Transformers: An Introduction
Love it or hate it, The Transformers are here to stay. Being a child of the 70s and growing up with the Transformers in the 80s, I can definitely call myself a "dyed in the wool" G1 Transformers fan. I have followed and collected everything Transformers related, from the 80's cartoons, to US and UK based comic books (particularly loved the UK stories by Simon Furman and art by Geoff Senior!) right up to Transformers Animated, Transformers Prime, and of course the topic of this discussion, the Transformers Cinematic Universe (or Bayformers, as some critics call it). I welcome anything Transformers and, whilst I still have my rosy colored eyeglasses on, I am more accepting of the movies. These movies were never meant to be character driven or melodramatic. These movie are first and foremost action movies, with big action and even bigger explosions. Kudos to Michael Bay, Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, Ehren Kruger for bringing our childhood heroes to the big screen and to a brand new generation. Couple this with an awesome score from Steve Jablonsky and you have a killer of a movie! He truly is the John Williams of this decade, alongside Brian Tyler!
To date we have four live action movies starring our favorite Autobot heroes and villainous Decepticons; Transformers (2007), Revenge of the Fallen (2009), Dark of the Moon (2011) and Age of Extinction (2014). By now everyone would have watched these movies, but if you have not already done so, please stop reading as the next couple of paragraphs contain spoilers.
The first movie of the cinematic universe, as imagined by Michael Bay, and probably the most acclaimed of all the movie produced so far. This was the movie that got it all started and whipped the fans into a frenzy, as well as pissed some die hard G1 fans off. As with the cartoon and comic book, the story involves the arrival of the Autobots and Decepticons to Earth. The story is told from the point of a boy and his car. In the comic book we have Spike Witwicky and Bumblebee. Spike is replaced by Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) in the movieverse version. Immediately the differences are obvious. In the original G1 universe, the Autobots leave a war torn Cybertron in the Ark spacecraft, and are ambushd by the Decepticons en route. The Ark crash lands on Earth and Teletran1, the on-board AI resurrects the fallen Autobots and Decepticons. Teletran1 even goes as far as to scan alternative earthen modes for the fallen bots. In the movie version, it is Megatron who loses control and crash lands in the Artic, while seeking the Allspark. The Allspark is an ancient relic that transforms and gives life to anything mechanical it touches, enabling the wielder to create new Transformers. Bumblebee is the first Autobot on Earth, sent on a recon mission by Optimus Prime. It is he who first befriends Sam and sends an SOS out for reinforcements. Only four Autobots respond and arrive in their protoform state (no spacecraft needed?), hurtling through our atmosphere. The four are commander Optimus Prime, medical officer Ratchet, first lieutenant Jazz and weapons specialist Ironhide. In the comic book version, there are many more Transformers from both warring factions. Also there is no such thing as the Allspark. The movie revolves around the Autobots as they race against time to locate grandpa Witwicky's glasses (containing a map accidentally inscripted by Megatron's navigation system), and the Allspark before Megatron and his Decepticons can use it to create a new army on Earth. The story ends up with Sam ramming the Allspark into Megatron's chest, killing him (or so it seems) and destroying any hope of making more Transformers to populate Cybertron.
I personally found the movie very well paced and highly entertaining. The new designs for the Transformers took a bit getting used to, but they soon grew on me. I especially liked Optimus Prime's updated design, looking like he got the best out of his G1 counterpart, and the flames from Hod Rod/Rodimus Prime. All the Autobots featured cool designs. No more blocky Transformers as per the 80's cartoons. All the bots received makeovers. There is very little G1 reference in this first movie. The only ones I can think off at the top of my head is a throwback to G1 Bumblebee, a yellow VW Beetle is seen being bumped by Bumblebee's old beat up Chevy Camaro in the used car parking lot; Jazz's bot design; Optimus's energon blade; Megatron's ball and chain and a fight at Hoover Dam (if you recall in S1 of the G1 cartoon, Optimus and Megatron have a battle atop a dam, and Optimus uses an energon axe against Megatron's energon ball and chain). Jazz's bot design was a throwback to G1 with his super cool visor. He looking similar to his G1 counterpart with the exception of his color (he is silvery in this iteration). He also has a very cool surfer dude accent, as in the cartoons. I particularly liked how Bumblebee is portrayed in the movieverse as I always wanted Bumblebee to play a more active role than in the G1 universe. Here he is a warrior true and true! While Ratched and Ironhide were cool, they looked nothing like their G1 counterparts. No white and red. They were green and black.
Now for the bad. The design for the Decepticons were just plain horrendous. Megatron had claw like pincers for hands and looked like a twisted metal wreck. Starscream was even worse, looking like a big metal bird of prey. Also they were all the same shade of gunmetal grey, with the exception of Barricade, a black police car and Brawl who was green tank. It was quite difficult telling them apart! Other pet peeves include the lewd jokes and the camera's lingering affection for Mikaela curvy body (a trend which would persist throughout the current franchise!).
Overall a decent movie with probably the best storyline and pacing. They also did justice in introducing the main protagonist, setting them up for future stories.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
This seemed to be the least liked of all the movies by all fans and critics in general. Call me weird but this was my favorite movie, prior to the release of Age of Extinction. Sure the pacing was terrible (I blame this on the writers strike that affected most of the TV series and movies that year), it had even lewder jokes (If it could get any worse! Robot on leg humping seriously?) and more body hugging shots of Megan Fox's Mikaela, but overall the villain in this one was the most epic, and Optimus was at his.....uuurrrmmmm Prime. This story arc borrows a villain from the very pages of the comic book story from IDW Comics, The War Within: Dark Ages. The Fallen is one bad mother. The story starts with a flashback showing the thirteen Primes on Earth building a sun harvester, a machine of great power that destroys suns to create energon, the lifeblood of the Transformers. The Primes have a code by which they live by, and that is to not harvest energon from a sun/star that supports life on the planets orbiting around it. One of the Primes, the one to eventually be called The Fallen decides to go against his brothers and go ahead with the plan. This harvester requires an ancient artifact to power it, so in order to stop him, the other Primes steal this artifact and entomb it using their own bodies.
To me, minus the corny jokes (Such as John Turturro stripping down to his jocks...was this scene even required?) this one had the best action sequences by far. I have not seen another scene from any other Transformer movie that has yet to best the totally awesome forest fight, where Optimus takes on three Decepticons, no less, and best them all until he gets stabbed and then shot, from the back (literally) by cowardly Megatron, while looking around for Sam. G1 references were in abundance here. This movie introduces us to Jetfire, first seen in the 80's cartoon as Skyfire (featured in the episode "Fire in the Sky"). While he is an old cranky Transformer in this movie, he is still a throwback to his cartoon persona, with him being stranded on Earth prior to the arrival of the Autobots. He is also a Decepticon, as in the 80's cartoon, that changes allegiance and becomes and Autobot. And he is one huge Transformer! The only difference is that he is black as opposed to white, as in the cartoon.
Yet another big nod to the G1 franchise is Devastator, a huge combiner Transformer made up of six Constructicons; Ravage, one of the cassettes belonging to Soundwave; and Soundwave himself, although he does not reveal his robot mode in this one. Then there the customary Optimus death scene (if you are a true fan you would have seen Optimus die and come back to life so many times you would have lost count, both in the cartoon and in the comic books). Probably the biggest nod to the G1 universe is the introduction of matrix of leadership (throwback to the creation matrix in the 80s cartoon movie). Woohoo I actually cheered when this was revealed! This is the ancient relic I mentioned earlier that is required to power the sun harvester. Both are housed in the body cavity of Optimus and it is used by Shia's Sam to bring Optimus back to life! One main concern was that the Bayverse Transformers, or Bayformers stories was not based on the G1 cannon. Bay was listening. He tried to give fans what they wanted. Fans asked for a bad ass Prime (after his meek display in the city battle in the first movie where he got bested by Megatron in every department), fans wanted more mythos (matrix of leadership and the original thirteen Primes), more G1 Transformers (enter Jetfire, Devastator and the Constructicons, Soundwave and Ravage). Enough said!
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
My least favorite of the original trilogy, although this one probably has the most references to the G1 cartoons of the 80's. While the storyline was more coherent than the previous movie, I did not like this one one bit, save a few scenes. The movie begins on Cybertron where a battle is being waged. A lone ship, called aptly "The Ark", is piloted by Sentinel Prime, Optimus Prime's predecessor. The ship gets shot by presumably by Starscream and crash lands on the dark side of the moon. JFK, the then president of the United States sends a recon mission to the moon to figure out what, or who hit the moon. Apparently the government has been covering up this secret mission to probe a crashed landed alien spaceship. This ship holds the remains of Sentinel Prime (this conflicts with the last movie when Optimus was mentioned as the last Prime...go figure!). He also holds several pillar like objects capable of creating a space bridge. This again is another direct reference to G1 as Megatron and the Decepticon's build and make ample use of a space bridge in the 80's cartoon to transport troops and energon between Earth and Cybertron. The big bad here is Sentinel, as Optimus later discovers. Apparently he has been in cahoots with Megatron all this time and their plan is to enslave the human race and to restore Cybertron to its former glory by bringing Cybertron to Earth, and using humans to rebuild Cybertron. If you remember, the first season of the 80s cartoon had a three parter entitled "The Ultimate Doom". This is essentially a retelling of that story, with embellishments.
We also get many well known 80's characters being introduced in this iteration. Firstly there is Shockwave, the scientist and the main Decepticon in charge of Cybertron and the space bridge in the G1 cartoon. We also get Soundwave, another pivotal character in the G1 cannon, although this time he is not a tape deck. His role is still the same as in the cartoon, as a spy and to scramble communications. We also get to see another one of Soundwaves main cassettes, Laserbeak. Finally we have Wheeljack, the Autobot inventor, although he looks or acts nothing like his cartoon version. Instead we get a weird looking decrepit Albert Einstein looking bot. I really hated the way they portrayed him in this movie!
One of the main reasons I did not like this movie was the inconsistencies throughout the movie (which is still a problem now). As Megan Fox was dropped, Sam now has a new love interest in Rosie-Huntington's Carly (another throwback, as there was a female character who befriends Spike called Carly in the G1 cartoon)? If you think Mikaela was bad, this Victoria Secrets model is way worse! At least Mikaela as fiesty! Also they essentially kill off characters willy nilly (did they have to do that to poor old Ironhide?), and they do not explain the disappearance of some characters from the last movie (such as Skids and Mudflap...although this is rectified in the comic books). Also the movie basically offs all the Decepticons, almost as if this was the end of the movieverse Transformers. Shockwave, Soundwave, Starscream (killed by a bomb planted by Shia's character no less....seriously?) and even Megatron. And Optimus does not behave like a Prime, killing Megatron for no apparent reason and shooting a already helpless Sentinel. This felt almost like X-Men 3 in terms of how bad it was!
Transformers: Age of Extinction
The latest installment is a marked departure from the past three movie. Gone are the previous cast and the military presence. Maybe this is a good thing as they are about to embark on a new trilogy of sorts. This story arc focuses on life after the great battle of Chicago. The Transformers, whether good or evil have become targets of a new government black ops team known as "Cemetery Wind". This "so called" government agency works in collaboration with a tech company, KSI lead by a Steve Jobs type character played by Stanley Tucci. The big bad is played by Kelsey Grammer and he really shines in the role. In my opinion he succeeds where Patrick Dempsey (who was the human connection for the Decepticons in Dark of the Moon) fails. He is so much more believable and plays the role with aplomb. Gone too are all the Decepticons, with the exception of Megatron's head. Using Brains, KSI is reverse engineering Transformer technology, and not just the tech but also deciphering their "genome". They can now make their own Transformers from a rare metal known as "Transformiuma. Of course no Transformers movie would be complete without a big bad robot. This comes in the form of a bounty hunter, Lockdown, who works for shadowy characters known as the creators. This character is new and was only recently explored in IDW comics Drift series, and also featured on the Transformers Animated. He is based mostly on the Transformers Animated series as he has no allegiance and has a painful run in with Ratchet (mostly Ratchet on the receiving end).
This is the best of the movies so far, in my humble opinion. The storyline is much more fleshed out, and for the first time since the first movie, the Transformers get the spotlight. The movie really explores Optimus's psyche and how he has gone from this "by the book" leader to one that is full of insecurities. He no longer trust the humans he once worked with, since they turned against them and needs convincing as to why they should still fight for the humans. For the first time I felt that the Transformers were the center of the movie, not the humans. Speaking of humans, Mark Wahlberg does a much better job than Shia LeBeouf. He just brings a different vibe to the show, more grounded and serious. There is still some dodgy dialog, and some girly shots, but this movie has the least of the bad stuff. Also there are references aplenty to the G1 cartoon. The biggest being the introduction of the Dinobots, a firm fan favorite. Fans has been asking for the Dinobots since the first movie was released. Even though they were not on screen very long, and they were never really introduced as Dinobots (Optimus called them knights), they did have a very strong presence and were used heaps in the promos for the movie. Another big G1 nod was Optimus's evasion mode after he is mortally wounded by Lockdown and Cemetery Wind in Mexico at the start of the movie. Optimus's undercover disguise is a cab over G1 mode reminiscent of his form in the 80's cartoon. Yet another G1 reference is Lockdown's employers, the creators. While this is not confirmed, I am pretty sure this is a G1 reference to the Quintessons. It will be interesting to see where this develops over the course of the next two movies.
Fanboys all around the world were rejoicing when it was announced that Transformers was to become a live action movie in 2007. Then the hate started to pour in. Love it or hate it, this juggernaut is here to stay. I for one welcome it. These were never going to be a highly acclaimed Oscar worthy movies. Come on this is popcorn flick at its best, summertime blockbusters! If you are in it to watch big bots battle it out on screen and just have a roaring good time, this are the movies to watch. As for all the Bay haters out there, get off your high horse and just tweet or write to him on fan forums. I know Bay is listening! With every iteration of his movies, he is trying to rectify what went wrong with the last one (and this includes incorporating the best of the G1 cartoon..hey we do have Frank Welker back as Galvatron now right ;). Its an organic process and it is constantly evolving. Who knows the best might yet to come...stay tuned!