Ranking The Live-Action Transformers Films
With Bumblebee soon concluding its run at the cinema and enthusiastic talk of a sequel being at its peak, now is the best time to look back at the live-action Transformers films and see how the series stands up.
6 Transformers: The Last Knight
Bloated, boring and devoid of any real sense of fun Transformers: The Last Knight was the film that finally convinced Paramount to part ways with director Michael Bay. The Last Knight is the type of film that may turn up in some childhood fantasy, but even that would have more credence than this trite affair. Josh Duhamel and Mark Wahlberg vie for screen-time as the smouldering alpha males, but neither can muster the energy to make the script or its bananas story work. Anthony Hopkins and the oddly cast Stanley Tucci appear as an eccentric English historian and Merlin – yes Stanley Tucci plays Merlin! Nonetheless, what transpires here operates at a level of madness not seen in any previous Transformers film. Michael Bay is on auto-pilot and seems content to do nothing more than the bare minimum.
The Transformers have always been steeped in mythology, but it was clear here that neither Bay nor Paramount had any clue on how to adapt it for the big-screen. An ancient Transformers race, Cybertron colliding with earth, Optimus Prime turning evil and the planet devouring Unicron starting to appear is enough to fill an entire saga let alone one film. At nearly two and a half hours long, The Last Knight borders on parody and seems more like a test of wills to see when the audience will crack and finally sense they’ve been duped.
5 Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
Despite its ranking there is some fun to be had in Revenge of the Fallen. The opening scene featuring Optimus Prime almost Halo drop from a plane and then tear up some Decepticons in Shanghai is pure escapism. While the ending is over-long and has too much going it does feature Devastator literally hoovering all before him. Sadly, what Revenge of the Fallen does well is outweighed by what it gets wrong. Robot testicles, casual racism, mistreatment of actors and an unsavoury falling out with star Megan Fox left a sour taste in the mouth. Like a fart that stinks out a small room Revenge of the Fallen should have spelled the end for Michael Bay and his brand of humour, but the series was far from done with him.
4 Transformers: Dark of the Moon
The last hurrah for Shia LaBeouf and Sam Witwicky came in the form of Dark of the Moon – a film so brazenly over the top it features Buzz Aldrin meeting AND talking to Optimus Prime. Strangely retconning the history of the Transformers for a third time, this entry is full of action and senseless, but fun, set-pieces and a plot that makes as much sense as ham and pineapple pizza. By this point though, we knew what Michael Bay was bringing to the table and his eye for enthusiastic action-scenes was at its peak. Despite this, it was over-long, sometimes inexcusably dull and offensively unfunny and if it wasn’t for some stand-out set-pieces where we see Chicago’s demise, this would have been much further down the list.
3 Transformers: Age of Extinction
Three years after Dark of the Moon, Michael Bay returned to directing duties and replaced Shia LaBeouf with Mark Wahlberg. An upgrade in some ways, Wahlberg plays inventor Cade Yeager with enthusiasm while Stanley Tucci, Titus Welliver and Kelsey Grammer are having loads of fun as scientists, evil CIA agents and ruthless Black-Ops leaders. Michael Bay seems to have found his sense of fun again with the film feeling closer in tone to the first entry in the series. The Dinobots finally arrive and if there is a scene more glorious than Optimus Prime riding a robotic Tyrannosaurus then I don’t know what to tell you. Several of the series’ main issues persist and there is a sense that normal service will resume soon, but there is pleasure to be had here before the disquieting The Last Knight nearly killed off the series.
The film that kickstarted the series, 2007’s Transformers is still a delight and one the best examples of pure fantasy cinema. Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox just work as the young couple destined to be together, while producer Steven Spielberg’s presence is a huge factor in the boy gets car, boy gets girl, boy saves the world scenario. Transformers features the best elements of Spielberg and Bay while serving us some of the finest CGI work seen in years. A startling opening scene where Decepticon helicopter Blackout attacks a US military base sets the tone, and a two-hour chase ensues to see who will get to the Decepticon leader Megatron first. There are glorious action scenes aplenty and an almighty highway chase that rivals any action film in recent memory. It’s far from perfect, but for a film based upon a toy line from the 1980’s it’s a pretty damn fun time.
Man, do I love this film. From the opening shot on Cybertron to the conclusion with Bumblebee and Optimus Prime riding together along the Golden Gate Bridge – 2018’s Bumblebee is truly the Transformers film I have been waiting my whole life for. The Transformers have a design much closer to their classic look and Travis Knight returns the series to its escapist Saturday morning adventure feel. Striking a tone akin to the classic Amblin films of the 1980’s and 2007’s first live-action effort, Bumblebee has pathos and grace while delivering humour and a real sense of fun. Hailee Steinfeld takes the lead role admirably and is miles away from LaBeouf screaming “nooooo” all the time or the Jackhammer jaws of Duhamel and Wahlberg. Instead Bumblebee feels lighter and has the balls to own up to its silliness, the hope being that this is a bright new dawn for the Transformers saga.
Honourable mention: The Transformers: The Movie
Perhaps this film should be at the top of the list? It is after all still the best Transformers film out there, despite being 32 years old. My only gripe for this list was that all the films be live-action. Nonetheless, the animation here is still fluid and lively, with Optimus Prime and co rarely looking better. Yes, it was an excuse to get rid of the old toy-line and bring in a new one, but The Transformers: The Movie was a sheer spectacle that no animated film or childhood memory has ever been bettered for me. Oh, and if you don’t cry when Optimus Prime dies then you have no soul.