*WARNING! Spoilers for five films which are all exactly the same so if you’ve seen one you’ve seen them all. Also they’re all garbage anyway so who cares!*
I’ve already talked about Michael Bay, Transformers 1-4 and Transformers: The Last Knight and I’m not really a huge fan of any of them. But why Jack? I hear you asking. Well my friends, I think that there are many reasons why the ‘Transformers‘ movies are terrible. So read on if you haven’t already gotten fed up enough of me talking about these terrible movies!
First a foremost, these movies are all very formulaic and are all practically the same. Every plot involves some sort of ancient Transformers McGuffin that the bad guys want to have to take over the world and the good guys need to get it to stop them. First it was the cube, then the Matrix of Leadership, then a space bridge, then some Transformium seed and then Merlin’s Transformer staff. Each film involves Megatron in some capacity leading the Decepticons to try and obtain this weapon and each time Optimus Prime, hero of all heroes, leads his Autobots to stop them. There are humans on both sides and then it all gets rather messy with explosions. Nothing is ever switched up to make it interesting. They’re all the damn same. And even though the plot is as simple as ‘get something to stop the bad guys getting it’, they manage to somehow make these movies seem way more convoluted than they actually are. Plot elements are added in and tacked on to bulk up the runtime and it all gets even more messy!
Look, these movies are dumb. They’re supposed to be dumb. Nobody is going to see ‘Transformers’ to have their mind intellectually stimulated. But they never fully embrace the dumbness properly in my eyes and never have any fun with it. They’re not perfect, but the Michael Bay produced ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles‘ film is a good example of a film which takes the essence of the show (mostly) and has some fun with it. ‘Transformers‘ never really seems too fun. It often goes a bit dark and doesn’t really honour the characters it is based upon. I’ve never really watched the original cartoon or any other stuff based on these toys, but I know that Optimus Prime is supposed to be the greatest hero and the best guy. He’s honourable, loyal and a real nice dude. But in these films he’s a bit of a jerk. He’s a poor leader, threatens to kill all the humans(!), is a brutal and merciless killer and always ends up showing up in the last 5 minutes to kill all the bad guys because ‘he’s Optimus Prime’ and he’s awesome. It’s just not right and it’s just no fun.
Speaking of formulas, there are a couple of tropes of this film series that it always adheres to. They always try to ruin some aspect of history during the course of the movies. The first film added Transformers into Arctic expeditions, the second has Transformers building the pyramids, the third threw Transformers into the moon landings, the fourth made dinosaurs extinct by Transformers and the fifth chucks giant robot dragons into Arthurian times. I don’t particularly mind these plot points all that much, but they’re stupid. How can all these things have happened and yet modern day people know nothing about it? It’s a story that contradicts itself.
Each film will also have a well loved, respectable and great actor and a fairly well known comedic actor to appeal to the masses and then tarnish their careers. The first had legendary actor Jon Voight and John Tuturro. The second broke from tradition a little and had on Tuturro. The third had Frances McDormand and John Malkovich along with Tuturro again, Ken Jeong and TV heartthrob Patrick Dempsey. The fourth had Kelsey Grammer, T.J. Miller and Stanley Tucci. The fifth has Anthony Hopkins along with Tucci and Tuturro back. And that’s not to mention some of the voices for Transformers they manage to get, with the likes of Leonard Nemoy, John Goodman, Hugo Weaving and Ken Watanabe, alongside original voice cast members such as Peter Cullen and Frank Welker. There’s so much talent in these films and yet it is all wasted. Nobody comes out of these films looking good.
The only people that come out looking good are the female characters who Bay has an obsession with over-sexualising them by having them wear tight, skimpy clothes and bend over a lot. It started with Megan Fox, moved on to Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, then Nicola Peltz before currently settling on Laura Haddock. None of these women really have much character development other than ‘look at my butt’. Haddock seems to be excluded from this, not being introduced through a butt shot but instead wearing a dress and saying some smart things. However, that is soon ruined by characters telling her she looks like a stripper. Yes Michael Bay, male audiences like attractive women, but entire audiences also like real characters.
But these films aren’t sold on story or characters or even really actors. They’re sold on one thing and one thing only: LOOK AT HOW MUCH STUFF WE CAN BLOW UP! All these films are are extended action sequences followed by hamfisted attempts to attach some plot to them. And yes, Michael Bay is known for action and yes, he is fairly good at it. He’s better than a lot of other directors at doing action stuff. But there are so many problems with the action in this film series. The recent couple have fixed one of those problems. In the earlier films it was very hard to distinguish the characters from one another and you barely had any idea who was fighting who. Not the robots have more varied designs and different colour schemes to help distinguish them. Well, the good guys do anyway. All the bad robots are just shades of grey and nobody knows who is who.
But even being able to work out which robot is which often doesn’t help. There’s so many sparks and explosions and slow motion mixed with quick cuts and aspect ratio changes and lens flares that it can be impossible to see what is happening sometimes. What’s going on? Who knows?! The editing is so bad and the action so bland that there’s no weight to anything and nothing to really care about. All it is is explosion after explosion followed by two explosions with another one thrown in for good measure. And yes, it all looks great and fantastic and real, but none of that matters when it all falls flat and feels boring.
Not to mention there are no stakes in these movies anymore. I didn’t care about the story or the characters before, so that doesn’t really help me to care for who wins for starters. But then when characters continuously come back from the dead time after time and everything ends with Optimus Prime coming in to save the day then what is there for me to gasp at and be excited about? Decepticon Barricade I’m pretty sure died in the first movie, came back for the third and died again before returning in the fifth and maybe dying or maybe just disappearing. I don’t really know. Optimus Prime died in the second film only to be resurrected. Megatron has died twice and come back. Even Shia LaBeouf died and went to Transformer heaven before being resurrected! WHAT?! Very few people seem to stay dead and even the ones that come back have little explanation and so none of it makes any sense. Why should I care if Optimus Prime dies or turns evil because I know he’ll be back for the last 5 minutes and kill all the bad guys and save the day because he’s the main character.
Michael Bay may be good at action (sometimes), but one thing he has never been good at is comedy. No matter how good or bad any of his films are, one thing that has often been a major failing has been the jokes. Put simply, what Michael Bay thinks is funny just isn’t funny. ‘Revenge of the Fallen‘ is a prime example. It had Autobots Skids and Mudflap, twins who wore bling and had gold teeth and spoke like racial stereotypes and were made out to be completely and utterly inept. They were the worst characters ever, so much so that they got cut out of the franchise after that. This ii also the film that also had multiple robots combine to form the massively awesome Devastator, only to ruin it by giving him wrecking ball testicles… Often these films strive for comedy out of other people’s misfortunes and shortcomings. They’re mean jokes. Or something that the audience can see but one character cannot is then pointed out to that character almost as if they’re hanging a lantern on it as a way of being funny. It’s not funny. Dressing a woman like a stripper and then pointing that out to her is not funny. Nor are racial stereotypes. Nor are these movies full stop.
These films should be awesome. Robots fighting robots is cool! But all the cool stuff is teased but never actually realised. You like the Dinobots? YES! I love robot dinosaurs! So all the trailers feature them heavily and the nearly 3 hour movie features them for 10 minutes…. Great. You want a giant robot made out of lots of robots? HELL YES! Here is is for 10 minutes just climbing a pyramid before he dies. You want Megatron? And Soundwave? And Shockwave? And Starscream? All your favourite baddies? YES I DO! Here they are all just snarling for a bit while faceless robots do their work for them before they are all killed. Oh… What about giant, planet sized Transformer Unicron? OH MY GOD YES PLEASE! Planet Earth is Unicron, so he will likely never transformer or everyone will die. Oh, okay then… These films keep teasing us with the stuff we want to see and then changing it from the source material and making it no fun. I don’t mind source material being changed. Plenty of superhero movies do it and it works out great. But don’t change it so much that we don’t get to see the things we want to see. That’s not fair.
So why oh why do these films make so much money then? The first made over $700 million, the second over $800 million. The third and fourth both made over $1.1 billion. That is ridiculous amounts of money! So if they’re all terrible, why do they make so much? Yes, there are a lot of fans of the 80’s cartoon, but enough to spend $1 billion? I don’t think so. So who is watching these films? It seems like everyone is. These films are made to pander to the box office during the summer blockbuster season. Trailers feature great special effects, action, male and female actors to appeal to everyone and a couple of the actual funny jokes. Not to mention all the cool stuff they tease us with but never actually give to us. These films are churned out to be standard popcorn-munching movies that everyone can go and watch to make their huge budgets back. Whether people like them or don’t, they show up. Some people like these films. That’s fine, I understand (a little). Some people go because they think it can’t be as bad as the last movie. Some people go because they think it looks good. Some people go because they know ti will be bad. Some people (like me) feel obligated to go and see them. Everyone has a reason to go and see this continuing franchise. And even though the critical reception is often overwhelmingly negative, these films make so much money that they make another one. It will never stop.
And though Michael Bay may claim he is stopping now, this franchise just will not until the day they don’t make a profit. And even then I reckon they’ll reboot it to keep it going and bring people back. This is the state of cinema these days. What makes money keeps going and things that are interesting only earn a modest profit back. These films will never end and it’s hard to see them ever getting any better. Sadly, I think the ‘Transformers‘ franchise will always stink.