For his first re-view for 10YA, please welcome Jason Megatron Burrows, a.k.a. the Jack of All Trades at Jack-FM. And yes, that is his honest-to-god legal middle name. And no, no points for guessing which film he’s re-viewing.
Oh hello! As this is my very first Ten Years Ago, I figure I should introduce myself. My name is Jason M Burrows, and 10 years ago I changed that M from Michael to Megatron.
I grew up loving Transformers. The battle between Autobot & Decepticon has been a part of my life since childhood. I played with those toys until I couldn’t transform them anymore, and one of my parents’ favorite stories to tell about me growing up is the time that we were flying from Manila to Los Angeles to Reno on our way to Lake Tahoe for a family vacation. I had a G1 Megatron, that thing was PRISTINE, it had all of the bits and bobbles, the giant scope that doubled as his fusion cannon while in robot form, the shoulder stock, the “silencer,” and a ton of little red pellets that it would fire out. As we were changing planes at LAX, I was playing with my toy, but had him in gun form. His Luger-like form created a bit of a panic inside the airport, and security kinda freaked out. I transformed him into robot form and asked if I could keep him on the plane, but alas, I was forced to put him into a cardboard box & check him into the cargo hold of the plane… My parents were NOT impressed.
Cut to 25-ish years later, and I’m a strapping lad of 30. I learned that the girl I was dating had a brother whose middle name was Tomato, and fell over myself trying to figure out if I could get away with changing MY middle name. A smidge of research & $105 later, I was ready to go. In a crazy moment of serendipity, my court date was set for July 2, 2007, the same day that Transformers opened. I stood in front of the judge swearing that I was not changing my name to avoid prosecution or debt, and got more than a few laughs when she announced that I was changing my name to that of my childhood hero, Megatron.
After departing the King County Courthouse, I hoofed it down to the Cinerama where I waited for the midnight showing of Michael Bay’s very first TRANSFORMERS. To say I was excited would be a gross understatement. I hadn’t been this excited about a movie since the opening of Star Wars: Episode One, and I feel like that’s a fitting analogy.
My memories of this first Bay-formers experience are fairly vague, but ONE moment has stood out for this entire decade: Prime transforming at high speed in the middle of the highway to fight Bonecrusher is one of my all-time favorite movie moments TO THIS DAY, and when that moment hit during my re-view it was just as powerful.
It’s funny, I was discussing that moment with a Random Fellow Geek in one of the Facebook groups that I’m a member of, and they insisted that compared to the most recent Transformers movies, the visual effects of the original don’t hold up. I HIGHLY disagree… It looked just as bad-ass when I watched it on Monday night as it did on the Cinerama screen and I STILL get goosebumps during that fight scene.
Unfortunately, the rest of the movie does NOT hold up as well.
I have seen all five of the Transformers films on opening night. Good reviews, bad reviews, I’ve never cared, I just love the characters, I enjoy the spectacle of it all, and I don’t mind a bad movie as long as I get that awesome “GIANT ROBOTS FIGHTING” fix. That said, TF5 is a pile of hot garbage. I fought the urge to get up and leave three separate times, and even Megatron FINALLY using his arm cannon the way I’ve been wanting him to for a decade couldn’t save it. It’s the f’ing worst, and I just cannot recommend it. It’s garbage. It just … UGH. GARBAGE.
BUT, while I’m not here to review The Last Knight, I am here to talk about my re-view of Transformers, and I feel like I need to provide a little context, since The Last Knight ruins ever single shred of continuity that the series kinda held on to. Those details are plot spoilers for the current movie, and despite HATING IT, I despise people who spoil movies out of spite, so I’ll just leave it at that.
Now, back to the original… Transformers released in 2007, off the heels of The Island and Bad Boys II. Michael Bay has been known for his heavy use of military imagery in his movies, with films like Bad Boys, The Rock, Armageddon, and Pearl Harbor showing off his prowess in his signature HUGE EXPLOSIONS as well as his tight bond with the Department of Defense. They seem willing to let him film anywhere and blow up anything, and that is readily apparent in the opening scenes of Transformers.
The movie opens in Qatar, with a stereotypical US military base in the heart of the 2nd Gulf War. The Decepticon Blackout, disguised as a Chinook class helicopter, lands at the base. The commander gives his gruff “Stand down or WE WILL KILL YOU” to the ‘crew’ of the helicopter, but is quickly silenced by explosions and the first transformation we’re treated to. It was fucking awesome. Blackout makes quick work of the entire base, using wave based weapons to push his enemies back while simultaneously doing huge damage. (Sidebar: the Dungeon Master in me was giggling in glee during this entire scene, because I had fantastic ideas of how to use this sort of combat in an upcoming boss fight for my weekly D&D group…)
The base destroyed, and the plucky Special-Ops team led by Josh Duhamel’s Captain Lennox, escapes by the skin of their teeth with valuable intel that they desperately need to get to the Pentagon. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to them, Scorponok follows.
So far, so good… THEN, we meet Sam Witwicky, and the movie takes a nosedive.
I’ll be perfectly honest, when there aren’t any robots on screen, this movie f’ing sucks. A lot has been said about Shia LaBeouf’s performances, and I’m not here to criticize that, but I do feel like he was performing EXACTLY as Michael Bay wanted him to. It hasn’t aged well, the lingering sex-pot shots of Megan Fox’s Mikaela Banes are gratuitous and uncomfortable, and the plot takes an absolute dump.
TL;DR – Sam is a descendant of the explorer who discovered Megatron frozen in the Arctic Circle. The Transformers, both good Autobots and evil Decepticons, are after his glasses, which contain the location of the All-Spark, which crash-landed on Earth thousands of years ago. The Decepticons are also trying to find Megatron by hacking into the Department of Defense databases, causing the Pentagon to contract civilian hackers to figure out what’s going on. The Decepticons discover that Sam has the glasses, they send Barricade to get him. Bumblebee intercepts him, they battle for a bit, Bee calls for the rest of his team to join him on earth, then takes Sam to meet Optimus Prime, and hijinks ensue.
The moment where Sam and Mikaela meet the entire Autobot team is seriously impressive; watching Prime transform that first time is still awe-inspiring. Peter Cullen’s voice is just as commanding as ever, and I still get goosebumps when he says, “My name is Optimus Prime.” It’s just really sad that they’ve leaned SO HEAVILY on that crutch over the course of five movies that it’s too broken to fix.
Back in Qatar, the Ranger team is able to contact the Pentagon, trying to relay this vital intel before being attacked by Scorponok. Bay cranks the volume on the “AMERICA, FUCK YEAH” knob with the A-10’s and the AC-130 Hercules destroying the robot before it kills the team, providing them with extraction to the states and moving the plot forward with the knowledge that “incendiary saber rounds” can damage the enemy robots…
Back with Sam and the Autobots, Sector Seven shows up, featuring John Turturro as Agent Simmons. Once again, the entire movie itself takes a severe dip in quality with this ridiculous character. I cannot stress how much I HATE those scenes.
Sector Seven captures Bumblebee while the rest of the Autobot team escapes. The Secretary of Defense, played by Jon Voight, meets up with the civilian hackers at Sector Seven, they are given a tour of the All-Spark, they meet a frozen Megatron, and team up with the Ranger Crew who have miraculously made it to the Hoover Dam from the Middle East in the snap of a finger. (Doha to Vegas is a 20-hour flight, btw. I checked.)
We FINALLY get to my favorite part of the movie. Sam has the All-Spark and is hauling ass with the Autobots. Megatron is released, and the Decepticons give chase. Bonecrusher enters the “battlefield” of the highway skating on his wheels while in robot form, destroying cars & careening THROUGH busses as he attempts to catch up to Sam. Optimus Prime hits the breaks, transforms in the middle of the highway, flipping around to face Bonecrusher and throwing him off the overpass. It’s DELIGHTFUL. Even typing that scene out in this re-view gives me chills. I cannot express how much I loved that scene both THEN and NOW. Prime using the sword sheathed in his arm to cut off Bonecrusher’s head was fantastic. Just… yes.
The downtown fight between all the Transformers is okay. Jazz is torn in half by Megatron with little ceremony or hesitation. Having grown up with these characters, seeing one of the most important members of the Autobot team so casually killed and tossed aside was really heartbreaking when I first watched the movie. This time, I just didn’t care.
Bumblebee is disabled, and Sam is on the run to get the All-Spark to the tower so that the military could pick him up to escape. While watching the movie, it all seems fine and plausible until you stop to think about the fact that the Decepticons can fly. They’ve got both Megatron and Starscream who transform into jets. (And SERIOUSLY, Michael Bay? We finally get to see a live-action Megatron, and you have him transform into a JET? You leave his arm cannon off, and you have him voiced by Hugo Weaving instead of Frank Welker? WTF is wrong with you?)
Megatron intercepts Sam, while Mikaela drives a tow truck pulling Bumblebee around the battlefield. Prime rescues Sam, fights with Megatron and ostensibly LOSES that fight, but instead of being able to sacrifice himself in order to keep the cube out of enemy hands, Sam uses it to burn a hole THROUGH Megatron.
Cue the end sequences, “freedom is the right of all sentient beings,” Megatron being dropped into the Laurentian Abyss, and the Autobots staying on Earth to defend it from any outside interference or enemies that might come in the eventual sequels.
As I said earlier, the movie is great when there are robots on screen doing stuff, but is absolutely terrible when it’s just the humans. Sam and his parents are insufferable, Sam badly flirting with Mikaela is uncomfortable and awkward, Agent Simmons in his hand-drawn Sector Seven in the shape of the Superman S on his tighty whitey tank-top was god awfully groan-inducing. Jon Voight as the Bush era SecDef was fine, but the Anthony Anderson “hacker” show was ridiculous. The saving grace of the human characters was Josh Duhamel’s Ranger team, and I have to say that it was really fantastic seeing him come back in the fifth installment this year.
I will forever hold moments from this movie in my memory, but I will never forgive Michael Bay for introducing us to a live-action Megatron that was a spiky monstrosity with the wrong voice and no fusion cannon. What can I say? I’m invested.
I’m not quite sure how to end this little re-view. I’m so torn between my love of the Autobots and Decepticons that we FINALLY got to see on screen, and my pure disdain for the human characters that turned it into a weird farce. Earlier, I mentioned that I hadn’t been this excited to see a movie since Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, and much like that movie, there was a lot to like, but a lot to NOT.
Knowing where the series ends up going, and just how bad that rabbit hole smells a decade later, it was kinda nice going back to the original. I just wish it held up to what I remember from the day I changed my name to Megatron, and watched giant robots fighting on the big screen with my friends.