The Ten Things That Might Make a Better Transformers Movie.
In our darkest hour Marcus opens the matrix of leadership. 'Til all are one!
*SPOILER WARNING - For those who have not seen Dark of the Moon yet, there are a few spoilers dotted about this article. You have been warned.
In 2007 the first Transformers movie arrived on our screens. The effects were stunning and it was huge. Despite not being universally accepted by the Generation 1 fans or indeed the movie going public, for me, a long time Transformers fan, it worked way better than I thought it was going to and the future of the franchise seemed bright.
With the sequel arriving in 2009, Revenge of the Fallen looked like it would take what was established in the first movie and make it even bigger. More robots, more action bigger explosions; Michael Bay teased us with the first and now he could own us with the sequel. He didn’t. In fact Transformers 2 was one of the most bloated, boring summer blockbusters of 2009, but two years later we were ready for more. We were ready for Paramount to make it up to us and despite the crazy premise of what actually happened with the 1969 moon landing feeling like it undermined the story of the first movie, Transformers: Dark of the Moon came with the promise to make up for Revenge of the Fallen. Well it didn’t. In many ways it was worse and despite the fact it will no doubt make millions at the box office as the previous movies did, it’s time to sit down and work out just how this franchise can give us what we want...
From the first early leaked images of the 2007 Transformers designs, I didn’t like them. The new Transformers are spindly, awkward looking and for the want of a better description, have too many ‘bits’. Talking as a long time Transformers fan I can tell you that one of the biggest draws to these characters and indeed their toy line is knowing that the robots can turn into the vehicles and you know where the parts go. These big screen Transformers have too many moving parts. Too many of those parts look like they are hanging off or are open for attack and most of them look like they'd rattle when they walked. Look how easy these giants break, how thin bits of their limbs seem easy to bust and honestly, those faces. You can barely make out features at the best of times and as for Optimus Prime’s lips and his metal strip eyelids? It’s too complicated, too bitty and most of the time the robots in disguise looks like they might be disguised as scrap piles, especially Megatron.
Now look back at Generation 1’s robots. These guys look like they can tussle. When they transform they don’t need to have a million moving parts and they don’t look breakable. They look heavy, strong and complete. Why these designs weren’t followed more closely is a mystery. I’m not even saying they need to be the same types of vehicles (mainly because the licensing for using the vehicle designs are an issue) because Bumblebee proved the modern spin from Beetle to Camero can work, but the robot designs need to have that Generation 1 chunkiness to them in my book.
In the first Transformers movie the military element worked. First contact with alien life and the army has to turn up at some stage right? But in the sequels it’s this element that bloats out the plots to the point of boredom. For one, their treatment of the Autobots is a joke (more on that later), but why the hell do we need these guys when we have giant good robots vs. giant bad robots. All the fighting we need is between those guys and for nearly thirty years it’s never been a problem.
In these live action movies the constant back and forth with the military is so half assed. Thanks to Michael Bay we’re shown new weapons, new military vehicles and bigger and better tactics to demonstrate how the military could beat the robots. Yet they never do. Sure they take out one or two but the big fight always comes down to Autobot vs. Decepticon and really all the army is really there for in these movies is to provide a handful of bloody big explosions for Michael Bay’s own entertainment. The fact that Dark of the Moon focused so heavily on the human army getting into Chicago and attempting to take out Decepticons on their own while the Autobots were reduced to limited screentime or more disappointingly having Optimus wrapped up in crane wires while dangling out of the action was a joke. You have giant robots to play with, let the story be about them not about how humans are dealing with an alien invasion... again.
This is one of my biggest gripes with the Transformers live action movies. For the first half of the first movie you can get away with having Bumblebee playing along to stay in disguise but in the sequels it's a joke. There’s a scene in Revenge of the Fallen where the army are talking about the plot (which they do all the bloody time) and the Autobots are just sitting in the corner in vehicle mode. The creators of these films seem to forget these are characters. The vehicle modes are disguises. Why are they not involved in scenes. I know, the budget dictates it’s easier to shoot a car than a CGI robot but this just feels stupid. Also at the end of Revenge of the Fallen we’ve got Bumblebee and the twins who shall not named following Sam around Egypt. Surely the plots for these movies should be about the Autobots? Transformers following people around seems nuts. They are not the human’s pets, they are characters. To sum this one up, think about the end of the first movie. Sam knows Bumblebee is a robot in disguise. He’s become his best friend in a manner of speaking. So explain how it’s okay for Sam to cop off with Mikaela on Bumblebee’s hood at this stage of the movie? It’s like getting off with a girlfriend while lying on a best friend’s chest... and the less said about the other Autobots looking on from a circle surrounding the kissing couple the better. Treat the Transformers like characters not ‘things’, they might not be so faceless then. Which brings us on to...
This is mainly concerning the Decepticons but the Autobots suffer a similar fate on the big screen. Why, in a world of great Transformers characters does Michael Bay decide to throw in legions of Decepticons who have no character? In Revenge of the Fallen we have loads of Decepticons running about in the desert battle but they are faceless. The plain and similar designs don’t help but one of the great things about Transformers over the years is you know everyone. Surely reducing the Decepticons in number and giving us names, characters and getting us used to them works better than just throwing cannon fodder at battles. The first film had it closer to being right with a small group of both Autobots and Decepticons that we got names for, but the sequels are a joke. We get Soundwave and Shockwave (just about) but beyond Megatron and Starscream it’s so loose. You could simply fill out the numbers with more Starscream style designs in different colours like back in Generation 1 days. Get us some Skywarps and Thundercrackers and give the numbers some character. Who cares if they’re the same designs, different colours go a long way. Look at the Clone Troopers in Star Wars. All the same but we know names, action figures sell in their droves and we have a connection with them. Faceless ‘bots is boring. Give us real Decepticons.
Oh and while we'll on the subject, Autobots who are just ‘silver car with old Generation 1 name’ doesn’t cut it. There’s no character here. This isn’t doing anything for fans and is another element that makes these movies so boring. Let us meet Sideswipe outside of a couple of cool shots and when he does stuff and we’ll actually care.
The best example of this is by highlighting one of the best parts of the first Transformers film. When Megatron wakes up and drops his “You’ve failed me again Starscream” to his minions was by far one of the best bits in the entire movie. This gave us these characters in a way that never got further developed. We have no sense of any of either the Autobots or the Decepticons relationships outside of the odd nostalgic glimmer that only fans will pick up on. These CGI creations aren’t characters, they’re images and while that sells toys it doesn’t build a connection and it makes these versions of the Transformers disposable.
While we’re on characters, why not feature the group of Autobots everyone’s wanted to see since the start: the Dinobots. These guys take robots in disguise to the extreme but for whatever reason these robots that turn into dinosaurs have always been popular and seeing them on screen would be an absolute blast. Who doesn’t want to see Grimlock kicking Decepticon ass? Who doesn’t want to see a bunch of robot dinosaurs making their way into a city and causing a stir? Really this one is something that could be a hard sell but it’s not like there aren’t goofy elements to these movies already...
Okay, okay we get it. Hollywood thinks the premise of a robot transforming into a car is stupid and to counter that the decision was made to make as many other elements as goofy as possible to hide that fact. For me the first movie just about pulled it off. Turturro was batshit crazy but it worked, Sam’s Mum and Dad were nuts but it worked and even though some of the Autobots came off as a bit ‘special’ in the 'trying to stay quiet around Sam’s house' scene it still sort of worked. Then came the sequels. Those Autobot twins were embarrassing and made Wheelie from the old animated movie look tame. These unlikeable bots were replaced in Dark of the Moon with two smaller, equally annoying sidekick bots and with them they brought along a manic John Malchovich, a zany Ken Jeong, a crazier than ever Turturro and beside the amusing prospect that Michael Bay might think he’s making a Coen’s movie none of this stuff is needed and is a massive element of what makes these films so bloated. If we don’t take this world of transforming robots seriously because the filmmakers don’t seem us to want to, then we're off to a bad start.
I’m not crazy enough to think we’ll get a live action movie that wouldn’t have humans playing a main role but when a movie is called Transformers, can it about the Transformers? Instead, we get it being about a problem they’ve caused and how humans are going to sort it out. Surely in a world where people cry when a CGI character dies the audience is ready to have a group of robots that are part of a very well-known franchise take the weight of a plot on their shoulders. Of course within that the human actors will play a part but they can share the limelight surely? The Transformers in these live action movies are only used for show for the most part and when their every move is dictated by the army (which is ridiculous), getting behind these CGI creations as fully rounded characters is difficult.
The three Transformers films are all about Autobots stopping Decepticons taking over Earth right? What happened to Energon cubes? In a world that has genuine concerns about running out of fuel, you’d think this element could be woven into these movies with ease? Stealing energy sources would give the Decepticons something to do, it would genuinely threaten our planet’s resources and in turn it would give the Autobots something to join forces with the humans over. Also the visuals of energy cube collecting used to be awesome in the Generation 1 cartoons so seeing that updated would be great, right? Also the drive to get back to Cybertron would give us an endgame to aim towards. At current standing, the Autobots just go around the world with the army looking for traces of Decepticons and not much else. No wonder Prime can’t win a fight, he’s got nothing to fight for.
I’m all up for an intelligent, well-structured plot that has a point but the two Transformers sequels just don’t have them and this is the biggest killer with these movies. A prime example is The Dark of The Moon. For the first hour we get military folk telling us the plot and then retelling the plot. We get Sam trying to get a job and having problems with his new woman’s boss and in amongst that we get the Transformers doing... well... not all that much. In Revenge of the Fallen we get about three boring plots all at the same time and a terrible version of Jetfire telling us a boring ass backstory that no one cares about three quarters of the way through a bloated story as it is, for what seems like an hour. Let’s face facts, we want Autobots fighting Decepticons and we don’t need two hours of talking to get us there. Yes, we need a good story but the over complication of the stories are insane. The Transformers got here and there are two sides but the Fallen, a Transformer who was here millions of years ago also had a hand in the Decepticons story but so did Sentinel Prime, who took part in one of the longest cons in history, one that the Decepticons never pushed the Autobots towards setting in place but waited until they worked out a conspiracy behind the moon landings... seriously? We have barely got to know the basics of Autobots vs. Decepticons, why do all these other elements have to come into play yet? Give us Prime vs Megatron and then Soundwave and his little helpers doing something and then Starscream and his troops causing a stir. Give us the basics before all this over complicated nonsense comes in.
Okay, so this last one is an idea more than a point. If the previous nine suggestions were taken into account and the next Transformers movie got all the elements right, I’d like to see a two part movie. The first part we meet a well-designed, fleshed out and lovable group of Transformers(Optimus, Bumbleebee, Ironhide, Jazz, Cliffjumper and Brawn off the top of my head—always loved Brawn). They’ve defeated the Decepticons (Megatron, Soundwave, Starscream and a few of his boys) and sent them into hiding and the Autobots have promised to help the humans defend themselves against further threats if the humans help them generate enough Energon to get back home and then an Autobot ship crash lands. In it is Springer, Arcee, Blur, Kup and Hot Rod (and maybe the Dinobots). They are panicked and glad to have found Optimus. It's then we realise what they are running from. In the sky is Unicron and he’s here to devour the Earth... Who could wait for movie two to arrive?
Now this is a simply a quick off the top of my head idea for what could make this franchise as great as it should be and why these Transformers movies need to be about the Transformers and not just what they’ve caused. With the movies so far we’ve had some good ideas, some nice touches and a few glimmers at what has made this franchise stick around for nearly thirty years. The special effects have been some of ILM's best work to date and we all know Michael Bay should be able to make this stuff larger than most other action directors out there but the Transformers deserve more, we shouldn’t be walking out of a two and half hour movie about "giant fucking robots" who transform into vehicles feeling underwhelmed, right?
What do you guys think? What would you do to make a better Transformers movie?
Editorial by Marcus Doidge
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