Transformers is a movie that changed my life twice. Not joking.
The first time is when it was first released; it completely sucked me into the Transformers franchise, and while some not-so-kid-friendly content prevented me from being allowed to see it in theaters, I saw the sequels in theaters, and I watched every new Transformers TV series and bought hundreds of action figures—many of which ended up in my Youtube videos—in the following years. The second time was a fateful 2014 Lenten evening where I decided to rewatch it for the first time in a couple of years and realized…
“WHAT THE HECK WAS I THINKING?! I LIKED THIS MOVIE?!”
In that moment, it’s like Jesus knocked me off my horse and said to me, “T., T., why are you obsessing over glorified toy commercials?” I realized that no matter how good a Transformers story could be, it’s fundamentally going to be an advertisement for toys and an excuse to revel in robots killing each other, and I was buying into it. Since then, I’ve rarely put stock into the franchise outside my own contributions to it.
It’s not the fact that the movie is cheesy that bothers me. I mean, it’s a story about robots from space that happen to be able to scan pieces of technology and fold perfectly into them. It’s not even the fact that humans overshadow the titular robots that bothers me. I mean, we’re introduced to a sympathetic soldier who just wants to get back home to his wife and infant daughter as soon as the movie opens.
What bothers me is that its focus doesn’t account for the frachise’s target audience—the life of some obnoxious teenager, played by Shia Labeouf, who has kooky parents, wants to buy a car, wants to sleep with a very wooden Megan Fox, has family relics that happen to have connections to the titular robots, and experiences situations so raunchy that I really wish a studio executive had stepped in and gone “HOLD ON A MINUTE!” Though if somebody did, they probably got shot down. With a bazooka.
I guess it doesn’t really matter to the studio what the heck they let their director, Michael Bay, get away with when the movies end up making jillions of dollars.
At least the robots retain their dignity. Or at least Optimus Prime, the leader of the good Autobots, does; Shia’s friendship with his robot car, Bumblebee, is supposed to be the story’s heart, but Bee’s dignity is tarnished when he mockingly pees on John Turturro, the highlight of the human cast. However, we at one point get a glimpse of how much each Autobot cares for one another and their mission to save Earth as they discuss their next move. And then Optimus reveals what he’s willing to sacrifice in order to save humanity… I feel a tug there.
The evil Decepticons don’t fare too well character-wise. They have a presence throughout, but they’re little more than one-dimensional monsters (not that the Autobots aren’t one-dimensional in their own ways) who are nearly impossible to kill, which does give them a sense of menace. The big bad guy, Megatron, doesn’t even arrive until the final act, though Hugo Weaving brings an awesome slice of ham to his voice performance.
Said final act is by far the film’s most entertaining sequence with its urban robot warfare—even though the good guys’ motivation to set up in a city is completely inconsiderate of the lives of citizens—, if you can tell the difference between said robots. I’ve always been able to tell the difference since I’d seen the toys beforehand, but I can see how the shaky cam can disorient uninitiated viewers, especially given the robots’ designs.
I can say that it’s better than its sequels, but that doesn’t deem it a good movie, and not even—for the most part—in a delightfully bad way. At the very least, my Youtube channel leaves this fundamentally silly franchise something better than this. …Well, that’s my goal. Still, the saddest part about all of this is that I’m probably going to end up seeing the next ones.