Kevin: Tough Guy Digest is back after a two-week early summer hiatus, and although we’d like to say that we had a lot of adventures and spent quality time with our loved ones, we were mainly recovering from celebrating back-to-back birthdays for “Lethal Weapon” and “Predator.” (Let’s also note that “Face/Off” is celebrating its 20th anniversary today; CJ and I are seeing it again on the big screen tonight and will have our write-up posted soon.) We also had Michael Bay’s fifth(!) entry in the “Transformers” saga looming on the calendar, a date that filled some of us with both excitement and dread.
CJ and I checked out “The Last Knight” over the weekend, but before our review I figured I’d try and recap the extensive and convoluted mythology of the “Transformers” universe. Then I realized that would entail having to spend my vacation sitting through the entire franchise again, so instead I just decided to see what I could recall from memory from each film – some of which I haven’t seen in nearly a decade – because I doubt that could be any less coherent than the actual plots. Let’s find out:
I somehow ended up seeing Bay’s original twice in its opening week with two different sets of friends in two different cities, and have not gazed upon it since. I remember that Bay established the template for the series right away by teasing us with epic Autobot-on-Decepticon action (i.e. what we came to see) before then inflicting long stretches of exhausting exposition, bad comedy, and Shia LaBeouf on us.
It should be noted though that in 2007 we all thought of Shia as a funny and likeable kid, before we discovered he was humorless angry douche. We are introduced to his character Sam Witwicky as he gives a classroom presentation about his grandfather, who was apparently a rugged and badass explorer, which seems about as unlikely for Shia as having Harrison Ford for a dad (not that anyone would try and put forth such an absurd notion).
We are also introduced to human sex doll Megan Fox as Mikaela, who is the kind of hot chick who only exists in nerdy screenwriters’ imaginations since she: A) eventually finds Shia LaBeouf attractive, and B) knows everything about cars (although as Adam Carolla points out, the people who wrote her dialogue apparently knew nothing about cars themselves):
She also has the standard asshole jock boyfriend, who in any other movie would probably at one point try to fight Sam, but then one of the Transformers would intervene and cause Mr. Homecoming King to run away while peeing his pants in front of the whole school. Weirdly we never see him get his comeuppance, which either indicates restraint on Bay’s part or that he sees a lot of himself in that character.
Either way Sam discovers that a car he bought earlier from Bernie Mac (I can’t remember if he had a loud and sassy mother but since he’s a black character in a Bay film I’m guessing yes) turns into Bumblebee and fights an evil Decepticon, and I think film critic Outlaw Vern had the best description for the resulting action as looking as if the filmmakers “took apart a whole bunch of cars, mixed the parts up and welded them all together into a giant ball … then rolled it down a hill” and filmed that as close up as possible.
Then after what feels like two hours we finally get introduced to the characters we came to see, including Optimus and his other Autobot buddies, none of whom I remember except for Jazz, and that’s mainly because his only line of dialogue is something like, “Yo yo yo, Jazz is in tha’ house ya’ll” before doing some breakdancing move. He’s also the only Autobot who gets killed at the end, and I seem to remember Optimus barely reacted to seeing his pulled-apart body before probably tossing it into the nearest dumpster off screen.
So it turns out the glasses that Sam’s grandfather was wearing on an expedition in the Arctic contain the key to finding some metal cube that apparently is super important to the Transformers, while Megatron is somehow under the Hoover Dam and gets thawed out to fight Optimus. Meanwhile Optimus keeps telling Sam that if he can’t defeat Megatron on his own that Sam should place the cube in Optimus’ chest, which will kill Optimus but also destroy the cube before it has a chance to wipe out the Earth (you’ll note Optimus never considers just sacrificing himself from the beginning for the good of mankind).
After destroying several blocks of downtown L.A. (which is akin to some mild graffiti compared to the city-wide destruction seen later in the series), Sam easily kills Megatron by shoving the cube into his chest instead, a pretty obvious solution that apparently no one thought of. The movie ends with Sam and Mikaela apparently about to have sex on top of Bumblebee while the other robots stand around them and watch (I can see why this was so popular in Japan) …
… as Optimus vows that he and the Autobots will never abandon the people of Earth, which as the series went on became less of a vow and more of a threat. Also Jon Voight was in this for some reason, and John Turturro gets pissed on by a giant robot, making the second time that has happened to him in a movie after “Miller’s Crossing” I think.
“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”
Bay’s follow-up picks up a couple of years after the last one, with Optimus and the other Autobots teaming up with the U.S. military (including Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson from the original) in hunting down the remaining Decepticons. Although the robots they are after just seem to be hiding and not hurting anyone, whereas the attempt to capture them probably kills about 500 people in Shanghai. Optimus has apparently been downloading all the “Death Wish” movies since the first “Transformers,” since he just kills an injured Decepticon with a blast to the head right on the spot.
Before the parents in the audience have to have conversations with their kids about the ethics of extrajudicial executions, we soon return to what everyone came to these movies for, the wacky antics of Shia LaBeouf! Even though the cube was destroyed at the end of the original, Sam all of a sudden finds a small shard from it that’s been on a jacket he hasn’t worn in like two years, because hey there was a writers’ strike going on and do you have anything better? Also he and Mikaela are still dating and she hasn’t left him for a drummer in a crappy local band, because remember what I said earlier about her character being a screenwriter’s fantasy?
Anyway they are going to have to maintain a long distance relationship because Sam is going away to a prestigious East Coast Ivy League school, which of course since this is a Michael Bay film is teeming with super hot Victoria’s Secret models, one of whom turns out to be a Decepticon who tries to seduce Sam and get the shard out of his possession (hopefully that’s the last time I have to write the word “shard”). First though, because no “Transformer” movie can clock in at just 2 hours, we get an excruciatingly long sequence where Sam’s mom accidentally eats a pot brownie and runs through the campus (although she does get a laugh when she randomly tells people her son’s car is a talking robot).
Sam, Mikaela, and his roommate (who tags along the entire movie even though his character is entirely superfluous and annoying) are eventually captured by a back-from-the-dead Megatron, but Optimus and Bumblebee arrive in the nick of time. This leads to a battle in the forest with Optimus taking on some Decepticons by himself (other Autobots were just with him but they disappear for a while for no reason, a recurring theme in this movie). Eventually Optimus is killed, which I’m sure was a huge shock at the time but would be less surprising as the films went on and we saw that his alleged skills as a fighter were somewhat overhyped.
Later Sam and the gang track down John Turturro, whose former government agent character has now turned against his bosses because, I don’t know, a robot pissed on him I guess. Then they go to the Smithsonian in Washington to seek help from an old Autobot, after which they go out a back door and right into an airfield in Arizona, then get teleported to Egypt because once again there was a writer’s strike.
This does lead to a very well-staged final battle amid the pyramids, with Sam dying and going to robot heaven (yeah you read that right) before coming back to revive Optimus, who takes on Megatron and head villain The Fallen. This leads to Optimus saying “Give me your face” before, yes, ripping The Fallen’s face off and leaving him dying in agony as green liquid pours out of his mouth. I know we’re talking about a CGI robot here, but as far as I’m concerned that was more disgusting than anything in the “Saw” movies.
Also Bay got some criticism for the portrayal of two new Autobots named Skids and Mudflap, but after looking at these two clips I can’t possibly understand why:
“Transformers: Dark of the Moon”
So as we learn from the opening credits of this third entry, the entire space race of the 1960’s was actually a cover to investigate a Cybertronian ship that crashed on the Moon. Sounds interesting, but first we have to spend a good chunk of the first act on the more important plot point: Sam’s quest to find a job. Yes Sam is back and unable to find employment even though he’s helped save the world twice, something he never fails to bring up at all times (seriously I think Shia LaBeouf’s real life douchiness was becoming so undeniable that they just wrote it into the script, because otherwise I can’t imagine why they would intentionally make their hero so punchable).
We get a very drawn out montage of Sam trying to sell himself to potential employers, and someone needs to tell Hollywood that in the real world most businesses don’t make all the applicants wait together in one room before they are called, they schedule each one to come in at a particular time like human beings. Not helping Sam’s anxiety about his unemployment is the fact that his new girlfriend (played by Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) is a hot British chick tastefully introduced from behind by Bay while walking up some stairs in her panties, in a scene that likely induced early puberty in a few kids in the audience.
Oh yeah, Megan Fox is gone from the franchise after referring to her director as Hitler and quickly discovering what the phrase “easily replaceable” meant. Almost as if to drive home how expendable Fox was, Bay replaced her with a 22-year-old Victoria’s Secret model with no previous acting experience (which made the early rumors about actresses like Kate Winslet being considered for the role even more hilarious). At the time Huntington-Whitely was (and still is) dating Jason Statham, and I have a feeling that once The Stath sized up The Beouf he wasn’t too worried about losing his lady to her costar.
Anyway, Optimus goes to the Moon to check out the wreckage and brings back the body of a Transformer named Sentinel Prime, but more importantly Sam finally gets a job! His new boss is an eccentric played by John Malkovich, who is one of like 19 comic relief characters in the film, which seems like overkill especially when you already have Ken Jeong doing the Ken Jeong schtick we had all gotten sick of by that point. But I gotta give credit to Michael Bay for having a Decepticon come in and brutally murder him.
Eventually it all ends up with Sentinel Prime turning out to be a villain and laying waste to Chicago (good judgment waking him up there Optimus), with a seriously disturbing sequence showing Decepticons turning screaming humans into dust with just their skulls remaining (“Hey kids, buy your human skull Transformers toys at your nearest retailer!”). Sam and some military guys (including Duhamel and Tyrese) arrive to stop them and are joined by Optimus and the other Autobots, who in typical style show up right after a Decepticon has annihilated like a dozen people.
What follows is some impressive city-wide action, although I mainly remember two things: 1) Sam and the military guys spend like 30 minutes trying to get high enough to shoot something that I think will close some portal, but they never actually end up doing it and this doesn’t really impact the end anyway, and 2) Supreme badass warrior Optimus spends what feels like most of the battle tangled up in some wires.
Eventually he gets released in time to then get his ass kicked by Sentinel, but fortunately Huntington-Whitely is around the save the day. She lays down the most obvious reverse psychology ever on Megatron (again relegated to second-tier status) about what a loser he is letting Sentinel take charge, causing him to fly in and save Optimus’ ass. Optimus of course shows his gratitude by ripping Megatron’s head off and executing a badly wounded Sentinel.
The movie almost immediately ends after this, I’m sure as Optimus again vows that he will never abandon the people of Earth, as he stands amid the rubble and dead bodies of another major city on Earth destroyed thanks to the Transformers.
Oh yeah, almost forgot, Patrick Dempsey was in this. Remember when he looked like this?
“Transformers: Age of Extinction”
Until the recent “The Last Knight,” this was the “Transformers” entry I had seen the most recently and yet remembered the least about. Maybe that’s because it’s Bay’s most “mature” version yet (relatively straightforward plot, less horrible comedy and racism) and thus his least distinctive, but he does manage put his signature style around the margins.
For one thing Shia follows Megan Fox’s toned ass out the door and is replaced by brand new hero Cade Yeager, a good ‘ole boy native Texan and inventor who of course is played by the first actor any of us would think of based on that description, Mark Wahlberg. Yeager also has a 17-year-old daughter, and the fact that her character is a minor doesn’t stop Bay’s camera from ogling her in her short shorts every chance it gets. She also has an older boyfriend who carries around a laminated card explaining a loophole in Texas law that allows him to fuck said minor, and when it comes to Bay this may be what’s referred to as “writing what you know.”
Yeager discovers a rundown semi-truck that turns out to be Optimus Prime, and when he is revived I’m pretty sure in true Optimus style he immediately starts screaming “I’ll kill whoever you are and your first-born child too!” Later they find themselves on the run from government agents lead by Kelsey Grammer, who is a bad guy because he thinks Earth would be safer if all the Transformers were destroyed, and yet based on what we have seen over three movies he makes a good case. Eventually the action moves to Hong Kong for purely artistic and not financial reasons, just like the completely organic cameos by Chinese athletes and pop stars in a film that crossed the $1 billion box office mark thanks largely to, you guessed it, China.
All of this leads to the film’s biggest selling point in all the marketing materials, the introduction of the Dinobots into the “Transformers” movie universe. As I said in our write-up of the “The Last Knight” trailer earlier this year – in which I referred to Optimus as “a rampant bloodthirsty sociopath who delights in killing his fellow robots in the most gruesome ways possible” – one of my favorite parts of this film is when Optimus releases the Dinobot from captivity and yells, “We’re giving you freedom” before smashing it in the face and threatening to cut its throat if it doesn’t do his bidding.
But my favorite moment occurs during the climax as Optimus is fighting with new baddie Lockdown. First of all I enjoyed the part where Kelsey Grammer has Yeager at gunpoint and is in the middle of his grand bad guy speech when Optimus casually shoots him and keeps fighting. But then when Optimus as usual is on the verge of defeat and needs someone else to help save his ass, he literally stabs Lockdown in the back and slices him in half from his stomach to his head, and with no sense of irony at all immediately proclaims, “Honor, to the end.”
Actually I take back what I said about “Age of Extinction” not being very memorable, I feel like I should give this one another shot. In fact I think I’m going to re-watch all of these to see if they deserve a reappraisal, or to put it another way, if there is “more than meets the eye.” I’m sure CJ will be happy to add his two cents as well, but until then check back in tomorrow for our thoughts on “The Last Knight” and how well Sir Anthony Hopkins, King Arthur and Merlin, and a robot butler who raps along to Ludacris were incorporated into this crazy quilt known as the “Transformers” universe.
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