Transformers Trilogy Review

Posted: June 27, 2014 by moviebuff801 in Barrage of the Blockbusters, moviebuff801's Movie Reviews, Retrospectives, Time Capsule Reviews

By: Michael “MovieBuff801” Dennos

In the land of explosions, eardrum-pounding sound effects and hyperactive action sequences, director Michael Bay reigns supreme. Bay has had many hits and misses, his best movie to date being 1996′s The Rock, but the Transformers franchise — for the most part — successfully utilizes Bay’s prowess for filming action sequences with the energy and glee like that of a kid at Christmas and turns it into an asset. Love them or hate them, the latter being the most likely, these Transformers movies, a live-action adaptation of the popular cartoon and toy brand, represent pretty much everything that Michael Bay movies are all about. Whereas most people regard him as one of the worst directors working today, I consider him my kind of schlockmeister when all’s said and done. So, with Transformers: Age of Extinction pounding its way into theatres this weekend, it seems like a most opportune time to take a look back at the first trilogy of films in the series. I ask that you please hold the bile until I’m done.

Transformers (2007)

Release Date: July 3rd, 2007

Running Time: 2 hours and 23 minutes

Written by: Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman

Directed by: Michael Bay

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, Jon Voight

The plot of the first Transformers is sufficiently simple, and it all starts with a guy, a car and a babe. Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is your typical teenage boy who’s just bought a beaten-up yellow Camaro as his first car, with hopes that it’ll help him land his lifelong crush and resident high school hottie Mikaela (Megan Fox). But lo and behold, Sam’s Camaro turns out to be Bumblebee, member of a race of alien robots called The Autobots. You see, there are two kinds of Transformers: Autobots and Decepticons. Autobots are devoted to keeping peace in the universe and protecting Earth against The Decepticons, whose main purpose is to enslave humanity. What else? The Decepticons have recently announced their presence by way of attacking the nation’s military in order to procure information on The All-Spark, an ancient alien cube with the power to convert Earth technology into Transformer technology, and with it, The Decepticons plan to create an army and take over the world. What else? As it turns out, Sam is deeply tied into the hunt for The All-Spark, which leads to The Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, to protect Sam and Mikaela from The Decepticons, their leader being the nefariously-named Megatron. Talk about a first date.

When I say that I like this first Transformers movie, I’m pretty sure I’m on safe ground. Between the high-octane action sequences, the mostly enjoyable performances and the humor, this is a rockin’, sockin’ good time. Speaking of humor, though, that seems like a good place to begin. The sequels have relentlessly been criticized for their overreliance on stupid humor whenever the Transformers aren’t doing battle, but you know what? This movie has its fair share of stupid humor and Michael Bay stereotypes as well. Remember Anthony Anderson’s character? But this gets by in that department for two reasons: one, the humor isn’t as aggressive here as it would later be in the sequels and two, at least the comedic timing of the actors is pretty good. The main thing that keeps Transformers not only afloat, but also curiously endearing in its own weird way is the fact that the script, penned by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman, uses relatable issues such as a boy buying his first car and going after his big crush as the jumping-off points for an action-packed thrill ride. That helps keep everything somewhat grounded and lends the film a certain likable charm.

If you want to talk about things like acting in a movie like this, then it’s fine for the most part. Shia LaBeouf is actually pretty good as Sam. He brings a certain everday-ness to the character, along with a decent amount of humor, which makes him a nice lead to hang the human element of the film around. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson also have a good amount of swagger and Megan Fox is … well, passable-enough. As for John Turturro, I’ll get to him in a minute.

Of course, the action is really good. When these giant robots start duking it out, there’s a nice level of excitement and adrenaline courtesy of Bay, and even though it makes no logical sense why the military would try to hide The All-Spark from The Decepticons in the middle of a crowded city, thus endangering countless civilian lives, the big final battle nonetheless is very exciting and Bay’s hyper-kinetic style works for the action.

There’s also Steve Jablonsky’s epic score:

So, yeah, Transformers is a solid B-movie. The sequels, though, are where things start to get interesting.

***/****

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

Release Date: June 24th, 2009

Running Time: 2 hours and 29 minutes

Written by: Ehren Krueger and Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman

Directed by: Michael Bay

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Megan Fox, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro

Revenge of the Fallen picks up a few years after the first film. The Autobots have now aligned themselves with the U.S. Military in a government sect known as NEST. They all work together in rounding up the remaining Decepticons, but their latest surgical strike leads to a foreboding warning concerning “The Fallen.” Meanwhile, Sam is headed off to college while also grappling with finally saying the L-word to girlfriend Mikaela. But a leftover shard from The All-Spark starts giving him visions of mysterious Autobot symbols, symbols which connect back to the very first Autobots, a.k.a. The Primes, The Fallen — an evil, ancient Decepticon who seeks to claim Earth as his own — and The Matrix of Leadership, the alien MacGuffin which The Fallen plans to use to accomplish his ends. This puts Sam and Mikaela back in the middle of the big robot war, and also makes them cross paths with now former government operative Simmons (John Turturro), with Sam’s roommate Leo (Ramon Rodriguez) along for the ride, too. It all leads to an epic showdown (is there any other kind in a Michael Bay film?) in Egypt.

Okay, so Revenge of the Fallen has the notorious reputation of being perhaps the most-hated Transformers film to date. Do I honestly hate this movie, though? Well … for some reason, no. Oh, don’t get me wrong — this is a dumb, DUMB movie (they’re all pretty dumb, frankly), but the fact is it just doesn’t annoy or offend me to the extent it does most others and I’ve seen much worse from Bay (Bad Boys 2 and Pearl Harbor). To start with, the humor of this franchise is at its lowest point here. The Twins are egregious characters that make you root for them to get killed off, Leo is mostly obnoxious, the mom is given way, WAY too much screentime and there’s tons more juvenile touches (unnecessary robot testicle joke for 500, Alex) that just get in the way of the main reason we want to see these movies.

So, why aren’t I giving this movie a lower score? Well, because there’s stuff in here that I actually DO sorta like — mainly the action. I like the opening action sequence and there’s other good fights scattered throughout, but mostly, I really enjoy the big finale. The nearly 45-minute climax in Egypt that seems to go on forever? Yes, that one. Another aspect of this movie I really like — of all these movies, in fact — is Steve Jablonsky’s score, which is so epic, especially near the end where, spoiler alert, Sam temporarily dies, goes to Transformer Heaven (I still don’t get that) and comes back, and then the rest of the music that follows from there.

Also, as stupid and juvenile as the humor gets, I won’t deny that the film still managed to get me to laugh (mainly because of how stupid it was) every now and then despite my best efforts. John Turturro is the main reason for that. I know that the majority hate this character, but I dunno, I think he’s funny because he’s so ridiculous and over-the-top, and at least Turturro fully embraces the zaniness of the role.

Overall, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is indeed a bad movie and a mess. However, while I still can’t embrace it even in a guilty pleasure way, I also can’t call it an outright failure. Why? Because when it’s not being incredibly stupid, it’s nothing more than your typical Michael Bay action schlockfest, and that doesn’t really bother me as much.

**/****

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

Release Date: June 29th, 2011

Running Time: 2 hours and 34 minutes

Written by: Ehren Krueger

Directed by: Michael Bay

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Josh Duhamel, Frances McDormand

Concluding the initial trilogy, Dark of the Moon finds Sam completely without the help of The Autobots for a change, out in the real world looking for his first job and co-habitating with new squeeze Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). The Autobots, meanwhile, have branched out and are now also helping humans with more “everyday” threats. But when evidence of an old Autobot ship that was carrying precious cargo and thought lost somewhere in the universe turns up, it leads to the ship’s discovery — along with its pilot, Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy) — on the dark side of the moon. The precious cargo in question are pillars with the ability to open up a gateway in the universe which anything can travel through. As the plot unfolds, it’s revealed that The Decepticons intend to use the pillars to transport not only an army to Earth, but also turn Earth itself into their home planet Cybertron. War has begun.

So sue me. I like this movie. Dark of the Moon is a BIG step up from Revenge of the Fallen, as it dials back the stupid humor just enough and gives us a more well-balanced focus between that, the action and the story (yes, this movie actually has a story). In fact, for a Transformers movie, the story here is surprisingly interesting. It creates a rather intriguing mystery by weaving in the early days of NASA and doesn’t shove action down our throat while doing so. Especially in comparison to the second movie, the action in this movie comes about more naturally. It’s also the only movie in the series thus far where I actually gave a shit about what was going on. I guess I can make that argument for the first film as well, but more stuff goes down here and the stakes feel much higher.

First, concerning the humor, yes it’s still stupid (and even tasteless in one instance), but the big difference this time is that we’re not beaten over the head with it. And it’s pretty funny this time, too. Ken Jeong is really the most aggravatingly amusing thing in that respect, funny and annoying at once, and surprisingly, John Malkovich is actually kind of funny in a very stupid role — to quote his character, “WTF to that.” We also get more Simmons shenanigans, and Frances McDormand joins in as this movie’s more straight-laced character. Also, I see why people would be turned off by Shia LaBeouf’s performance in this, but I see it as the kind of overacting that’s entertaining to watch.

Onto the action, which to be frank, kicks all kinds of ass. Bay shows surprising restraint for the first 95 minutes, only falling back on action when necessary, before finally blowing the roof off with a pretty spectacular almost hour-long Chicago-set climax which is badass and may just be the best action Bay’s put on film thus far. There are so many moments throughout this whole sequence that make me feel like a kid again, and Steve Jablonsky’s accompanying score makes it even more exciting.

There’s no question that Dark of the Moon is a superior sequel to Revenge of the Fallen, in my opinion. It delivers the goods and makes for a great ride. Bring on Age of Extinction.

***/****

NEXT WEEK: Why so blue?

Comments
  1. Good, shit and then slightly better tasting shit.

  2. rgagne says:

    Great review of the entire series up until now. I’m a huge fan of the second movie despite the fact it’s considered trash. I love how you included the movie scores by Steve Jablonsky, my favourite soundtrack is Dark of the Moon. It was simply the best, most powerful, and most thrilling to listen to. I thought of doing a series review but I will just review each one individually.

    • moviebuff801 says:

      Awesome. Thanks. Yeah, the scores are the one thing I consistently like the most about these movies, so any opportunity to include them. ;)

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