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Transformers: An Oddly Enduring Franchise



Here’s the trailer for the latest installment of Transformers, entitled The Last Knight,

The Transformer franchise exists. That is the kindest thing I can think to say about it.

The four films have a combined box office total of nearly 4 billion dollars worldwide, there’s no arguing they make money, and a lot of money at that, this isn’t a case of simply making back your budget. These films are box office juggernauts.

But a quick glance over their Rotten Tomatoes scores reveals another story, 57%/19%/35%/18%. With only the first film receiving even a modicum of praise, it is fun and exciting, makes for a decent summer blockbuster, but the rest? They’re pretty damned horrible.

Any strengths Transformers originally had, when Spielberg was involved and our stars were Shia LaBouef and Megan Fox, are long gone. Now it limps on, if limping means lots of noise, explosions and box office gold.

How do you fix a franchise like Transformers? Given the massive box office for each installment and large but oddly invisible fanbase, the people in charge over at the studio probably don’t think it needs fixing. Unfortunately it seems to lack the charm and warmth of something, like say, the Fast & Furious franchise, which manages to be ridiculous and bombastic and ridiculous once again but still maintaining a strong emotional core and definitely resonates with audiences and critics alike.

Under the stewardship of Michael Bay, who has directed all 5 films so far, we get a lot of bangs, gunfire, slow motion military shots, creepily young girls (I’m looking at you Age of Extinction) posed as love interests and sex objects with the camera basically glued to them for the entire run (I’m looking at you, um, all the Transformers films), large scale destruction and little else.

Maybe it really doesn’t need fixing, but, maybe, just maybe, it needs to be better. It’s hard to say go back to the source with a franchise like this, mainly because Transformers is based entirely on a toy line, the original cartoon and animated movie may hold nostalgia in the hearts of many fans, mine included, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to help the cinematic version. What Transformers does have is an excellent comic line from IDW, spawning numerous spin-offs and crossovers, with sprawling arc storylines that take place over dozens of issues. The main element that makes them work, is the lack of human characters, it is solid robot on robot action, set on Cybertron and across the universe, making the 3D battling marionettes from the films into actual characters, with full and interesting history, fleshed out backstories. If the film series intends to endure, they need to do more and build some engaging plots into the mayhem (Or Bayhem if you will), and move the action far, far away from Earth. The human characters were are presented with throughout the films are woeful at best, intended to be the audiences proxy into this world of Autobots and Decepticons. Thing is, we don’t need them, we certainly don’t need them at the 5th entry in the franchise, we know what a Transformer is at this point, we can ditch the humans and focus on more a interesting subject: the ongoing war between the Autobots and Decepticons, because there’s some really cool potential there, even with Michael Bay in charge, solid and unrelenting explosions and action, a war ravaging a completely alien world, unlike anything we have ever seen before. Now, that I would be excited to go and see.

Transformers: The Last Knight doesn’t look terrible, it arguably looks a lot better than current franchise low point Age of Extinction, and perhaps it is just the classy voiceover of Anthony Hopkins making me think it will be even the slightest improvement, it is yet another entry, throwing Transformers into our history, forcing them to be part of our world, with a plot involving King Arthur and Excalibur.

Come on, that is just nonsense. Try harder. I’d say go with a reboot but each installment feels like a mini-reboot, characters swapped out and never mentioned again, whatever Transformers does next, I can guarantee it comes down to a fight between Megatron and Optimus, while human characters run around screaming, I’ll put money on it.

Transformers: The Last Knight opens 23rd of June 2017

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