Reliving the Past: ‘Transformers’ Franchise Review
As we head into the weekend – and the release of Michael Bay’s Transformers: Age of Extinction – I thought I’d do a quick review of the franchise.
Going into my rewatch of the films, I remembered being impressed by the first movie, severely disappointed by the second, and pleasantly surprised by the third.
After the rewatch, I had a much different opinion of the third movie while, unfortunately, begging the question: why are these movies being made? There are consistent mistakes throughout the franchise, but it really boils down to the fact that there are very few feasible storylines that involve a toy line.
For more specifics, here are my reviews:
[Be warned: minor spoilers ahead]
Transformers, Michael Bay’s first film in the franchise (with a budget of $150 million), had a few good components to start the franchise off. In short, Bay created a really “cool” film. Whether it is stupid or not to create a film on a toy line, Bay masterfully used visual effects to make the actual transformations really awesome.
The problem, like I hinted above, came with the story. Back in 2007 when this movie was made, Shia LaBeouf was the go-to generational actor. Today? Not so much. The script suffered by trying to make him a bigger part of the story than he probably deserved. This problem continues throughout the following movies, but it starts here.
The nice thing about first movies is this “starting here” point. The first film in a franchise is, generally speaking, the best. This really isn’t a landmark statement. Therefore, Transformers, while struggling with the plot elements, at least deserves credit for creating the Transformer universe – for better or for worse.
While first films are usually better, sequels usually suffer. There are rare instances (The Dark Knight, Toy Story, Lord of the Rings) where the second builds appropriately on the first. However, this isn’t usually the case, and it definitely isn’t the case for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
Sam (LaBeouf’s character), having come off saving the world, again has no good reason being involved. I know an all-Transformers movie wouldn’t fly – there has to be some human aspect to the story – but there had to be a better way to incorporate the human characters.
In fact, Transformers had an awkwardly tacked on attempt at the end where Optimus Prime openly debated whether humans were inherently good (and thus whether the Transformers should let them live). However, this was barely good enough in the first movie and brutally attempted a second time around in Revenge of the Fallen.
In the end, Revenge of the Fallen turns out to perpetuate all the problems of the first movie (and thus the entire franchise). Michael Bay’s mentality seems to be action first, story second. And while this does create some fantastic set pieces and action sequences, it really makes the story, for the lack of a better term, suck. Continuing on, Megan Fox’s character really has no business being in the film (and I thought LaBeouf’s was unnecessary). Also, the film tries to hard too be funny, which at some points came off as offensive.
Revenge of the Fallen is the epitome of an unnecessary sequel. But with great box office numbers ($709 million the first time, $836 million the second time), networks don’t bat an eye at coming up with more. Hence, Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
I will give a little credit back to the writers here because Dark of the Moon does dive into the Transformers mythos a little bit. They take an X-Men approach by integrating the past into American history. We get flashes of the moon landing, talk of Sputnik, and an explantation for the Chernobyl disaster.
I’ll also give them credit for getting rid of Megan Fox.
But still, they had to find a way to keep LaBeouf around. This time, he is struggling to make a name for himself in the real world (an attempt, I’m sure, to connect with the college demographic).
Dark of the Moon never reaches quite the level of cheesiness as Revenge of the Fallen (although they do bring up the Matrix of Leadership again) but it also doesn’t outright work. The conflict is a lot bigger scale (again, reminding me of X-Men) but it still feels like lazy storytelling. I get it, conveniences (like Sam’s girlfriend’s boss ending up as the antagonist) happen with every film. These conveniences just can’t be so awful to the point where it looks like they were coming up with the plot as the movie unfolded.
I remembered being pleasantly surprised by Dark of the Moon but that just goes to show how low my expectations must’ve been. Yes, it is better than its predecessor. But no, it is not a good film by any stretch of the imagination.
Action first, story second, with a 2.5+ runtime on each film (yes, Age of Extinction continues this trend) has made the Transformer franchise wane with each film. However, the box office numbers don’t lie. Can Transformers: Age of Extinction breakaway from the critical rut they’re in? Check out the film this weekend (and check back for my review).
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