5 Moments in Michael Bay’s ‘Transformers’ Movies That Aren’t Completely Terrible
Has any franchise ever been more successful and less beloved than Transformers? Even before this week’s release of Transformers: The Last Knight, the series had made almost $3.8 billion worldwide, despite an average Rotten Tomatoes score of 32 and three straight sequels that run the gamut from “kind of crummy” to “possibly the actual worst mega-budget blockbuster ever made.”
But my mother had a saying. “If you don’t have something nice to say about the Transformers, then go to your room, because the Transformers freaking rule.” (My mom’s kind of weird.) As a dutiful and loving son, I gave myself a challenge: Could I put together a list of truly good moments from these movies?
Readers, it was not easy. But I did it. Here are five legitimately not-awful things from the Transformers series. Were they good enough to merit $3.8 billion in worldwide grosses? I would answer that question, but I think my mom is reading this right now, so let’s just start the list.
1. First Live-Action(ish) Transformation
In the old Transformers cartoon, the Autobots and Decepticons transformed from cars to trucks or planes or boomboxes in a handful of frames and an unmistakable sound effect. Little attention was given to the logistics of such a transformation, much less the physics. Now that the series is five films on and the transformations are almost routine, it’s worth remembering how legitimately impressive that first Transformers looked, and how cool that very first Optimus Prime transformation was. Granted, Optimus’ truck-to-robot reveal was totally impractical. (Imagine having to take this long to transform in the middle of a fight; Megatron would kill you six times before you had functioning legs.) But the absurd attention to detail, carried out in just two long takes that let you soak in every gear and rotor, brought a kid’s imaginary plaything to life.
2. A Decepticon (Home) Invasion
From Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Revenge of the Fallen eventually devolves into nonsense, but the opening sequence is kind of clever. A shard of some alien MacGuffin falls into the Witwicky kitchen, turning everyday household appliances into tiny monsters that proceed to blow the place to smithereens. There’s kind of a pleasant knockoff Gremlins vibe here, in one of the few scenes involving the Witwicky family that isn’t completely unbearable.
3. Well, John Turturro’s Having Fun At Least
From Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
John Turturro has appeared in four of the five Bay Transformers, more than any other human actor. For more than ten years, he’s made a great deal of money allowing himself to look like a fool for Michael Bay’s amusement. Like other very talented actors who show up in Transformers for the paycheck (see: Frances McDormand, Anthony Hopkins), Turturro looks like he’s been given no direction and permitted to do and say whatever he wants. A lot of the things Turturro does in Transformers is straight-up embarrassing. (In the first movie, Bumblebee peed on him.) But once in a while, his fearless, shameless delivery will provide a little relief from the punishing Bayhem. In this scene, for example, Turturro changes his pants (in broad daylight in the middle of a parking lot, as one does) to reveal Sector 7 thong underwear. I laughed.
4. A Transformer Collapses a Building
From Transformers: Dark of the Moon
After Revenge of the Fallen became a massive success despite a massively terrible script (supposedly written in just three weeks because of a looming writer’s strike) it seems like Bay realized it didn’t really matter what the Transformers movies were about as long as they had lots of big crazy action. From that movie on, each film made less sense than the last; Transformers: Dark of the Moon is an absolute disaster on a narrative level, but Bay pulls out all the visual stops in the final act, as the Autobots and Decepticons lay waste to Chicago. In this jaw-dropping set-piece, the heroes are trapped in a skyscraper as a giant transforming worm chews its way through the building. Watching Bay’s Transformers sometimes feels like you’re being slowly chewed up by a giant transforming worm, but there’s always at least a couple of seconds of wanton destruction like this that are jaw-droppingly awesome.
5. An Aerial Chase for the Ages
From Transformers: Age of Extinction
Don’t ask me why they’re fighting, or what the end goal is, or how Chicago looks completely rebuilt after it was destroyed in the last movie (and this movie made a point to say it was still a pile of rubble a few minutes earlier), but the dogfight between the Autobots and the Decepticons was the lone highlight in the abyss of despair that was Transformers: Age of Extinction. Watching a clip from YouTube doesn’t quite do it justice; on the big screen in 3D it really felt like you were hundreds of feet in the air, swooping through a city with the Transformers. Which is all you really want out of a Transformers movie! It’s odd how rarely they capture that feeling.