Before you read any further, here’s my caveat. What awaits you in this article is five minutes of shameless fanboying. I may be the only one in the world, but I love the Transformers franchise, even if each and every installment is utter garbage of the lowest order. Maybe it’s the collection of shiny new cars, maybe it’s the big explosions, but you know what? I like nothing more than a bag of popcorn and the latest Michael Bay robot-mashing blockbuster.
It’s a fairly exclusive club to be in, with people generally placing the Transformers franchise somewhere alongside a steaming pile of horse manure in terms of quality. However, it remains one of the most profitable film franchises to date having made almost $4 billion worldwide. So it can’t all be bad, surely? Let’s have a look at what Transformers got right.
1. The Locations
One of the reasons that the Transformers franchise is so close to my heart is due to spending my 19th birthday in Chicago at the time of Dark of the Moon being filmed. Seeing the Optimus Prime truck as well as Ironhide and Bumblebee and some of the cast — including Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson — wandering round was quite an experience, and seeing the whole thing brought to life on the big screen a year later was really special. Chicago returned as a location in Age of Extinction, but it was not only the Windy City that stunned on screen.
Los Angeles in the original film, Egypt and New York in Revenge of the Fallen, and Hong Kong in Age of Extinction all looked stunning, and formed the perfect backdrops to the epic action throughout. Michael Bay’s international approach to the series ensures that the possibilities are pretty much endless as to where the next two films could go. I for one will be excited.
2. Shia LaBeouf
A little "flamboyant" he may be, but at the time of the first Transformers movie, Shia LaBeouf’s casting was a stroke of genius. Known for his turn in the ever popular Even Stevens, LaBeouf brought the perfect amount of comedy to the role, and was the perfect representation of the dorky individuals that made up most of the franchise’s teen audience.
As the series went on, LaBeouf admittedly became less effective, losing that dorky streak and growing into something resembling an actual action hero, which chipped away some of the heart of the film. Having said that, Age of Extinction definitely lost its anchor without LaBeouf and the Witwicky family, with Mark Wahlberg’s storyline a poor replacement on the whole.
3. Decepticon Vehicles
The Decepticons have always been the cooler side when it comes to hardware, but I’m referring mostly to the first Transformers film when I talk about the Decepticon vehicles. The Autobots were mostly represented by sports cars and SUVs, but the production team chose a much more military stance for the Decepticon vehicles. The result was some very, very cool Transformers. Who can forget the epic battle against the M1 Abrams tank otherwise known as Brawl? Or the massacre at the Airbase involving Blackout, the Sikorsky MH-53 helicopter?
My favorite however, was Starscream (also the winner of coolest name), whose transformation from an F-22 Raptor was one of the most epic and satisfying pieces of cinema that I’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing. It’s just a shame that they made him so pitiful in the preceding films.
4. Agent Simmons
The Transformers franchise has always tried to inject humor where it can, and while some of it has fallen foul of the critics (Skids and Mudflap, anyone), some has well and truly hit the nail on the head. The best example of this is Agent Simmons. Simmons was introduced as a secondary antagonist in the original Transformers, but his overwhelming daftness won over audiences and led to two more appearances in Revenge of the Fallen and Dark of the Moon.
Simmons turning up in a New York meat shop was a fun moment in the Revenge of the Fallen, and it was the second installment in which he really had the chance to shine, turning the weird-o-meter to full. It’s weird, it’s irrelevant, but it works, and Age of Extinction was the worse for him not being around.
Everyone loves Bumblebee. ‘nuff said.
Another personal one here. In the original comic series, Grimlock was always my favorite Transformer, and equally, I loved the Dinobots. So when they finally appeared in Age of Extinction, you can imagine my excitement. And you know what? They were magnificent, absolutely wonderful — particularly Grimlock. Seeing them rampage through the city, trashing Galvatron’s minions as they go was incredible, and a really satisfying end to a slightly disappointing installment.
That was the problem though, they only appeared at the very end of the film. Considering how prominent they were in the marketing leading up to the film’s release, it was a surprise to see them receive so little screen time. If rumors are to be believed though, we may be seeing the Dinobots again in The Last Knight. Here’s hoping.
7. Stanley Tucci
Talking of things we’d like to see return, Stanley Tucci’s turn in Age of Extinction was one of the film’s highlights. Tucci played the character of Joshua Joyce, who sought to build his own Transformers. The character himself was a little confusing and his motives were questionable and ever-changing, but as the film went on, Tucci got funnier and funnier, eventually becoming the comedic heart of the film.
It’s hard to see where the franchise can go now with Tucci’s character, so it is unlikely that we will see him again. However, Michael Bay does have a habit of finding roles for popular characters (why let plotlines get in the way of a funny cameo?), so let’s cross our fingers that Joshua Joyce is one such character.
8. The Score
I love a good movie soundtrack, and the Transformers score is one of my favorites. Steve Jablonsky did a sterling job of composing a score that perfectly combined elements of sci-fi with a really epic battle sound. Combine that with the work of Linkin Park and Imagine Dragons, and you’ve got one of the best modern movie soundtracks outside of the work of John Williams and Hans Zimmer.
You can always tell a good soundtrack when you can pinpoint in your head the exact moment in which a particular piece of music appears. A strong, distinctive sound ensures that the many epic moments are elevated to the next level, and stay long in the mind once the credits have rolled, and that is exactly what the team behind Transformers have created.
9. Peter Cullen
Not a point to linger on, but a final word should be given to Peter Cullen’s involvement as the voice of Optimus Prime. Many have criticized the franchise’s departure from much of the source material, but Paramount stayed true to 30 years of Transformers with the casting of Peter Cullen. Cullen has voiced Optimus Prime in almost every incarnation of the character since the 1980s, and is himself a part of the Transformers mythos.
You have to take your hat off to Paramount for respecting such an important part of Transformers history, something that absolutely will have been enjoyed by the diehards (even if they hated the rest of it).
Transformers: The Last Knight arrives on our screens next year, and while the plot is starting to look a little "weird" to say the least, it will no doubt bring something new to the Transformers series. Whether you love or hate Transformers, there is nothing else quite like a new Transformers blockbuster.