark of the Moon is easily the worst of them all on this front (we’ll get to The Last Knight). Each movie wedges Transformer history into some Earth landmark or historical event to explain why they exist. In Transformers, the Hoover Dam was originally built to hide Megatron and the All Spark. In Revenge of the Fallen, the Great Pyramids of Egypt secretly hold the Sun Harvester (don’t ask).
Dark of the Moon tries to convince us that the Apollo space program and the space race of the 1960s was really a mission to find a crashed Transformer spaceship on the dark side of the moon. If your mind is blown, don’t worry. The stupidity will set in soon.
Now let’s talk about MacGuffins. MacGuffins are objects – or sometimes people – in movies that exist to kick the plot into action. When MacGuffins are present, a large part of the movie usually includes the main characters on a quest or hunt for this item either to find it or to get it back to where it needs to be. Famous MacGuffins include R2-D2 in Star Wars when he takes hold of the Death Star plans and the Infinity Stones in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
MacGuffins themselves are not a problem as long as they are used well. The problem with the MacGuffins in the Transformers series is that every single movie has one and it’s used in the exact same way. It’s always some ancient Transformer doohickey that the Autobots need to find before the Decepticons do and destroy the world. The All Spark. The Matrix. The pillars. They all feel completely interchangeable and it just gets exhausting.
This movie made over a billion dollars.
Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)
Shia LaBeouf finally had enough and jumped ship after Dark of the Moon, which left an opening for our next big action hero. This time it’s Mark Wahlberg and his character’s name – I kid you not – is Cade Yeager. CADE. YEAGER. It just sounds so ridiculous to say it out loud.
Our boy Cade Yeags is the latest human to get caught up in the never-ending war between the Autobots and Decepticons.
No lie, I had to look up the plot for this movie because I remembered nothing. This movie is two hours and forty-five minutes long. TWO HOURS AND FORTY-FIVE MINUTES.
This installment’s brand of revisionist history is that the Transformers’ creators killed all the dinosaurs by trying to terraform Earth with whatever metal the Transformers are made from. Millions of years later, humans give this metal the absolutely brilliant name of “transformium.” So that’s a thing . Anyway, Stanley Tucci figures out how to use the transformium to make his own Transformers which will probably have no negative consequences.
Also, since the battle of Chicago in Dark of the Moon, all Transformers are public enemies and are being hunted down. They actually pull the “illegal alien” card at one point, which is just gross.
AND SPEAKING OF CARDS…the absolute worst scene in this movie comes after Yeagey-boy finds out his 17-year-old daughter has secretly been dating a 20-year-old Irish racecar driver. The conversation reaches a point where Cade tells the boyfriend that it’s illegal for him to date his daughter since she’s underage, and this boy pulls out a LAMINATED CARD with a “Romeo and Juliet law” that apparently excuses him of any statutory rape charges because they had previously dated when they were both underage. It’s insane, adds nothing to the movie and just feels gross.
There’s also some egregious product placement in Age of Extinction. Yeags literally stops in the middle of a battle at an overturned Bud Light truck, picks up a beer, opens it, takes one giant sip, throws it on the ground, and goes back to fighting.
Also, this movie’s MacGuffin is called the Seed. And now there are Transformers that look like dinosaurs.
Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)
Apparently in Transformer-world, King Arthur was real, and Merlin was only “magical” because he borrowed tech from ancient Transformers. Cool.
Cadey baby is back and ends up spending a lot of time in England with freaking Odin himself, Sir Anthony Hopkins (he’s not actually Odin in this movie, but honestly wouldn’t feel totally out of place at this point). We learn some more revisionist history and are treated to a short sequence of Bumblebee helping the Allied forces take down some Nazis in World War II. And of course, Stonehenge exists only because it’s built over some access point important to the Transformers.
I don’t know what drugs Michael Bay was on making this movie, but there are three separate aspect ratios used throughout this movie, sometimes changing between each shot of a scene! So the amount of movie that filled the screen was different for each shot – some filled my whole TV and others had the big black bars above and below the movie. I’ve never seen anything like it and it was the most disorienting experience I’ve ever had.
Seriously, watch this trailer and keep track of the top and bottom of the screen:
We’re blessed with TWO MacGuffins in The Last Knight: the staff of Merlin and a talisman that attaches itself to Cade’s arm and can lead him to the staff.
I feel like I’m losing brain cells with each of these movies.
Holy crap. Who gave Bumblebee the audacity to be this good??
Bumblebee acts as Bumblebee’s origin story and a soft reboot of the series. During the war on Cybertron, Optimus Prime sends Bumblebee to Earth to prepare the planet for the Autobots’ arrival. Bumblebee lands in 1987 and his vocal mechanism is destroyed during a fight with a Decepticon who was on his trail.
In all honesty, the rest of the story plays out basically like ET with Transformers. But I think that makes it work even better. Setting the story in the 80s provides ample opportunities for nostalgia, but none of it feels forced or overwhelming. Maybe I’m just biased because the soundtrack is outstanding and I would have let this movie do just about anything once “Higher Love” started playing.
Bumblebee does what no other Transformers movie has been able to do: make me actually care about the life and well-being of a Transformer. And the human characters feel like actual characters too! Hailee Steinfeld is amazing, and Jorge Lendeborg, Jr. is an incredible sidekick and comic relief. John Cena is great in this too!
Blessedly, Bumblebee is LESS than two hours and dramatically shrinks the story from what has come before. But there are still stakes, action and drama that keep you engaged.
Maybe it’s the fact that I watched this immediately after five Bayhem-filled Transformers movies, but I love Bumblebee so much.
I’m just so happy to be done.
Watch these movies, don’t watch these movies. I’ll never recommend them to anyone, except Bumblebee.