I’ll give plenty of things a chance. If some piece of entertainment that has sparked my interest gets lambasted by the critics and general public, I want to know why. That is, I won’t simply jump on the bandwagon and condemn it as abominable or irredeemable unless I’ve been given a chance to judge for myself.
So I was a little confused at the fact that I, upon exiting the Transformers movies, hearing even the slightest tidbit of praise lavished on them by others around me, insisted on rattling off, with the gravel throated and grim acerbity of some timeworn war veteran, “Yeah, well the originals were much better.” Was I metamorphosing into everything I once swore I never would become? A cantankerous old fart incapable of embracing anything that didn’t live up to my lofty expectations or reinvigorate to a tee my every childhood elation? I feared for the worst. So here I come before you, humbled. After setting aside my initial impressions of the three live action films and reevaluating them, let’s take a look at what they actually bring to the table:
1. Despite being panned by critics, raked in tons of dough
Let’s face it, The Transformers movies have not exactly been perceived as intellect stimulating darlings in the eyes of film critics and unless Stanley Kubrick or some unknown visionary clambers out of a cryostasis somewhere and dedicates his life to all things metamorphosing robots, they probably never will.
But will moviegoers still flock instinctively to the films in beer-swilling droves like the anthropomorphized NASCAR sporting events that they are? You betcha. Just look at these numbers they hauled in worldwide at the box office:
- Transformers: $709,709,780 on a $150 million budget.
- Revenge of the Fallen: $836,303,693 on a $200 million budget.
- Dark of the Moon: $1,116,430,610 on a $195 million budget.
That’s some major scrilla we’re talking about. So despite the fact that the movies have been publicly castigated as “mindless,” and the theater-going equivalent of “young children banging pots and pans together,” they are entertaining enough for people to keep nicely forking over their hard earned dollars.
And to those who question Michael Bay’s decision to keep churning out the same polished turds time and time again while ignoring the desperate pleas of “true fans of the series,” and critics alike; why exactly should he change the formula when things clearly ain’t broke from a commercial standpoint? Unless you are going to nicely supply the guy with innumerous gold coins from your own pocket or vault like some benevolent doppelganger of Scrooge McDuck to make a Transformers movie “more in line with how it should be,” then either shut the fuck up or don’t pay to watch the films. Bay has proven these new age Transformers as a lucrative franchise, one that the fans, old and new alike have eaten up. And when Transformers 4 comes around, I wouldn’t expect them to deviate much from this formula at all.
“Unhand that innocent child, Megatron. And for the last damn time, diversify your stock portfolio!”
2. Visually on par if not better than anything we’ve seen from the animated productions
Whether you’re partial to the old designs or the new seems to depend on which version of Transformers you were raised with and a bit of personal preference. If you read Part 2 of my analysis, you’ll know where I stand. That being said, I have to call a spade a spade. The Bayformers look goddamn amazing flying all over the screen. And one can’t deny the undeniable amounts of effort that went into both the designs and effects.
“Due to the intricate designs of the Transformers, even the simplest motion of turning a wrist needs 17 visible parts; each of Ironhide’s guns are made of ten thousand parts. Bumblebee uses a piece below his faceplate as an eyebrow, pieces in his cheeks swivel to resemble a smile, and all the characters’ eyes are designed to dilate and brighten. According to Bay, ‘The visual effects were so complex it took a staggering 38 hours for ILM to render just one frame of movement.'”
That’s a fair bit of detail. And of course, in a movie where myriad explosions and helicopters riding ostentatiously in silhouette towards the sunset are a prerequisite, Bay did not disappoint.
Despite the pretense that the Autobots are supposedly under orders of “stealth combat,” (they always destroy half of the city or considerable portions of anything in the way) and that some of the footage is recycled from Michael Bay’s earlier movie The Island, (it doesn’t matter because it still looks great and hey, it’s all new to us, because who saw that movie anyways?) the following highway chase scene from Dark of the Moon never fails to impress even after repeated views and encapsulates the superb look of the movies:
3. Megan Fox and/or (insert hot chick whom the camera follows around at the most advantageous of angles here)
If there’s one thing to be said about Michael Bay movies, it’s that they’re chock full of eye candy. This is especially evident through his choice of leading ladies for the Transformers flicks.
And despite the fact that every lascivious and erection inducing footstep features the camera gratuitously… or is that strategically placed at the perfect height to ensure even the most voracious of voyeuristic upskirt fetishists drops dead from excessive heart palpitations, Fox’s character of Mikaela Banes (and to a lesser extent, her replacement in the third film) was actually kind of cool. Shallow, somewhat annoying and full of dumb outbursts? Sure, but hey, the director probably just emphasized that she should just “be herself,” and to “act natural.” They let her drive around, shoot at stuff, get in on some of the chase scenes, as seen here: (Suitable for work, unless you are wearing sweatpants)
Is it a bit contrived in the sense that they try to force feed the hot female partaking in and being well versed in traditionally masculine activities such as fixing automobiles angle as groundbreaking down our throats? Yeah, but there is no denying that her name brings an extra appeal to the films (and concordantly to Kleenex sales) and as aforementioned, they do at least give her (a few) things to do besides standing around looking ready to get plowed or running in slow motion with breasts all a wobblin’. (Of which there is a fair amount).
“Cut! Not slutty enough! And you didn’t let the camera hover precariously near your taint and intergluteal cleft for the allotted five minutes! Do you want the kids to believe this movie is about Transformers or not?
4. Has opened up the franchise to plenty of new fans
The movies have made the Transformers mainstream. Whether you want to admit it or not, like some rebellious, black clad, guy liner wearing elitist with claims of loving the band “way before they got all famous and started making that dumb ass money shit with which to nicely feed and clothe themselves and their loved ones in a comfortable manner,” this is a great boon.
Why? It means Transformers won’t be going away anytime soon. Which means you actually get to see them and won’t be forced to sit there with a thumb up your ass speculating on what it would look like if that month’s most popular supermodel bent in immoral fashion over the Transformer who could turn into (insert automobile from company who ponied up the most dough for endorsements).
And no longer are Transformers fans as universally pigeonholed into the same echelon of dork as the basement dwelling neckbeards or the loathsome, bespectacled and craterfaced social misfit who will never know the touch of a woman. Finally, I can wear that Decepticon-insignia t-shirt to the bar and laugh haughtily as women proposition me for sex as soon as I walk inside.
And hey, who knows? Bay is stepping down as director after Dark of the Moon. Shia LaBeouf will be gone as well. With Transformers 4 and the subsequent Transformers movies, perhaps the current formula of glitz, glamor, and explosions will lose some of its steam and the directors will be forced to release something will be released that will placate everybody; something that will be that much closer to bridging the gap between fans, old and new alike. You never know.
5. The storylines and characters, while preposterous and tenuous are really no worse than what you found back in the 80s.
Upon first viewing the films and leaving theaters with a semisour taste in my mouth, I remember thinking to myself, “Wow, it sure was cool to see those robots inspired by the tokens of my childhood adulation murdering the shit out of each other; but it sure didn’t make one goddamn lick of sense in between said scenes of violent brutality.”
Then in preparation for this article, I went back and watched some of the original series. Some of the episodes are still great, don’t get me wrong. But in others, circumstances which had once made perfect sense to my embryonic, six year old mind seemed less elaborate and sophisticated and more… wacky and preposterous. Characters were making downright dumb ass decisions. There were inconsistencies in the story. Baffling plot devices. And for fuck’s sake… when did some of these characters become so goddamn annoying? It was almost as if these cherished yarns from my youth had been, oh I don’t know… written for seven year old children.
Take for example, this annoying little asshole:
Yes, his name is Kremzeek. And he proclaims his own name approximately 69,000 times in the span of thirty minutes. What was mildly unsettling as a child becomes grounds of self mutilation for any adult with even a shred of dignity or cognizance. Keep in mind this is almost two decades before the Pokemon craze made habitual repetition of one’s own something so commonplace one might have been nearly able to accustom themselves or mentally block the mind blistering redundancy.
Of course, if you want to drop the proverbial atom bomb on even the staunchest of G1 wankers, you have only to mention the word: Wheelie.
Yes, they deliberately made him sound like that. And yes, everything he says rhymes. Yes, even as a child I wanted to bore holes in my eardrums with screwdrivers at his every utterance. Suddenly becoming an incorrigible racist and the president of the Skids and Mudflap fanclub doesn’t seem like such a bad idea, does it?
So in the end, after much deliberation, I have to give the edge to… /DRUMROLL
The old school Generation 1 Tranformers.
Primarily what it comes down to is the way the original characters resonated with me. Perhaps given more time with the characters from the film, I could come to regard them similarly, but the film characters are a different breed, almost approaching “grim dark,” parody levels of the Transformers I grew up with. Optimus Prime, albeit perhaps more effective at times and believable as a leader in the midst of a Civil War, is too bloodthirsty in nature and doesn’t evoke the same sort of “sagacious, John Wayne-esque” unspoken badassery that he did in the cartoon. The G1 Optimus would never have to say, “IMA RIP YOUR FACE OFF GRARRR” or “We will kill them all [and rape the women and children]” to come across a bad-ass. He just evoked it through the way the other Autobots and even the Decepticons conveyed their respect or oftentimes unspoken admiration.
Maybe the movie characters were doomed to failure from the start because this was Michael Bay’s understanding of them after all:
“Michael Bay was asked to direct by Spielberg on July 30, 2005, but he dismissed the film as a ‘stupid toy movie’. Nonetheless, he wanted to work with Spielberg, and gained a new respect for the mythology upon visiting Hasbro.”
But apparently not too much respect. The above sums up one of the biggest problem with the Bayformers: they are pigeonholed into the very myopic view which Bay has for them; their significance ironically relegated to that of overgrown toys. Instead of awe-inspiring, hyper-intelligent and technologically superior marvels that they should have been, they are instead shown oftentimes with about as much dignity as amusing spectacles; freak circus attractions or robotic “eighth wonders of the world,” recently escaped from the Barnum and Bailybot’s Cyber Carnival that need to be corralled back into their tents before indulging in any crazy “goldurned” highjinks.
“For my next trick kids, I will change into a giraffe. Kids? Are you still there? What do you mean this isn’t even a birthday party and I won’t be paid a mere penny for my services? On Cybertron they called me an artist, goddamit!”
Would the Transformers movies have been downright boring if the Decepticons had spent their screen time staring into the distorted reflections mirrored in the buildings they were about to destroy, incongruously pondering the duality of their robotic psyches and lamenting the paths they had chosen in life through twenty minute soliloquys? Yes, I understand that these are movies about robots smashing the fuck out of each other and Michael Bay is the director.
Granted going into these things I’m not looking for unparalleled art pieces or breakthroughs in cinema which expand upon the way I regard the human experience. After all, we’re talking about extended toy commercials at heart; but could a better equilibrium have been reached between mind numbing action scenes and a cogent plot and intelligent character development throughout? Absolutely. I don’t need an Inception version of Transformers with the tenets of psychoanalaysis expressed through seven layers of Optimus Prime’s cybernetic dreams and mindfuckery crammed into every nook and cranny of filmstrip but surely there could have been a more reasonable approach then what we got.
And to all those who say that the movie is its own entity, that they don’t owe any homage to the original series, and that fans who criticize the films for such are just stubborn dickheads purposely shunning any form of change: when you draw material from an established series there will inevitably be comparisons drawn and assessments made. That’s a given. And although each and every facet of the source material doesn’t have to be scrupulously duplicated, there has to be at least some modicum of what made the original so enjoyable infused into the modern day version or you’re left with some hollow and generic replication synonymous only in name.
That being said, I didn’t hate the new films. I thank Michael Bay for bringing my childhood diversions to life in an amazing looking way. I thank the films for bringing Transformers into the mainstream and into a clearly marketable franchise. And even if it didn’t feel the same at first, I thank Michael Bay for making it cool to be an overgrown manchild, shamelessly kicking my feet up in the movie theater while gorging on popcorn and watching gigantic robots do battle just like I used to envision in my head all those years ago.