Much has been said about the Transformers franchise over the years. The five movies that make up the multi-billion dollar behemoth, despite being lambasted by critics time and time again, have turned big profits for Paramount and now make up one of the most financially successful franchises in cinema history. With Bumblebee now in theaters, the series has turned a corner and looks to change things up for the future after The Last Knight proved that many moviegoers had simply had enough with what Bay had to offer the Autobots and Decepticons. But it's easy to forget that these movies didn't start out quite as hated as they became. For many, myself included, the first Transformers live-action movie from 2007 remains a highly entertaining blockbuster that, at the very least, deserves less hate, but I would argue is even deserving of some love.
Heading back to 2007, when we got the first live-action Transformers, it wasn't quite the franchise obsessed, cinematic universe generating machine that it is today. The Marvel Cinematic Universe wasn't even something we could fathom, The Dark Knight hadn't even hit theaters and Indiana Jones hadn't yet been sullied in Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Point being, it was a different time. Expectations for these sorts of movies were a bit different. We didn't go into every one of these things expecting something that could perfectly toe the line between catering to fans, while also perfectly capturing what casual moviegoers can enjoy.
As a blind item, if we were to hear, say, back in 2006, that Michael Bay, the director of Bad Boys II, Armageddon and The Rock, was going to make a movie about giant transforming alien robots fighting one another on Earth, a great many of us would have been firmly on board. And that's what we got. And really, it delivered on its promise in that sense. But it just so happens that Transformers comes with some baggage, in that, people feel strongly about it and, as the series soldiered on down the tracks with progressively bad entries, they felt more offended by what had been done to their beloved alien robots. I felt strongly about it, but this first movie really worked for me.
I can't transport people into my 18-year-old brain. But I will never forget seeing this movie on opening weekend in 2007 and just being absolutely blown away. These were things I never thought would be possible in a movie. It's easy to take some of what can be accomplished with these big franchise movies these days, but this movie, in some ways, represents the scope of what we would over the last decade learn was possible. Watching Optimus Prime transform for the first time and subsequently hearing Peter Cullen's voice radiate from a real (or at least enough looking CGI creation) robot to this day gives me the chills. I can't even explain the feeling, I was a bright-eyed young man. It's the sort of thing I never imagined I would see when I was a kid and I expect I wasn't alone in that feeling, which leads me to perhaps my most important point.
It's so easy to judge things now. It's so easy to be cynical. We can just look at a Rotten Tomatoes score and determine the quality of movies with a number. It's so easy to look at something and try to poke holes in it and find its flaws before being able to find its beauty. Some might argue that's kind of my job. But I've never felt that way. I like to enjoy things. I like to like things. And for me, Transformers will always represent something that, despite its flaws, was able to make me, and many other moviegoers, at least at the time, feel that childlike exhilaration. That feeling and joy is worth being able to overlook some flaws.
Michael Bay's strong suit has never been humor and, admittedly, a lot of what is attempted humor here doesn't quite work and is more than a little silly. But if one of the worst sins of a movie based on a line of kid's toy cars that transform into robots is that some of the jokes are silly, is that all so bad? And look, I'll be the first to admit that this movie doesn't do its female characters many favors. I'm not trying to stand on a hill and declare this thing a masterpiece.
That said, there is a lot to like here. Michael Bay has always been known for his particular brand of action and the action sequences in this movie deliver. That highway sequence in particular with Optimus taking out Bonecrusher is nuts. What is better suited for Bayhem than giant robot destruction? Bay also manages to capture the destructive capability and fear that would accompany these beings. Steve Jablonsky provides an absolutely phenomenal score, which should not be overlooked even by those who still want to roll their eyes and groan about this movie. There is some meat on these bones.
No, Bumblebee is not a VW bug and Optimus has flames on him, but does that take away from the larger charms this movie has to offer? Looking back eleven years ago, the idea of seeing Optimus Prime truly come to life was unthinkable until it happened. It's easy to overlook some flames in favor of how genuinely magical that felt to many people who grew up loving these toys and the show. Sure, Marvel taught us the value of being more faithful to these sorts of properties in the years that would follow, but the time that this movie was made must be taken into account.
I'm not arguing that everyone should now love this movie. But here's the thing; do we blame Jurassic Park for the problems on display in its lesser sequels? Do we hate on Alien and Aliens because there have been questionable entries in that franchise? I'm not saying that Transformers is on the level of those movies. Not by a long shot. Though, I am saying that it shouldn't be blamed for sins of its very bad sequels.
With Bumblebee, it appears that the franchise has turned a corner. Now, this series can benefit from some new perspectives and learn some lessons from the last decade. And I'll be the first to admit we need to do our best to wipe movies like Revenge of the Fallen and The Last Knight from our minds. But let's not hastily lump Transformers in with those much lesser movies just because it's associated with them. Paramount turned a children's toy line into a big, fun, successful blockbuster. If this movie could exist on an island (and I understand that it can't) that would be more impressive. I love Transformers. I'm not asking that you do as well. But maybe don't treat it as though it's one of the worst things that ever happened to cinema.