The death of the Transformers

I had little choice but to watch Transformers 3 : Dark Of The Moon. The kids wanted to watch it, and I wanted to watch it.

For them, it was part of the essential pop culture ritual of their childhood. It’s the Star Wars of their generation.

For me, it was to see if Michael Bay would redeem himself from the mess that was Transformers 2: Revenge of the Fallen.

Sadly, Michael Bay proved that a leopard cannot change its spots – TF3 was a rehash (albeit energetic one) of all the major action scenes from the first two movies, as well as all his other blockbuster movies. And for me, it was a final nail in the coffin for a great franchise that we’ve known and loved since the early 1980s. Here’s why:

The Transformers is not just about Optimus Prime and Bumblebee

I’ve never understood the heavy weightage placed upon Bumblebee in the Bay movies. In the cartoon, he was always one of the weakest Autobots, and his only role was to be Spike Witwicky’s friend. For goodness sake, he was a obsolete VW Beetle.

Ok, so perhaps in the first movie, the major theme was about A Boy and His Robot (ala Harlon Ellison’s A Boy And His Dog). By the third movie, there was no real relationship left between the yellow bot and the perpetually annoying Shia LeBeouf. Yet the emphasis on Bumblebee continued, even though no fan really gives a hoot about him. Meanwhile, other great characters like Jazz and Ironhide with way more personality are killed off flippantly in the movies.

And to add to that, the Bumblebee toys are awfully difficult to transform. More on that in a while.

The same goes for Optimus as well. The kids of today don’t realize it, but Optimus was killed off in the very first Transformers cartoon movie. I suspect the cartoon writers felt that Optimus was too one-dimensional and needed to be replaced with new leadership (ie. Rodimus Prime). It was a shocking development for us kids then, but man, everyone remembers the death of Optimus till today. When they resurrected him time and time again, it got boring – let the dead lie dead please.

Nevertheless Optimus is always a big fan favorite and has been featured in just about every Transformers spin-off or series.

My point is that these two Autobots do not an entire series make.

There are so many great Transformer characters and storylines on either side of the battle lines. The Bay movies have avoided any focus on the relationships between the Transformers, both within and between the factions. The love-hate relationship between Optimus and Megatron was hardly explored, what more the tension between Optimus and Ultra Magnus, the competition between Blaster and Soundwave (and their respective cassette tape minions), the dumb anger of the Dinobots, the constant quarrels between the Constructicons…the list goes on about the many dynamics from just the very first cartoon alone.

Instead Bay chose to focus on the humans, perhaps to save some CGI budget. Unfortunately, the humans in the Transformer movies have never been impressive or endearing. And when gigantic robots are hitting the hell out of each other, what contributions could puny humans possibly make?

What was sad to see in TF2 and TF3 was how Megatron was written as a “by-the-way” character, or used as a deux ex machina to close a plot loophole. How can you treat the biggest schemer on Cybertron as a cameo? Why would Megatron even bow to the Fallen, given that his ego cannot take the damage?

Less Is More, Especially With Robot Design

What upsets a lot of fans till today is the overly complicated and ugly designs of Bay’s Transformers. Very organic in nature, the bots come off looking more like insects than majestic robots.

And the transformations are now way too complex. One great part about the early cartoons was how gracefully the bots would transform from one form to another. I’m pretty sure they designed the toys before the cartoon characters, and the simplicity shows.

In the movies, the characters were designed to be as difficult to transform as possible, and that also led to an entire series of poorly designed Hasbro toys. The irony is that the Transformers has always been a glorified commercial to sell more toys but the movies have just turned me off the toys instead. I told Isaac that we won’t be buying any more Transformer toys until they get easier to manipulate. I usually struggle up to 30min just to transform a simple Level 3 Transformer figurine.

If you don’t believe me, just head to any OG store these days and you’ll see the big Starscream toy being cleared at bargain prices. The original Starscream was a beautiful copy of the F-15 eagle, in primary American colors no less. The Bay Starscream is an ugly grey Raptor that transforms to an even uglier and dull-looking robot.

The awesome Starscream Masterpiece edition of the original 1980s design.

The Bay version of Starscream. The design ugliness is obvious to any human.

Even today, adults get excited over original Transformer designs such as Soundwave, Devastator, the Aerialbots, Bruticus Maximus and so on. They were simple, but they were always impactful.

There Is No Kindness In This Movie

Call it 1980s simplicity, but the Autobots hardly set out to kill anyone. In the movies, the good guys have become so brutal and unforgiving – Optimus stabs, rips out heads and spinal columns, dismantles faces and so on, with no remorse at all. He is even willing to do in his teacher Sentinel Prime without a pause. Optimus is no hero here, he has simply become an angry robot.

When the good guys do not forgive, what are we teaching our kids?




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