The Transformers movies are at something of an impasse. While the latest entry, The Last Knight, garnered the same brutal reviews that all the other sequels have, this one was met with an unexpected twist – weak box office results. Indeed, depending on the international box office, the franchise’s future is in genuine peril for the first time since Michael Bay first adapted the robots in disguise in 2007.
This can obviously be traced to a certain level of fatigue with the franchise; five films in ten years is a lot (Pirates of the Caribbean is suffering a similar fate). But it can also be traced directly to what all those critics have been saying all these years – these are not good movies.
It really doesn’t have to be like this. The Transformers franchise has a thirty year well of stories from comics and animation to pull from, and there is genuinely great stuff in there, like the ’90s cartoon Beast Wars and the current IDW comics.
The producers just need to figure out what has made the Transformers so appealing for over three decades and make some hard choices about the future of the films.
These are the 15 Ways To Fix The Transformers Movies.
15. Say Goodbye To Michael Bay
The most obvious problem with the current state of the Transformers movies is that they have become a brash, bombastic manifestation of Michael Bay’s unbridled id. There’s no denying the polarizing director is blessed with a singular visual – there’s perhaps no one who makes mass destruction and excess look more appealing than the man behind cult classics like The Rock and Bad Boys.
But Bay’s worst habits have slowly overwhelmed the Transformers movies. The first Transformers film was not perfect, but it told a story. The sequels have devolved into a haphazard collection of gigantic set pieces and explosions that don’t have anything to say about the characters or their world. At this point, it would be best for both Bay and the studio to part ways.
14. Do A Hard Reboot
Virtually everyone cringes at the idea of a reboot these days. It can be perceived as a cynical move for a desperate franchise that has run out of fresh ideas.
That’s actually not really the reason the Transformers films should reboot. Indeed, the five existing movies barely had any coherent ideas to start with. They have, however, slaughtered the overwhelming majority of iconic characters in the series (often in completely undignified ways), leaving the robot cast of Optimus, Bumblebee, Megatron, and a bunch of thinly drawn D-listers.
The movies have also built up a world where the mythology is so murky and contradictory that it really would just be better to start from scratch with a clearer creative vision. If Transformers is going to rebound, it needs to be free of the baggage of the Bay movies.
13. Set them in the 1980s
If the Transformers series is going to reboot itself, it needs an angle to differentiate itself from the Bay movies both tonally and aesthetically. One of the easiest ways to do that would be to go back to the franchise’s roots.
There have been great Transformers stories told in many different time periods, from prehistoric times to sci-fi flavored futures. And yet the most enduring iteration of the franchise is the original, iconic Generation 1, which owes more than a little of its style and heart to its genesis in the 1980s. One of Generation 1’s strengths was its lack of moral ambiguity; the Autobots were virtuous to a fault, with Optimus Prime coming off more like Superman than the bizarre, violent lunatic of the Bay movies.
The recent X-Men movies have shown big genre franchises can make great use of the trappings of a period piece – imagine Jazz blasting ’80s hair metal classics as he ferries around a mulleted Spike Witwicky and try not to smile.
12. Embrace The Classic Character Designs
With the possible exceptions of Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, it would be difficult to pick a Bay movie Transformer out of a lineup. Colorless, faceless, overly complicated designs have been the trademark of the Bay directed Transformers movies. The designs are so poorly considered it’s often difficult to tell what in the world is happening in the myriad robot battle scenes, which often seem like big metallic dust clouds.
Despite Bay’s reluctance to embrace them, the original Generation 1 designs are much sleeker and iconic. They look like mechanical superheroes, rather than gruesome alien behemoths. The designs have also shown they can be tweaked and adapted for the modern media world in countless comics and television shows. Added color and clarity is something the Transformers movies are in desperate need of.
11. Less Focus On Human Characters
There’s a decent chance that if you think about your dozen or so least favorite moments in the Transformers movies, they don’t even revolve around a robot in disguise (Skids and Mudflap excepted). The vast majority of dumb, endless diversions in the Bay movies revolve around the human characters, who somehow come off more cartoonish and manic than the giant CGI robots.
That the Transformers have somehow ended up as background characters in their own movies is baffling. There’s plenty of precedent for live-action movies where the main characters are motion capture or CGI creations. We’ve long moved past the era where there are technical limitations that require us to spend two hours with Sam Witwicky. Let the actual Autobots and Decepticons propel their own movies.
10. Get Off Earth
Transformers is traditionally an epic story about warring alien robot factions who battle across the universe in a quest for resources to gain control of their home plant, Cybertron. Earth is, essentially, a pit stop in a much wider conflict.
The movies should embrace the idea that the fight between the Autobots and Decepticons is a galaxy-spanning conflict that’s been waged for millions of years. Exploring non-Earth stories would be a great way to open up the movies to new genres and different kinds of stories.
IDW’s recent Transformers comics have shown how this can be done to great success: The Last Stand of the Wreckers tells a harrowing, horror tinged tale of an Autobot penal colony overrun by Overlord, a particularly nightmarish Decepticon, and the critically hailed Transformers: Lost Light tells a sprawling story of a group of second string Autobots searching for purpose in the universe after the Autobot/Decepticon war ends.
9. Make Starscream A Major Player
One of the most egregious crimes committed by the Michael Bay Transformers movies is their treatment of Starscream.
Starscream is one of the greatest backstabbing cockroaches in all of fiction, but the films reduced him to another personality-free, monstrous lackey. He was so underdeveloped that no one particularly cared when he died an embarrassingly pointless death at the hands of Sam Witwicky in Dark of the Moon.
Starscream deserves so much better. Not unlike Littlefinger in Game of Thrones, Starscream is a self-obsessed survivor who’s always looking for the best angle to ensure his rise to power. He’s traditionally a much more interesting villain than Megatron, because he’s a scheming coward who always manages to slither his way out of his leader’s wrath or his fellow Decepticons’ disgust. He’s a wild card, and the movies would be smart to more fully embrace him.
8. Move Away From Disaster Movie Tropes
Transformers should not be Independence Day. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the movies showcasing third act destruction; that’s essentially a forgone conclusion in the era of $200 million blockbuster filmmaking. The problem is that is all the Transformers movies have become about. They fetishize violent chaos to the detriment of all other aspects of the film.
How many times have the movies come to a complete stop to showcase Sam Witwicky or Cade Yeager gawking at some building collapsing or exploding in slow motion, or soldiers valiantly attempting to save civilians from the rubble of skyscrapers?
7. Tell Stories That Make Basic Narrative Sense
It is nearly impossible to sum up one of the Transformers sequels in a couple sentences or less. They have somehow mastered the dark art of throwing in so many incomprehensible plot points that it often seems like nothing is happening at all. They’re a mish-mash of lazy writing that lack even the most basic storytelling structure.
This is inexcusable for a franchise that has a rich, 33 year history of stories to pull from. The Bay movies have pulled from those stories in the past, but with incredibly poor results, often missing the basic points of the stories. A new creative team would be smart to streamline the storytelling, rather than throwing dozens of ideas against the wall, hoping one of them sticks.
6. Make The Autobots Less Sadistic
The general idea of the Transformers mythos is that the Autobots are the good guys. That might seem like an obvious sentiment, but it’s one the Bay movies have lost sight of on more than one occasion.
In the third film, Dark of the Moon, Optimus Prime and the Autobots fake their own deaths in the face of the growing sentiment among humanity that they’re no better than the Decepticons. This results in the Decepticons overrunning Chicago and causing countless human deaths. The Autobots return just in time to stop planetary destruction, but it was a cold, morally indefensible lesson Optimus was doling out to the planet he claims to love so much.
Bay’s Autobots tend to be surly, violent jerks in general. The movies need to embrace the idea of the Autobots as reluctant warriors who are, at heart, explorers and scientists that wish to understand their new world, not just spit at it.
5. Move Away From Toilet Humor
There’s nothing wrong with levity in Transformers stories. The franchise luminary Beast Wars was always happy to indulge in Looney Tunes-style slapstick hijinks, and IDW’s Lost Light has honed its droll, extremely British sense of humor into a finely tuned weapon.
The problem is the Transformers movies have for too long been defined by Bay’ssense of humor. Bay freely admits he makes these movies for teenage boys, but it’s a little alarming that he seemingly shares their idea of what’s funny. Jokes about masturbation and bodily functions reign supreme, and sometimes end up devolving into endless digressions that sidetrack whatever momentum the movie may have built up.
4. Ditch The “No Voice” Gimmick For Bumblebee
The first Transformers movie’s gimmick of Bumblebee being a mute who could only communicate with pop culture recordings was novel and served a specific narrative purpose: it was a neat spin on the idea of humans trying to communicate with aliens, and the idea that the Autobots understood the importance of our pop culture was amusing. It also led to that movie’s emotional climax, when Bumblebee regained his voice and expressed his desire to remain with Sam.
But the gimmick became tired by the second film, Revenge of the Fallen, when Bumblebee’s voice was gone again with no real explanation, and it ended up rendering Bumblebee something more akin to a pet than a fully fleshed-out character. Remaking him as the plucky young Autobot scout would go a long way toward making him relatable again.
3. Make Megatron A More Nuanced Character
Megatron is a big fat nothing in the Bay Transformers movies. He’s a personality free bad guy who exists to set in motion whatever pyrotechnic mayhem Bay wants to pull of in that particular film. Hugo Weaving was so ambivalent about the role he infamously said he’d never seen the movies or even met Bay. Megatron has become the worst kind of pointless movie monster.
It doesn’t have to be this way. There are plenty of nuanced, interesting versions of Megatron. The Beast Wars version is a charismatic rogue fueled by his rage at being essentially a second class citizen because of his heritage. IDW is currently telling perhaps the definitive Megatron story – in a post-war Cybertron where the Decepticons lost, Megatron is left to ponder how he went from a well-intentioned revolutionary to one of history’s greatest war criminals.
2. Untangle The Transformers From Human History
As the Bay movies have progressed, one of the ways they’ve attempted to keep the conflict between the Autobots and Decepticons on Earth fresh is to tie their war into human history. This resulted in the ridiculous notion of the Egyptian pyramids being world destroying weapons in Revenge of the Fallen. The Last Knight was far sillier, suggesting that the Transformers actively took part in relatively modern human history.
This is the worst sort of retconning (the practice of retroactively adding elements to an ongoing story). It’s lazy and unnecessary. The story of the Transformers is really not that dependent on Earth, and these tactics just seem like poor excuses to explain why the Autobots and Decepticons never seem to leave. The history of the Cybertronian war is rich and interesting enough to stand on its own without some hackneyed tacked on mythology.
1. Make Optimus Prime A Hero Again
How did we get to this point? Optimus Prime (traditionally akin to some sort of combination of Superman, Captain America, and a very sensible truck) has been portrayed by Michael Bay’s films as a cold, murderous jerk. In his moments of clarity he’s devised elaborate schemes that resulted in untold human deaths to make a point; in his more volatile moments, he seems to have an unchecked bloodlust that feels more like Megatron than the leader of the Autobots.
Optimus Prime is supposed to be a virtuous superhero. He’s a wise father figure to the other Autobots, a tactically brilliant general, and a student of Earth and its culture. He’s an unqualified bright spot in a long, dark war, and his descent into violent mania in Bay’s movies is arguably their weakest aspect.
To make the Transformers work again, the franchise has to fix its heart, and that’s Optimus Prime.
Do you think a reboot will fix the Transformers movies? Let us know in the comments!
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