It’s been a decade since the Transformers first hit the big screen back in 2007’s “Transformers.” Since then, there have been three sequels that together have have earned billions of dollars in revenue at the worldwide box office. The fifth instalment in the series, “Transformers: The Last Knight” is poised to hit theaters this summer. Ten years, five movies and a whole lot of money and yet, there are lots of disgruntled “Transformers” fans out there.
While the box officer numbers indicate that millions of people love the franchise, a lot of vocal people have less than affectionate feelings for these movies and spew a lot of hate towards them. But we here at CBR think that a lot of that vitriol is unwarranted and that the “Transformers” franchise doesn’t deserve all the hate it gets. Like the Transformers themselves, these movies have more to them than meets the eye. So join us as we explore 15 reasons why the “Transformers” movies are much better than you think they are.
15. VILLAINS, VILLAINS, VILLAINS
The “Transformers” movies have benefitted from the use of great villains throughout the series, villains that the movies have revolved around, villains that have posed a very real threat to our heroes and the world as a whole. Starscream, Megatron, The Fallen, Sentinel Prime and Lockdown were all antagonists that proved incredibly hard to put down. In fact, when it comes to Megatron, he is one who just can’t seem to stay dead, coming back to life again and again.
Each of these villains has proven to be tough to meddle with, from The Fallen, who almost managed to burn up the sun, and especially “Age of Extinction” highlight Lockdown, a character that had no dog in the race between Autobots and Decepticons, but who was just looking to do his job as a mercenary. As tough as they were, our heroes always needed the extra push and the extra bit of help to defeat these powerful villains; that was something that brought with it great tension in all four movies of the franchise.
14. CARTOON NODS
On the big screen, the Transformers were very different than what they were on TV, but some classic elements of the cartoon series did manage to transition to the movie, like the relationship between Megatron and underling Starscream, the use of the original sound the Transformers make when they transform and the Matrix of Leadership. Even a character like Sam Witwicky was inspired by Spike Witwicky, a young teenager and ally of the Transformers in the series.
Furthermore, the movies have never been shy about introducing in its sequels many fan-favorite characters like the construction-equipment based giant Devastator, Decepticon defector Jetfire, loudmouths the Wreckers, the dynamic and always dependable Hound, and of course, the dinosaur-inspired Dinobots led by the Tyrannosaurus Rex-tacular Grimlock. Over the course of four movies, going on to five, there have been many characters that transitioned to the screen and with even more movies to come, who knows which others will appear next.
No matter how one may feel about Michael Bay and his movies, there is no denying the fact that he makes one hell of a good-looking film. The use of filters that highlight the sand and yellow tints to most of his movies, the striking colors that seem to pop off the screen, the lensflares, the carefully framed shots, the heroic camera angles all make the “Transformers” movies stand out and beautiful to look at; visual candy that is instantly recognizable, a signature to the Transformers.
Over the course of the series, Bay has even opted to go higher to favor the Imax format and shoot even bigger. His shots are so striking, in fact, that the only way to do them impeccable justice is to see them in Imax. In this instant, this is definitely a case of the bigger, the better. Optimus Prime and his Autobots could not have asked for a better filmmaker to make them look this good and their antics so heroic, iconic and most importantly of all, bombastic.
12. THE HUMAN ELEMENT
With the bulk of these movies primarily taking place on Earth, there was always going to be a human element at play in the franchise. From the series’ inception, it was executive producer Steven Spielberg’s idea to center the first movie around the basic premise of a teenage boy and his car — the relationship between Sam and Bumblebee. Sam proved to be just as likeable a character as his guardian Autobot and the movies never stopped once to give us new, fun human characters with distinct personalities.
Characters like volatile Sector 7 Agent Simmons, overprotective-yet-endearing parents Ron and Judy Witwicky, down-on-his-luck inventor Cade Yeager and his defiant young daughter Tessa. These were all three-dimensional characters that we could root for, that make us laugh and that make us fear for their safety. These movies were always going to need a tether to the human soul, people that the audience can relate to, representatives of the best in all of us, and of humanity as a whole. If nothing else, they felt like people who were worth defending.
11. THEY ARE FUN
It’s hard to forget, but at their core, these movies are all based on a line of toys and a cartoon series aimed at children. The producers of these movies did us one better by bringing these characters into the real world, finding a way to make them less silly and more relevant in today’s cinematic society. And yet, in all the dramatic intensity and the threats of extinction, the movies always take the time to have fun and make their intended audience laugh.
Sure, some people like their movies more serious than others, but the “Transformers” films are actually supposed to be sort of ridiculous. They are supposed to make you cheer and gasp and laugh. As such, they know when to poke fun at themselves and sometimes don’t have to take things so seriously. Whether it be the humans or the robots, their personalities and interactions are great sources of entertainment and it’s something we hope carries on into the next movies.
10. A MESSAGE OF UNITY
For the past decade, ever since the release of the first movie, the “Transformers” films have been a product of their time, though not acting as a microscope taking too deep a look into the current socio-political landscape or preaching too heavily about politics. Instead, all of the movies have focused on delivering a message of unity and inclusion, a message that no matter who we are, no matter the species, it’s important to look past our differences and focus on what makes us all human.
Optimus Prime and his friends remind us that we have the strength in each of us to make a difference and that only together can we truly overcome evil. Even when things seem dire and all seems lost, they remind us that we need to keep being there for each other. And that, more today than ever, is a message that we can all get behind. Unity and inclusion is something we could all use more of, and the fact that all of these movies remind us of that makes them uplifting and, in many ways, timeless.
9. VOICE ACTORS
Long ago, there was a time when Tom Hanks wanted to portray the voice of Optimus Prime in the live-action version of “Transformers.” While that would have been an easy sell to the producers, a big name to draw in the crowds, long-time fans of the old cartoons were ecstatic to learn that Peter Cullen, who provided the voice for Optimus back in the original animated series, would be providing the voice to the fan-favorite character. To this day, Cullen is the one and only voice for Optimus, from the movies and cartoons to the video games.
However, Cullen was not the only voice actor from the original series to transition to the movies. In fact, Frank Welker, who provided the voice for Megatron, Soundwave and many others in the cartoons returned to the franchise starting with “Revenge of the Fallen.” He has since come to voice many characters in the films like Soundwave and Shockwave, and he has returned to his most recognizable role as Galvatron/Megatron in “Age of Extinction.”
8. GREAT SUPPORTING ACTORS
Ever since the first Transformers film, there have been a ton of great and legendary supporting actors featured in the series. From Jon Voight as the US Secretary of Defense and John Turturro as recurring ally Agent Simmons to Frances McDormand as the Director of National Intelligence. All of them were characters who had a very important role to play in the events of the movies, characters that allowed their actors a chance to shine and flex their acting muscles a little differently than they are used to.
And that’s not all, in “Dark of the Moon” and “Age of Extinction,” we also had a change of pace in the introduction of very threatening and yet very human villains in Patrick Dempsey and Kelsey Grammar, characters that weren’t Decepticons, but rather a very different kind of villain to propel the stories forward. And finally, with the arrival of “The Last Knight” later this year, we will see none other than Sir Anthony Hopkins take a turn in the “Transformers” universe.
7. EPIC SCALE
If there is one thing the “Transformers” movies were never short on, it’s spectacle. Every movie, there are new (or old) threats that surface, something that has the potential to wipe out the entire planet itself. Giant, end of the world scenarios are introduced and they never cease to amaze us. From a battle to prevent a machine from burning up the sun and killing all life on Earth to fending off an actual invasion of a Decepticon army, there is never a threat too small in the “Transformers” universe.
Consequently, these threats and adventures were so big that they have taken us all over the world, from Los Angeles to Egypt, Chicago to China. The next movie “The Last Knight” is also bound to take us to the United Kingdom and Norway. We may not know what threat the Autobots and humans will face this time around, but from the look of things in the trailers, it looks very, very big; as big as the planet, in fact, and we have no doubt that the battle to save Earth once more will be nothing short of spectacular.
Starting with the All-Spark and a frozen Megatron secretly on Earth for thousands of years in the first movie, then the Primes and the Fallen having been on Earth in the Stone Age going into “Revenge of the Fallen,” to the Space Race and the Moon Landing being a product of a Cybertronian ship that crash landed on the Moon and finally, the dinosaurs being wiped out by the Creators, the “Transformers” movies have always used aspects of history in their stories.
These elements served to expand the mythology of the “Transformers” universe and marry it to Earth’s history in an effort to give the movies’ stories not only a grand and epic scale but a deeply-rooted feel. These bids at revisionist history led to some very interesting elements that helped shape the individual stories of every movie, from the invasion of Chicago through a portal on the Moon to the introduction of the Dinobots in “Age of Extinction.” “The Last Knight” looks to be no different, as it seems like it will incorporate some elements of Arhturian lore into its story.
While some detractors of the series would like to tell you that these movies are blind entertainment that have no hint of a story in sight, that could not be further from the truth. In fact, looking from one movie to the next, one can easily see how the story has evolved and changed over time. Consequences bleed into the sequels and there is a true sense of continuity between each one. Characters come and go, Autobots are betrayed and killed. New allies appear and new devices are put in place to keep the world safe or alternatively, to threaten it.
There are always new elements added to push the stories forward, but nowhere were these consequences more apparent than in “Age of Extinction.” The movie started five years after the Battle of Chicago from “Dark of the Moon,” with the Autobots demonized, persecuted, hunted and even killed. Optimus Prime was in hiding and most of his friends were gone or dead. The movie ended with him leaving Earth to find his makers and “The Last Knight” looks once again to follow through on that promise.
4. RE-IMAGINING OF THE MYTHOS
What some fans seem to not fully understand is that the “Transformers” movies were never meant to be a literal adaptation of the original animated series into live-action. Sure, some elements came from it, like the basis of the story and various characters and relationships, but these movies are a new version of the stories that the fans know, a re-imagining of the mythos, not unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the DC movies compared to their source material, the comic books that inspired them.
When it comes to the MCU and the DCEU, the fans have no problem accepting the changes made to adapt their favorite characters to the big screen, but suddenly some will draw the line when it comes to the “Transformers.” Why should the Autobots and Decepticons be any different than the Avengers or the Justice League? The “Transformers” films adapt the stories from its source material to make it appealing to the general public, and the public responds in kind.
3. VISUAL EFFECTS
One of the strongest elements of all the “Transformers” series are their impeccable visual effects, which are always cutting edge. From the cars, trucks and helicopters transforming into robots, every single piece of machinery coming alive, twisting, turning and whirring to life to having these robots interact with humans like they were actually there, the incredible work by the visual effects team has always been something to look forward to in these movies.
On the screen, the composition between real and digital creates a tapestry of entertainment that absorbs us and almost convinces us that these alien robots could be real. One also has to admire the logistical achievements from the production teams when it comes to shooting attacks and explosions in cities like Chicago when there is actually nothing there, no robots fighting from one street corner to the next. These elements are instead added much later on in post-production and that level of planning and careful execution is extremely commendable.
2. ROCK’EM SOCK’EM ACTION
When it comes down to it, the “Transformers” films are really about one thing, and that is robots beating the hell out of each other. That is something that not a single one of these movies has failed to deliver. While there is always a fair amount of buildup and tension, when the brawls start, they come hard, they come fast and they come in great numbers. In the fights that either come one-on-one or army against army, there is no shortage of action to be found. The movies even look to up the ante with every subsequent instalment, introducing bigger and badder threats that come knocking.
With fists, guns, canons, axes and shields and swords, the Cybertronians are more than well-equipped to fight each other and the movies have always highlighted that fact, to great entertainment value. Optimus Prime, Bumblebee and the rest of the Autobots see more than their fair share of battle and it isn’t looking like they’ve fought their last, either. For “The Last Knight,” it looks like the Autbot’s new enemy will be one even they can’t hope to defeat…
1. OPTIMUS PRIME
Yes, the humans have always had a starring role in the series. Crucial and identifiable roles. And yes, great actors have embodied them and made us care about them, to the point that some fans and critics lament the fact that the “Transformers” films are more about their humans characters than the Transformers themselves. And yet, they seem to forget that most of these characters have come and gone through a revolving door and that there is only once constant to be found in all movies: Optimus Prime.
Optimus is the series’ star, its main point of focus and main character. He might have arrived late in the game in the first film, but the stories have always revolved around him. His character lights up the screen like no other, he is the one we have followed from movie to movie, battle to battle and win to devastating loss. He has had his fate and confidence shaken and he has always come back stronger, and despite some of the movies eing “samey,” neither his arc nor his character ever gets old.. And with “The Last Knight,” it looks once again like Optimus will have a very large role to play. This time, he may even prove to be the Autobots’ most dangerous foe yet.
What do you think of the Transformers movies? Be sure to let us know in the comments!