Oh man, this’ll be fun. The Transformers trilogy consists some of the most hated movies of the past decade, right up there with the Twilight series. And yes, I am considering this series a trilogy, and it’s because of one of the series’ biggest flaws that I do so. I say the first three Transformers movies are a trilogy because they all primarily focus on the character Sam Witwicky. In the first movie we find him struggling through high school, in the second movie we follow him through the process of moving away from home to go to college, and in the third we jump ahead to him living a post-grad life, trying desperately to find a job. The character will not be present in the fourth film, so with his character arc completed in the third film (as well as some other plot threads, if you can call them that) I find it acceptable to call Transformers 1, 2, and 3 a trilogy.
However, I think you can tell the problem right away from that description: THESE MOVIES ARE ABOUT BATTLING ROBOTS FROM SPACE! I can sum up why the Transformers movies aren’t any good with one simple statement: too many human characters. I’ll get into each movie individually soon, but just overall, this series focuses on the actual Transformers themselves a whole lot less than it does the human characters, like Sam, his parents, his girlfriend(s), his wacky buddies, John Turturro, and many, many more. The robot characters themselves hardly get any screen time outside of action scenes, so we as the audience don’t connect with them, and therefore don’t care when they’re shooting at and punching each other into piles of metal. I understand the thinking of the writers, though. The first movie was so successful while focusing more on the humans, so they held strong to that idea for the two sequels, not realizing that giving the robots more character and personality would make the movies significantly stronger.
I have to be totally honest here: I liked each of these movies when they first came out. What can I say? I was fourteen when the first movie came out, and the combination of explosive action scenes and low-brow comedy scenes really appealed to my younger self. I still don’t even think the first movie is all that bad, I mean, for starters you could tell that Steven Spielberg played a significant role in the production, giving the film just a teensy bit of a soul. And while the movie focuses a lot on the human characters like the next two did, at least with the first movie it felt more like build up than stalling for time. We don’t meet the Autobots until about an hour in, but that actually kind of works in an origin story. When they finally do show up, it feels more special, and after that the action ramps up and the movie becomes somewhat exciting. The main draw for the movie back in 2007 was the effects, and how the CGI robots looked very realistic, now that we’ve seen better CGI in more recent years, the excitement of the movie has really worn off. I still think the movie is okay, although I wouldn’t bother defending it if someone said they hated it.
So like I said, I liked all three movies when they first came out, and yes, that includes the second movie, Transformers Revenge of the Fallen, also known as one of the most despised movies ever created. Going to see the movie back when I was sixteen, I knew the critics had hated it, but I didn’t care. I just wanted to see some cool robot fights, which I most certainly got. I walked out of the theater satisfied, but I feel like if I had really thought about it, I would realize I didn’t enjoy it all that much. One thing that remained consistent through all three movies was that the final action scenes are always far too long. Nowhere is that more obvious to me than Transformers 2. I distinctly remember being in the theater, watching the explosive final action scene, and about halfway through (so, about twenty minutes in) I just kind of zoned out and started thinking about other things. Yeah, sure, there were millions of dollars of explosions and CGI and Megan Fox blasting across the screen, but it’s just so repetitive and goes on for so long, even sixteen year old me, so stoked to see the sequel to a movie I had loved two years before, couldn’t care less after a while. In recent years I’ve come to find the movie more fascinating than anything else. It’s the perfect example of Hollywood crapping out a movie on to theater screens without any thought given to the plot or characters. It’s just amazing for me to watch all the badness unfold on screen, and so while I certainly can’t think of anything good to say about the movie, I still don’t actually hate it. It’s just interesting to me when so many things go wrong, and in that way the movie goes around the world from so bad it’s bad, to being a fascinating specimen of wrongness. Still, I can’t in good conscience recommend anyone actually sit down and watch it.
The frustrating thing is, it didn’t have to turn out this way. The filmmakers could have taken an honest look at the first movie and decided what worked and what didn’t and made a second movie that cut down on the stuff people disliked in that movie. They could have focused more on the robots, making them actual characters, giving them dialogue with each other, and designing them so the audience could tell them apart more easily. The plot could have been kept simpler and the human characters could have been severely limited. If they had gone down this path with the two sequels, the Transformers trilogy would have ended up being a pretty good series. Instead, they ramped everything up to eleven, for better or worse (well, okay, just for worse), in the second movie, and then, after apologizing for that mistake and swearing they would fix it, ended up doing the same thing in the third movie.
By the time the third movie, Transformers Dark of the Moon, came out, I was eighteen going on nineteen, and by that point I pretty much just considered the Transformers movies to be guilty pleasures. Well, with the third movie the guilt finally started to outweigh the pleasure. I still sort of liked the movie when I first saw it, but that was mainly because it was such a notable improvement over the second movie. If felt like there was an actual effort this time around to give the movie a legitimate plot and to make things more dark and serious. It only partially succeeded, though, and the movie still ended up suffering the same problems that its predecessors had. Prime example: the final battle scene in Chicago goes on for like a half an hour, and it spends most of that time following a group of humans (some soldiers and Sam and his girlfriend) rather than Optimus Prime and the Autobots. To be fair, it’s a much better final action scene than in the second movie, as there’s a much wider variety of things that happen in it, but still, the fact that by that point in the series the filmmakers still hadn’t figured out that audiences want to see the robots infinitely more than they do the humans is kind of insulting. The fact that the movie isn’t as fascinatingly bad as the second movie makes it all the more forgettable. The ending of the third movie, as with all three, consists of a quick monologue by Optimus Prime, followed by an abrupt cut to the credits, just going to show that these movies are just about showing you a bunch of explosions, and then promptly ushering you out the door. Filmmaking at its finest, people.
So clearly you can see that my opinion on these movies has gone down over the years. It’s only natural, I suppose, since the movies are almost exclusively aimed at teenage boys, something that I haven’t been for several months at this point. I don’t think it’s too snobby to say the films are trash. They are, and some of the people who worked on them would even attest to that. The frustrating thing is that they could be much better. Not that a Transformers movie would ever be high art or something, but if the movies were just an hour and a half of Autobots and Decepticons duking it out combined with scenes where a plot develops and we get to know them as characters, the Transformers trilogy would be a fine summer blockbuster series.
I stand by what I said, that this series of three films functions as a trilogy, mainly because of the Sam Witwicky character, but also because the third film was written (or, should I say, “written”) as a finale, what with the main villain dying and all. So yeah, overall the Transformers trilogy is not a very good series of movies. As far as movies I’ll be looking at on this blog, they’re somewhere near the bottom of the barrel. Sorry teenage me, you may have enjoyed them a lot, but they really are the junk food of cinema.