There are few franchises out there that can garner enough love and hatred in whatever medium or time frame they are put in. Some stories can simply be told forever; from the work of William Shakespeare to comic book franchises, reboots and re-imaginings keep beloved series alive and well for years, as the stories that matter meld and become diverse no matter what year they are in. Well, some of them anyway.
Today I am here to talk about a franchise that, in my honest opinion, should be left in the 1980s, and never taken out of it. With the upcoming release of Transformers Devastation, I decided I would look back at the introduction to the beloved robot fighting franchise, with Transformers (2007). Eleven year old Ciaran walked into that fateful cinema one bright summer evening to watch a fun action movie about fighting robots, and he was very excited. I had known of the series for some time, but had never actually watched the original cartoon or the 1986 film. When I began to watch this new re-imagining of the franchise Michael Bay had thought up, however, I instantly knew something was wrong.
Our plot of the evening here is that we are introduced to a world where the Transformers have been travelling for their sacred power source, the AllSpark, for thousands of years after a battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons that destroyed their home planet. The Autobots soon find out that the AllSpark is located somewhere on earth, and they must find the coordinates to find it. Enter our main character, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), a nerdy, pathetic and downright annoying teenage boy who’s obsessed with his dreams of owning a car and dating his crush, Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox). Well, it’s just Sam’s luck that the car that he buys turns out to be Bumblebee, who essentially watches over him the entire movie for some unexplained reason. Eventually, after a number of military-based sub plots and sexy hacker scenes, the rest of the Autobots finally arrive and proceed to try and locate the AllSpark, all the while fighting off the Decepticons. When I originally watched this film I didn’t actually remember the Autobots that much, and after having re-watched the film, I now know why. The Autobots don’t actually show up in the movie until the 1 hour mark, and most of the Decepticons don’t arrive until the third act, so most of this movie is spent with our human characters. That is, if you can call them that. While the film’s plot isn’t awful or nonsensical, it just never amounts to anything above okay.
On to the characters! Oh boy, where do I start? Our lead male is played by the ever meme-able Shia Labeouf (pre-meltdown) who plays the role of a self-centred, awkward teenage boy very accurately; all he really does is look confused a lot and shout “No!” for roughly 70 percent of the movie. Of course, we have Megan Fox playing some sort of weird (not to mention unrealistic) romantic interest, who is never given any more of a character trait other then she can fix cars. It’s not that either of them are doing anything bad in their performance, it’s that their characters are so one dimensional that it’s hard to care what they are doing. The same can be said for the Transformers on both sides, as not a single robot has any depth. Some are randomly introduced as if the audience should know who they are without any previous screen time or backstory shown (Starscream in particular literally just shows up out of nowhere in the third act). While the Transformers have never been deep or intricate characters, they were at least memorable in their design, which also can’t be said here, especially the Decepticons, who lack any colour pallet at all. The rest of the cast includes various military gunmen and political figures, who do nothing more then pad the movie and give some downright bizarre performances, most notably John Turturro , who plays an almost cartoon-like defence secretary.
So why does the movie not work, you may be asking. Well, it’s hard to sum up exactly why, but Micheal Bay has introduced so many elements to this series that just come off as uncomfortable and tacky in an attempt to bring Transformers into a modern format. The sheer amount of cringe-worthy moments that were present in this film instantly date it, as I never imagined I would be watching a scene in a Transformers film where a mother awkwardly discusses masturbation with her child. It’s moments like this that come off as confused attempts to appeal to an older, more American audience, but every joke or reference to modern technology comes off as forced and generally upsetting. Other then any scene involving human drama, the film is made up of multiple set pieces and fight scenes that overstay their welcome. While the CGI effects still do hold up surprisingly well, all fight scenes, while impressive, come off as generally uninspired as you simple don’t care which robot wins. It has been said that the Transformers in these films aren’t really characters, but more reasons for multi million dollar set pieces to occur, and I would have to agree, as there is no weight or impact to these fights. The audience also has no attachment to the hulking mass of metal and gears that are fighting on the screen.
The problem with Transformers (2007) isn’t that it’s unwatchable, it’s that it’s so incredibly mundane and lacking in personality on all fronts. Transformers (2007) tries so hard to be an ‘adult’ film on so many levels while failing at the same time. Generation one Transformers was originally insanely silly and cheap, but that doesn’t mean the series cant go on. Hell, later cartoons like Transformers Prime can actually tell an engaging adult story while still staying true to the goofiness of the original. Micheal Bay created a franchise that continued to get worse after this film, and changed a lot about modern summer action films that have only recently changed due to the rise of Marvel. Say what you will about the original Transformers cartoon; it was hacky, it was dumb and it was unfathomably silly, but it had heart. Sadly, I cannot say the same for this adaptation, but I suppose if you have seen all there is to see in the Transformers canon, this is probably the best you are going to get in the Michael Bay verse. If you’re new to the franchise, however, you can do far better then this.
Nothing more than meets the eye.