It was only a matter of time before anyone got their hands on Transformers and turned it into a feature-length movie. This entire franchise hasn’t been kind to those with brains and just wanted a fantastic summer blockbuster to sit back and shove popcorn down our throats. It’s hard to recall the last time I watched the very first movie Michael Bay-directed, and it was time to see if this is more than meets the eye.
What’s the Story: The fate of humanity is at stake when two races of robots, the good Autobots and the villainous Decepticons, bring their war to Earth. The robots have the ability to change into different mechanical objects as they seek the key to ultimate power. Only a human youth, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) can save the world from total destruction.
A live-action feature based on the popular property has got to happen at some point. I never played with the toy line from Hasbro or watched the classic ‘80s animated TV series, along with the 1986 movie which kids from that decade love. With that, I never had an attachment to this, even though robots who can turn into vehicles sounds awesome from the title itself. The summer of 2007 was going to bring back this series in a brand new way with director Michael Bay attached to the big-budget project and Steven Spielberg’s name on it as an executive producer to breathe new life to audiences who have experienced nothing like this before, besides being an overly long toy or car commercial. The acknowledgment of this coming out was there, but I wasn’t anticipating it like everyone else. That wasn’t until they scheduled the final trailer to play in front of the terrible Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End that pushed my excitement up high.
I didn’t get to see it on its opening weekend since my family and I were on a cruise when it first came out, and so I finally caught it a couple of weeks later to see what I was missing. While I didn’t fall in love with it the first time as a recent 11-year-old, my initial thoughts on this introduction to the long-suffering franchise were that it’s the kind of summer movie that requires you to turn your brain off without thinking it as remarkable. All that said, the first Transformers installment is the best out of the entire Bay franchise, though that really isn’t saying a lot. Watching it again in full for the first time at home in ages has totally changed since I don’t feel like it’s a good movie when it definitely should’ve had the touch and the power.
It has been 13 years since it came out, and though this has turned out to be my least favorite in all of Hollywood, there are a few things to consider that I liked about the first movie. For starters, I got to give it to the visual effects designers from Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) for a realistic enough look at the robots and when they transform multiple times. The CGI might not hold up now, but back in 2007, this was something we haven’t seen before with this much detail. They looked absolutely cool. And the sound design of it all was incredible to the point it didn’t give me a mass inducing headache. The voice talents should also get some kind of recognition, including hearing Peter Cullen provide the voice of Optimus Prime again and Hugo Weaving as Megatron, the leader of the Decepticons.
Michael Bay’s name still kind of meant something, but he was never the right guy to take on this franchise right from the beginning. Sure, he knows how to work on an almost $200 million budget if he grew up playing with the toys, but does that mean he’s capable of doing it right? No. From what I read, nobody thought he was a good fit, even enough to have a petition to kick him off. His overall style was all over the place to where it felt like I was watching an extended commercial or something. Even back then, you can already tell it’s a movie he directed- the military, stupid slow-motion, sunset shots, dumb product placement, and low-angle shots that are pointless. Screenwriters Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman, who previously penned Bay’s last flick The Island, actually had some resemblance of a plot than what we’ve got in the sequel. But it takes a while to get everything moving after an hour. A story like this sounds interesting enough when it has these good, giant robots from outer space protecting the lives of those on Earth while taking down evil robots who want to eradicate the world for themselves, while also having a story about a boy and his new car, a yellow Camaro. Here, we have an unlikely hero who finds himself in the middle of this war between the robot races. The relationship between Sam and Bumblebee is the driving force of it all, yet I didn’t feel that much of a connection with this first movie.
The action sequences are bloated and over-the-top as per usual, but not all of them impressed me. How shocking. Sometimes it was decent during some moments and distracting in others when Bay doesn’t know how to hold the camera still since I had a hard time figuring out who’s transforming and what’s exploding in the background. This was also the first time I noticed he loves blowing stuff up to an enormous degree. The best example was the fight at night between Bumblebee and Barricade that took me out since I had no idea what’s happening. It was a little better during the final battle in Downtown Los Angeles.
As for the performances themselves, it hinders being somewhat of a mixed-to-negative response from me. Shia LaBeouf was in his third movie in 2007 following Disturbia and lending his voice in the underrated Surf’s Up, and his role as Sam Witwicky just seems like his character was very nervous all the time. I’ve always been hard on him when he’s in big-budget movies like this. In terms of the first Transformers, this did help him become a big name at the time. As the lead, he was fine and did a good job of pretending to talk to CGI robots, but there was never anything special about this performance in three movies he was in.
Megan Fox as Sam’s love interest Mikaela marks her first big role in a movie, but I never thought she was a talented actress, to begin with quite honestly. That’s mainly because she isn’t given much to work, showing Fox’s performance very weak. Maybe we were to assume she was cast by Bay because she looks pretty. She does, to be honest. The chemistry she had with LaBeouf was about five out of ten. Out of everybody, Josh Duhamel wasn’t too bad as Captain William Lennox, the leader of the team in Qatar. But what was the point of having people like Tyrese Gibson, Anthony Anderson, Rachael Taylor, John Turturro and Jon Voight (who was nominated for a Worst Supporting Actor Razzie) to be in this when you don’t necessarily care about them?
But if you’ve been a fan of Transformers right as this movie came out in theaters, it’s going to be no surprise you’re going to respond harshly, and for good reason when you’re already skeptical. There’s so much focus on the human characters that it doesn’t show off the robots early on, almost becoming second-rate characters in their own movie. Nobody walks into these movies wanting to see what the humans are doing. Just from looking at this again, it’s surprising to learn the Autobots themselves aren’t in this as much when all of them appear on screen around the 70-minute mark. The movie is called Transformers, but there’s little time to have all of them fighting. This is 2 1/2 hours for some reason, and probably why is because of the subplots we don’t care about whenever it cuts back to them. Whether it’s the things with the government, the Sector 7 stuff, or Sam being horny for Mikaela, it doesn’t matter. This should’ve just been only two hours. All I wanted to see was Optimus Prime and his team on this exciting adventure with Megatron fighting in-between. But besides Optimus and Bumblebee we should care about the most, we all forgot about Starscream, Jazz, and Ratchet for a large portion.
And the attempts at humor throughout this… yikes! I can’t remember if I laughed a lot the first few times I caught this, but this made me understand why the latter installments have always had awful moments of trying to be funny and why Bay is terrible when providing comedy, especially when it’s aimed towards the PG-13 crowd. The worst example here is this long period where Sam’s trying to find his great-grandfather’s glasses and the Autobots hiding in his backyard trying not to get caught. Never bothered me before, but they make this kind of humor for idiots. Manners only made it worse when it involves LaBeouf’s annoying parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White) because that’s the kind of comic relief we needed. At least they didn’t want to make you jump out of the window, like in Revenge of the Fallen.
The one thing I’ve always liked about every single movie in this franchise that has never been that much of an issue is the score by Steve Jablonsky— the one thing about this franchise that hasn’t let me down. He has composed the musical score for each one of them, and it always sounds incredible. Some of his pieces sound a bit familiar to Hans Zimmer, who was his mentor, but it’s an element worth listening to, especially the track titled “Arrival to Earth” when the Autobots first arrived on earth. The chills it gives off. And the soundtrack itself is also something positive to say about it since it not only features “Doomsday Clock” by The Smashing Pumpkins but Linkin Park’s “What I’ve Done,” one of my all-time favorite songs from the band and would provide the end credit tracks for the next two films. We didn’t get an updated take on the theme song, but it would’ve been cooler if we did.
Despite its mixed reception from critics and fans alike, holding a 58% on Rotten Tomatoes, this still became a huge success at the box office, making it the third highest-grossing movie of the year with $319 million domestically and a worldwide gross of $709.7 million. And this is one of the few Bay movies where its three Oscar nominations (Visual Effects, Sound Editing, Sound Mixing) were earned. This lost Best Visual Effects to The Golden Compass, which is dumb because this had better CGI, in my opinion (the only time a movie Bay made should’ve won an Oscar). But do I believe there was some bias when it won Best Movie at the 2008 MTV Movie Awards? Yes. In no way was this better than three better movies nominated out of the six. The franchise continued on with four terrible sequels following afterward, showcasing Bay was ruining childhoods.
In the end, Transformers is entertaining for those who want to be blown away by a sci-fi movie with tons of its visual effects and action. Even though it’s only one at the time I can tolerate, everything else gets bogged down in terms of uninteresting characters, unless storylines, and disappointing longtime fans who wanted this live-action adaptation to be loads of fun. While I don’t like this franchise or Michael Bay as a person or director, at least this first entry was the best he can do for an action movie and didn’t completely screw everything up yet.
Previous Transformers Reviews: