On July 4, 2007 the larger-than-life live-action imagining of the Transformers Toys happened, with Michael Bay at the helm of the robots in disguise. It’s been a long road for Optimus Prime, the ever rotating cast of Autobots, Decepticons, and the humans that have survived along the way, and so in anticipation for the fifth entry in the series, I’m going to take you through all four previous movies to review and recap what’s gone down on Earth and beyond in preparation for the latest entry in the 1o year-old franchise, Transformers: The Last Knight.
Almost ten years ago, the war between Autobots and Decepticons was reignited because of a Cybertron Relic called “The Cube,” or AllSpark. The story kicks off when a Decepticon called Blackout, along with his sidekick drone Scorponok, decimate a Military Base while looking for information on an explorer called Archibald Witwicky, a man who, like his great-great-grandson Sam Witwicky, is key to the plot. Transformers balances jumping back and forth between multiple plots concerning the Autobots and Decepticons and what they mean for Earth – because as far as most of the humans know, this a new-found phenomenon and discovery. On one side, you have Sam and Mikaela finding the good alien robots early on and only briefly interacting with danger with the occasional Decepticon trouble, while another side sees the army fighting for their lives at every turn against Decepticons of all shapes and sizes. Lastly, some likable characters remain on the outer rim of what’s going on in the alien robot war, grounding the threat and showing how far and how fast Decepticons can operate.
The arrival of the Autobots landing from space is a pretty cool moment that gets the plot going, and in hindsight allows the questions to be raised about Bumblebee. He was already on Earth and acting as a scout for the rest of the Autobots, signaling that it was okay once he found what they were looking for. The film’s various plots begin to collide once the whole cast arrives at the Hoover Dam and everyone learns about the history of their house guest, Megatron. Michael Bay throws in unique concepts and ideas into parts of the film, such as Megatron having remained frozen from his initial arrival in 1895 in the Arctic Circle until being moved to beneath the Dam in order to be studied by scientists since the 1930’s and utilized as source and tool for modern technology stemming from him. Inserting both Autobots and Decepticons into our history is a staple of the Transformers Films at this point, and incorporating them in that way has been something that continually builds as time goes on.
The third act of the movie is one of the better finales for a Transformers movie, as it’s basically a stalling game to get the AllSpark to safety and away from the bad guys. The whole thing comes together rather well, with side characters playing their own part in helping the main cast in the city to defeat the wave of Decepticons. The final battle has some blink-and-you’ll-miss-it instances, like Sam running away with the AllSpark and inadvertently causing nearby technology to turn into Transformers (they always come to life evil, for some reason). The movie gives everyone that’s managed to survive a moment that’ll cause you to cheer. Mikaela and Bumblebee (with no legs!) shoot a tank to death, and the army that will eventually become close-knit Autobot allies gets their fair share of Decepticon-killing in. Sam and Optimus get Megatron to a place that gives Sam a chance to deliver the final blow and they win the day. With Megatron dead and Starscream retreating to the stars, the Government disposes of the remaining Decepticons into the Laurentian abyss, and the Autobots remain on Earth, sending out a call for other Autobots that could be in space to come to Earth. Sam and Mikaela finally start their relationship as well, and all is well for the first adventure involving the robots where there’s more than meets the eye. Transformers showed a lot of promise as a movie – the humans (which the movies tend to focus on more often than not) aren’t terrible, and it does a good job of giving the robots time to shine and get involved in the plot. It scratches the surface of what the rest of the franchise will eventually get to, but it’s definitely one of the better entries.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
Transformers: ROTF is a film that has a lot going on it, to say the least. It introduces new concepts to the Transformers Mythos, gives us history lessons on them, and doesn’t quite make sense if you think about it (you can make that argument for all four, but ROTF is really in your face with it). Taking place two years after the last film, we learn that in the early days of humanity, seven Primes were searching Planets with no life for Energon-utilizing machines called Sun Harvesters to absorb…well the orbiting Sun’s or stars around them. One of the Primes broke bad and tried to do it on Earth, so the six other Primes stopped and imprisoned “The Fallen” (as he’ll later be called), hiding the one piece for the Sun Harvester that he’d need (called the Matrix of Leadership) by sacrificing themselves in an unknown place on Earth.
In the present, Optimus, the Autobots (including newbies like Arcee and Jolt), and a new military unit called NEST track down Decepticons all over the world. This time they’ve spotted one in Shanghai, and it quickly goes off the rails (and through a few expressways). The action here is a sight to behold; Demolisher is a Decepticon that’s more or less two big wheels on top of each other, and he rolls across everything in his path. The explosions and style of the Autobots and Decepticons switching back and forth between vehicle and main form is stylistic and easy to see (when the explosions don’t take up the entire screen). However, the movie begins to drag after this point, as the focus kicks in on the human characters that have been a thorn for fans that just want to see CGI Alien Robots kicking the snot out of each other, along with explosions by the truck load. Sam and his parents are helping him unpack for college, and while it’s nice to see the evolution of Sam’s character, seeing his mom run around high from eating a Weed Brownie is a segment of the film that could’ve been cut. We’re also introduced to Sam’s roommate, Leo (who really doesn’t pan out much as the film goes on) and a fellow student named Alice, who is actually a Decepticon. Yeah, they have human-based Decepticons, and we’re given no rhyme or reason behind her existence at all. That’s one of the main issues with ROTF: it introduces and pulls together concepts that are cool and interesting, but they come out of nowhere. Another great thought to consider is this: in the first film, Sam held the AllSpark for a long period of time while trying to get it to safety, but ROTF hinges entirely on the idea that touching the tiny piece that stuck to him in the aftermath of the last movie’s battle drives his mind into overdrive with Cybertron knowledge. Yeah, some things you just have to nod and accept that they are happening.
The consistent factors in the movie are the Autobots and NEST, and how the relationship with the Governments of Earth evolve and decay gradually over time. The Decepticons effectively reveal themselves to the world, and without Optimus to lead the good guys, the rest of the team is benched, something that carries over into future movies for different logical reasons. Meanwhile, Sam calls upon some old friends to get back in the fight, while trying not to lose his mind or get killed by the growing number of Decepticons searching for him (by the time it gets to the final fight in Egypt, there’s a huge increase in bad guys that it’s not even fair). They also meet Agent Simmons again, who gives us some interesting information regarding the alien robots, who apparently have been on Earth for hundreds of years hidden in plain sight; some are still around, so learning about the Matrix of Leadership and what’s in Sam’s head could be aided by one of these older generation bots. Unfortunately for them, they meet a Decepticon, but luckily for them, alien robots that turn into cars and airplanes can turn senile in old age, and possibly just switch sides like a on/off switch.
By the time everyone is in Egypt for the final fight, it’s a few epic shots in the otherwise explosion-filled generic firefight. The introduction to the Combiners through the Constructicons features one of the best transforming sequences in all four movies, and we continually expand on the confusing nonsense when Sam gets shot and temporarily gets a vision dream(?) of the remaining Primes finally earning the Matrix of Leadership, coming back to life, and reviving Optimus all in one fell swoop. The happy reunion is cut short when The Fallen snatches the Matrix and teleports away to activate the Sun Harvester inside the Pyramid. Optimus gets a very awesome Jetfire transfusion to get him jump-started with new tech, including wings to fly. He makes quick work of both Megatron and The Fallen in an absolutely savage two-vs-one smackdown that involves punching the bad guys face in, as well as punching through someone’s chest. Transformers: ROTF is a film that contains several new and expanded ideas to the Tranformers Lore, but falls under the weight of its own shortcomings by doubling down on them. ROTF is one of the bad spots in the relatively average-to-alright movies in the franchise.
Tranformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
Transformers: Dark of the Moon marks the end of Sam’s Trilogy, as the leading man behind the franchise, the one-shot entrance of his new girlfriend Carly, and the continued expansion of our known history and Transformers collide in unexpected ways. During the end days of the Cybertron War, a shipment of Space Pillars that could’ve stopped the war between Autobots and Decepticons took off for space, but was quickly shot down and eventually crashed into what’s known as our dark side of the moon in 1961. This is where our history with the Transformers gets interesting, as history tells us that the Space Race of the 1960’s peaked with the July 20, 1969 US landing of humans on the Moon. DOTM shows once that they got there, they journeyed to the (you guessed it!) dark side of the moon to inspect the crashed ship – something that definitely didn’t make the news once they reported back to JFK about it. An interesting thing about the opening prologue is that we finally see some clear and detailed shots of the ship as it attempts to leave orbit, a testament to the visual effects constantly upping their game as the movies get increasingly grand and visually appealing.
In the present, Optimus and the rest of the Autobots (with more new additions) are fully on board with helping NEST and the Military at large cool down conflicts around the world. Their latest mission takes them to Chernobyl, where they discover a piece of the ship that crashed on the moon all those years ago. The villainous Shockwave escapes with his Driller (a metal worm with tentacles that spin a mile a minute), as Optimus and the rest of the group return to HQ, rightly pissed about the mission. They were under the knowledge that everything humans knew about the Transformers was shared already, and the Ark Ship on the moon is a pretty big thing to have missed. It’s a noteworthy mention to say that Buzz Aldrin appears as himself to help explain why the government was sworn to secrecy on the nature of the mission. Now realizing what’s on the dark side of the moon, the Autobots conduct a rescue mission to get the cargo and Sentinel Prime, the previous leader of the Autobots before Optimus.
The more interesting portions of the film stem from the Autobots and their connections to our Space Race, but the humans have to fit in somewhere, and this is where the film feels like two different things, at least until they converge. Sam is suffering from “not being in the action” anymore, and rightly so – he’s helped save the world twice! That doesn’t mean life isn’t supposed to move on though, and he has to accept that by getting a job, the process of which includes a really awkward string of interviews they could’ve left out. Beneath these seemingly unnecessary and downright filler scenes of Sam talking his way into a new job, there’s some resonance with his plight of having to adjust to normalcy, but it’s not long before the story catches up to him and he gets entangled into the trouble of the Space Race. An energetic programmer at Sam’s work knows about Sam and his exploits, and informs him about NASA and the funny business going on with the dark side of the moon. He dies shortly after, but not before telling Sam that there are Decepticons in the work place (it puts a damper on your plans when the printer attacks you).
Inspired with the knowledge that’s something’s amiss, Sam reunites with Agent Simmons again, who wrote a book about the alien battle in Revenge of the Fallen, and actually got rich from it. Together they discover information regarding Cosmonauts and the Ark Ship on the moon where Optimus had revived Sentinel Prime before falling for the Decepticons trap. The action from here on out picks up, and Bay knows his way around highway chases. The chase of the year is waged between cars and evil alien robots flipping and dodging cars all over an expressway. It’s an extreme slow-motion moment involving Sam and Bumblebee that’s both too cool to get mad at and hilarious all in the same breath. What follows is a twist I personally didn’t see coming from one of the Autobots, which throws the movie into the Empire Strikes Back mode as the Decepticons invade Chicago. It’s a grim, yet stunning opener to the next phase of the movie and the franchise, turning the movie into a dark revenge story for Sam as things get personal, as he has a reason for journeying into the invaded Chicago, with Autobots or not.
The rest of the film dives into both the military and Autobots working together to stop the advancement of Cybertron from replacing Earth altogether, and the finale doesn’t disappoint if you enjoy explosions and alien robots clashing with one another. From the Driller attack on the Skyscraper, to the Military and Autobots destroying an entire army of Deceptions that were hidden all over the moon, the third movie keeps the final battle contained to the streets of Chicago and unites the human and robot firefights much better than its predecessor did, and is much more in league with the first. DOTM reclaims some of the glory lost with ROTF and closes out Sam’s trilogy in style. DOTM also sets the tone for the series going forward, because the next movie, Age of Extinction, follows suit with what went down in Chicago.
Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)
Transformers: AOE is the turn of the century for the series of movies starring our favorite alien robots that transform into cars, tanks, and planes. Taking place five years after the last movie, the world is beginning to change around the viewpoint of Transformers, and it’s not a good one. A military group known as Cemetery Wind is headed by a man who thinks that no matter what side you’re on – Autobot or Decepticon – you deserve death. Citizens and Government officials none the wiser believe the Autobots were given safe passage, but that’s far from the case. The stakes are being increasingly more dangerous for Earth, and it all falls on the Autobots and Decepticons coming to our planet in the first place. AOE provides interesting notions to the Transformers in the vein that they’ve always been here on Earth – whether humans knew it or not, this was always a place they had their eye on.
In an opening flashback going back to the times of the Dinosaurs, it’s revealed that “The Creators” of Transformers made the Dinosaurs go extinct by using bombs to harvest transformium, the stuff that Transformers are made of. This comes into play later, but for now we’ve had to adjust to another cast of humans that will probably make you miss Sam and Mikaela. Cade, Tessa, and Shane are the latest humans to get involved with the Autobots, and there’s a lot of drama to go along with it. Cade is a father and inventor who has fallen on hard times because he can’t seem to find the “next big thing” to help Tessa and himself. Tessa is Cade’s daughter, who’s dating Shane, a race car driver (who is 20 while Tessa is 17, and they definitely take time out of the movie to justify a 17 year old and 20 year old dating). Cade unknowingly brings Optimus Prime home in attempt to see if they can strip the truck down for parts. He notices missiles and bullets in the seat and damaged spaces all over the interior of the truck, and activates the weary and malfunctioning Autobot, who has a mean case of PTSD and lack of human love and affection. Humans haven’t been on the side of the Transformers since the Battle of Chicago, and have hunted down the Autobots since then, including Ratchet.
Cemetery Wind and a Cybertron Bounty Hunter named Lockdown – who is neither Autobot nor Decepticon – are tipped off that Optimus has been spotted at Cade’s home, and BOOOM goes the living room! The Yeager Family is now on the run from the Government, and must help the Autobots get back on their feet to save themselves from a threat they don’t even know is there in the form of the KSI Company. KSI has been in league with Cemetery Wind for years when it comes to the Transformers; they’ve broken down every Transformer – Autobot and Decepticon alike – for more transformium, and they’re running out while attempting to make an army of them. AOE brings up potentially game-changing ideas and thoughts on the alien robots themselves when they all find their way into the base of KSI Operations. Joshua Joyce, the (evil Steve Jobs) head of KSI, has cracked the genome and mapping of Transformers altogether, so there’s no need for Autobots anymore because they can be manufactured. Attinger forces Joshua to activate Galvatron, who is secretly Megatron reborn, and Stinger, a replacement for Bumblebee to chase after the Autobots in order to stop them once and for all. The manufactured Transformers (specifically Galvatron) go off the rails and start indiscriminately killing people in the path of the Autobots. This is one of the signs that’s Galvatron isn’t being controlled by KSI, but by Megatron’s mind, which is where they got the makeup from when trying to create their own Optimus. Lockdown appears while Optimus and Galvatron do battle, and kidnaps Optimus and Tessa, who hid in the car directly behind him.
The next stretch of the film takes place on Lockdown’s torture chamber of a Spaceship, where Optimus and Tessa are both stuck in different parts of the ship. Lockdown preps for the interstellar travel that’ll launch everyone on it into space, light years away from Earth. They all eventually find one another, gaining a ship that detaches itself from the main portion of Lockdown’s craft to get away. This is where we get some much-needed visual flair from the movie, which it has a lot of. AOE is by far the most stunning of all of the Transformers films. There’s colorful and vibrant scenes from this cast of Autobots and Decepticons, and it shows from the Chicago Skyline to Beijing streets. The back half of the movie takes place entirely in China (because the film has to make money, and lots of it!), and it’s here that the action becomes congested in the tight and narrow Beijing spaces – that is until Lockdown returns, utterly pissed that Optimus Prime tried to trick and evade him.
The China arc of the film leaves a lot to be desired though. Using scenery and keeping an eye out for locations, you can tell the movie is sometimes masking Chicago as Beijing and it’s really obvious in a kind of funny way. The introduction to the Dinobots comes very late into the game, as the Autobots are out of options and outnumbered by the Galvatron lead KSI Transformers. Still, the Dinobots you’ve seen all over the marketing do leave an impression when they’re grabbing, flying, smacking, and chewing on metal foes. The only loose ends for this adventure are Galvatron getting away and Lockdown getting revenge on Optimus, which results in a few shocking moments for both human and Autobot. Three movies ago, Optimus stated that they don’t kill humans, but he broke that rule in this movie when saving Cade’s life. Optimus, with help from Tessa and Shane, kills Lockdown, and an interesting direction is forged for Optimus that sends him to the stars. Evidently he had the ability to fly the entire time, and he zooms into space on a path directly to his Creators with the thought of figuring out why they won’t leave Earth alone. It’s a cliffhanger for the sequel that we now know is The Last Knight, and it’ll be there that we see where the journey of Optimus, the Autobots, Decepticons, and human allies, and villains come to fruition.
This has been, a Transformers Film Overview. I hope somewhere along the way you learned about something new and thought-provoking about this franchise of increasingly bigger explosions, IMAX-grade visuals, and CGI alien robots that transform into cars and planes. Transformers: The Last Knight arrives in theaters on June 21st!