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SECOND LOOK: Transformers (2007)

Since the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, numerous studios have announced they are turning their film franchises into expanded universes. Amongst these is the Transformers film franchise, Paramount Pictures recently announcing four new sequels. Goody. A brainstorming session with a bunch of writers has led to several potential ideas, but considering the reputation of the first four movies, is this all for nothing? Well, that’s what we’re here to find out by looking back at the first film released in 2007. We’ve already covered the 1986 movie and Transformers: Age of Extinction in other articles. Out of the four films so far, Transformers is the best of the worst, and while there is a lot wrong with it, there is more to it than meets the eye.

The film was produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Michael Bay, who went on to direct the three sequels. What can you say about Bay that hasn’t already been said? He first regarded Transformers as a “stupid toy movie”, but he was at least hooked on the visual idea of robots transforming into cars and vice versa. And while his films are stupid, they somehow end up entertaining in some respects. But I don’t believe he was the best choice for director. Maybe as a visual supervisor or stunt co-ordinator. A lot of people weren’t thrilled with the decision, some people even having the nerve to send death threats to him over a movie. Let’s face it, Transformers is a beloved toy and cartoon franchise, but is also silly, cheesy, and could go down to levels of stupidity as seen in the movies. But by no means does that make the films good.

The film’s plot follows the Autobots and Decepticons searching for the Allspark, a giant rubix cube that can bring technology to life. The Allspark can be found via a mapped scanned onto a pair of glasses owned by an Arctic explorer named Captain Witwicky. His descendant Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) happens to own the glasses, so becomes the target for both factions. But that is about an hour into the movie and we have to tread through fifty minutes of randomness. Sam buys his first car which turns out to be the Autobot Bumblebee and tries to use him to attract his love interest Mikaela played by Megan Fox, who sadly can’t act very well, and yet someone cast her as the lead in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Other subplots include an American base in Qatar being attacked by a Decepticon, sound analysts investigating the attack, and a super secret government organization that knows about everything.

The film’s script was written by Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman, the duo who brought us such favourites like Cowboys & Aliens, Star Trek: Into Darkness, and The Amazing Spider-Man 2. It takes way too long to get into the actual story, and by the time Optimus Prime and co. make their spectacular entrance, you are either bored out of your skull or desensitized by the five billion explosions that have occurred so far. And the Transformers themselves are guest-starring in the film, behind footage of cars stolen from commercials, heroic fetish fuel of the military, sunsets every five seconds, and more explosions than seen at a stunt show. Tons of scenes could have been cut out, like the pointless scene where Sam is talking to a bizarre police officer who appears to be on drugs.

The Autobots show up an hour in, and Megatron (the only ‘con who has a personality) is in the last half an hour or so. Optimus Prime is voiced by Peter Cullen and, beyond Bumblebee and maybe Jazz, is the only Transformer who looks like his animated counterpart. Bumblebee himself is a generic kid-friendly character who can’t talk, and despite Bay’s attempts to distinguish Bee from Herbie the Love Bug, he made him into an exact copy. Rounding out the Autobots cast are Jazz (Darius McCrary), Ironhide (Jess Harnell), and Ratchet (Robert Foxworth), who don’t really get much screentime but have more personalities than most of the human cast.

On the Decepticons side, Megsy is voiced by Hugo Weaving, but he is bland and generic as a badguy; he essentially becomes Agent Smith redesigned as a talking junk pile. The other seven Decepticons are all canon fodder and only there for the action; Starscream only gets two lines, Barricade feels like an homage to the T-1000, and skittering Frenzy essentially acts as the Waspinator of the movie.

Very few of the humans are likable. Shia LaBeouf does a good job in his role, though, I think this was the last movie where he was tolerable. Jon Voight and John Turturro help bring some dignity to the acting, even if the latter gets peed on by Bumblebee. Most of the cast does a decent job, but Megan Fox is the weak link. She just can’t act and is purely there for fan service.

The visuals and special effects in the film are good. Not many people really like the overcomplicated designs of the Transformers, and since most of the characters are grey, black, or silver, it is hard to tell who is who aside from Optimus, Bumblebee, and Ratchet. But half the time, you can’t tell what the heck is going on because the camera is jumping around more than it does in the Jason Bourne movies. The Transformers are usually in the background, so we’re stuck following the stupid humans around as they crack jokes and not act like there are in a serious, warlike situation. Half way in we get a battle between Bumblebee and Barricade, but it only lasts thirty seconds because it cuts away to catch up with Sam and Mikaela, and then a minute later, Bumblebee appears, having beaten Barricade offscreen. Thankfully they make up for it in the final battle, which takes place in the middle of downtown Los Angeles. Yeah, the characters think hiding the Allspark in a populated city is a great place to duck and cover. Why not take it to the middle of the desert, or a forest, or the mountains?

The film does have some good parts surprisingly. Some scenes stand out like Blackout’s first appearance, Optimus Prime vs. Bonecrusher, and the amazing arrival of the Autobots accompanied by the music of Steve Jablonsky. The product placement doesn’t stand out to much aside from when one character deliberately waves a Panasonic microchip into the camera, and I got a laugh when Starscream blows up a Furbies truck.

So, yeah, Transformers isn’t by any means a good movie, but it has enough going for it to be entertaining if you want to turn off your brain for two hours. But, it is the sequels Revenge of the Fallen and Dark of the Moon that are just dreadful. There are twice as many problems despite attempts to improve the quality of the movies. I hear Michael Bay will solely be taking on a producer’s role, but perhaps it is too late to salvage anything good from these movies.

What are your thoughts on the Transformers movies? Should Michael Bay steer clear of the Transformers from now on? What would you like to happen to the films and who should direct/write them? Leave a comment below or on our Twitter feed.

About the author

Mark Russell