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I actually kind of appreciate the Transformers movies.
Created by Terry van Feleday
Edited for PDF by Fat Lou
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Before time began, there was the Cube.
Please buy our toys?
Meet the Autobots
This part is short because the next one is long.
I’m bored now, can we start ROTF already?
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
1: Hoo Boy.
2: What the fuck, Revenge? Part deux
3: Meet the Autobots, Part 2
4: I can’t even summarize this nonsense.
5: Well, there’s no avoiding it.
6: The [MOUNTAIN DEW] conspiracy
7: Beware the Reedman.
8: Well hello there, old friend.
9: What movie am I even watching at this point?
10: ...This is our villain?
11: BEHOLD THE GLORY OF JETFIRE!
12: Devastator, hero of the working class!
13: I’m bored now, can we start DOTM alr—oh god what is happening aaaaah
INTERMISSION – Duel (1971)
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
Part 1: “Strap in, kids. It's going to get fucking weird...”
Part 2: “It is impossible to strive for the heroic life. The title of hero is bestowed by the survivors upon the fallen, who
themselves know nothing of heroism.“
Part 3: “God is on your side? Is He a Conservative? The Devil's on my side, he's a good Communist.”
Part 4: “Being a kid and growing up. It's hard and nobody understands.”
Part 5: “Heroism by order, senseless violence, and all the pestilent nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism — how I hate
Part 6: “Nothing beside remains, 'round the remains of that colossal wreck...”
Part 7: “We want everybody to act like adults, quit playing games, realize that it's not just my way or the highway.”
Part 8: “Orbiting Earth in the spaceship, I saw how beautiful our planet is. People, let us preserve and increase this beauty,
not destroy it!”
Part 9: “The miracle is this: The more we share, the more we have.”
Part 10: “America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we
Part 11: “The needs of the many... Outweigh the needs of the few.”
Part 12: “Welcome to the desert of the real. ”
Part 14: “Every frame is so dense, it has SO MUCH going on!“
Part 15: *incomprehensible Cybertronian chittering*
Fin: “Was it all worth it?”
Why are all these robots so damn ugly?
Conclusions, or really just ramblings
I hate franchises.
The Transformers franchise is a bit of an odd one. Originally a Japanese toy line that Hasbro bought the rights for in 1984 and
randomly decided to run a comic- and TV-series for, Transformers became a notable part of popular culture and names like
“Optimus Prime” widely known, grew and spawned multiple other cartoons, comic books and a very silly movie, and then,
somewhere around 2000, kind of… died.
Gee, I wonder why.
I mean, it wasn’t dead, really. They kept making new series and toy lines, and the 2004-2005 Energon and Cybertron toy lines
are some of my personal favorites, but it just didn’t have the same kind of impact on pop culture, and here in Europe it really
did virtually disappear completely (Hasbro still only sells a fraction of the toys they release elsewhere here). Loss of public
word meant loss of revenue, and they needed to come up with something new to make the franchise known again.
A giant high-budget CGI Hollywood blockbuster murderfest directed by notorious frat boy Michael Bay might just do it.
And so, Transformers (2007) was made. And then a sequel, and another. And they accomplished what Hasbro wanted… If
perhaps not the way they wanted it. The word Transformers is once again part of the public dictionary; When someone says
that a movie reminds them of Transformers, you know exactly what they mean: Very unkind things.
All three Transformers titles were massively critically panned. Revenge of the Fallen (2009) sits at 20% on the
tomatometer, legendarily low for a Hollywood action spectacle of its scale. It’s a pretty well defined kind of bad
too: Transformers has become synonymous with “Bland, shallow populist parade of explosions with no thought put into it that
falls apart at the slightest hint of critical reasoning, also: Racism, misogyny.”
But here’s the thing.
I’m not so convinced that’s what these movies actually are.
I originally watched Transformers (2007) to get a bit more of an idea of it as a cultural phenomenon – because good or
not, Transformers is an important movie – when I noticed some strange details popping up. Off-handed remarks, tiny
inconsistencies and the occasional bit of strange imagery seemed to imply there was more going on; It was simply too
consistent to merely be bad filmmaking. But for the life of me, I could not actually figure out what the movie was actually
trying to say.
So I watched the sequels.
And suddenly, everything fell into place.
Turns out, perhaps they have more interesting things to say than we initially figured.
I tried to sum up my reading in the format of a regular essay, but I found it impossible to do so. There is a lot going on in
these movies, and a simple essay would miss out on the unusual way they piece-feed you information. So instead, I thought
I’d try to do what Kyle Hyde recently did for the much better received American Psycho (2000) and do a bit of a running
commentary on the entire trilogy.
Wish me luck.
Oh, and correct me if I get something wrong or miss something, since I know enough about film criticism to know that I know
nothing about film criticism. Do note however that I will not be considering prior canon or expanded universe stuff at all, only
the films themselves – toy bios and such have a habit of completely contradicting what’s on the screen, so I prefer to ignore
Part 1: Before time began, there was the Cube.
The first thing you need to know about Transformers is that it hates you.
No matter how much you hate it, it will always hate you more. And as such, it has no interest in your enjoyment, or your
understanding, or how you feel about the movie at all. Where other movies will try to begin by involving the viewer
emotionally, Transformers starts by... Laying ground rules, I guess?
We open to some narration by real-life sentient truck Peter Cullen about our grand Macguffin: The Allspark, some kind of
fractal cuboid structure with the ability to create life. He also tells us about the great war that’s currently going on between the
good Autobots and the bad Decepticons who want to use the life-giving artifact for evil (?). It’s all very cliff notes, but those
who actually paid attention during the sequels (the two or three of you) will notice that our narrator outright lies to us at one
point. But we’ll get to that. In short, life cube is on earth, bad guys were there first, trouble is afoot.
Oh god, two hours of you.
Our viewpoint then shifts into a video game cutscene.
I mean, here’s another thing you need to know about the first and second Transformers: It’s a video game. It’s shot like a
video game, it operates on video game logic and now it starts in a helicopter from which our American grizzled stubbly
middle-aged brown-haired white protagonist (second from the left), his black sidekick, the nerd and the comic relief foreign
guy are going to drop into the tutorial level. The only one missing is the Smurfette, really. Surprisingly, the helicopter is
actually kind enough to not explode until after they have arrived at their destination. They talk about stuff and just like in a
video game intro it’s all terrible filler. A few weird establishing shots, and then the actual movie starts for real.
Not pictured: A whole bunch of strange military jargon.
An unidentified “infiltrator” casually strolls into the base’s airspace, and the editing begins to make harsh cuts between the
dimly lit, crowded human base and the bleak expanse of the desert with the single strange helicopter sitting right in the
centre. After the pretty rote filler in the beginning, this harsh intercutting of contrasting images suddenly creates a very
Spoilers, but the “bogey” is our first on-screen Transformer, named simply Blackout. The way he’s shot here is very
interesting: Surrounded by flat desert, just being this small thing in the dead centre of the screen with no real points of
reference, he looks tiny, almost more like the toy he represents rather than the giant piece of military equipment he “is” in the
movie’s continuity, and it further makes him look really... Alone. It’s an enormous contrast to the military scenes, which are
crowded and dense, with people constantly fussing about and doing stuff in the background which creates a real impression of
an ant hive. One of the interesting things about the military in this movie is that military personnel is never portrayed as
individuals – there’s almost always an enormous busy hive of human-shaped insects busily trying to adjust to the changing
situation. Right now, multiple jets are leaving the base to confront the bogey, and the movie goes out of its way never to show
only one of them in a given frame for more than a second.
Blackout crunch little human constructs.
It further goes out of its way to remove any human element from the scene – the “leading voice” of the humans is monotone
and spouts unintelligible military gibberish; Seems less like a person and more like a “voice of the swarm”. Even when one of
his lackey mentions having lost a friend in battle it sounds sterile and inhuman. Both individual scenes – the hive and the loner
in the desert in his foreboding silence – are fundamentally built to alienate the audience, they both represent an Other in their
own way. Humans are involved, but the movie doesn’t expect us to take their side or even care for them, and attempting to do
so is one of the biggest mistakes you can do when watching this movie, and one of the big reasons why many consider it
dissatisfying. It’s not the alien Transformers vs. Our human military; it’s the Transformers vs. The Zerg. Sometimes the way
these movies are shot reminds me more of a nature documentary, impartially showing us the things happening somewhere,
quietly observing a hunter tear into its prey.
Oh wait, there’s someone it expects us to care about, our video game protagonist Captain Lennox (Josh Duhamel). He has a
baby you see. And that’s pretty much the totality of his character.
One other nice bit of cinema is that Blackout’s approach to the base is accompanied by the sun going down, and his arrival
coincides with nightfall. I mentioned the word “Other” before and I’ll do so a whole bunch during these reviews, because our
fear of the foreign plays a pretty huge part in these movies. Here, the arrival of the alien creature plays on our fear of the
dark: Remember that it is not the darkness itself we’re afraid of, but the unspeakable creatures that might lurk within. This bit
of aliens arriving from the darkness (of space, night, shadows etc...) will be a big theme in this movie (less so in the later
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