With a new Transformers era beginning with Bumblebee, there’s plenty to criticize about the Michael Bay movies, but there’s also plenty to like.
Michael Bay’s Transformers movies certainly have their detractors, but it’s worth remembering some of the best qualities of the blockbuster franchise. 2007 saw the release of Paramount’s monster hit Transformers.
The film, executive produced by Steven Spielberg and directed by Michael Bay, delivered a successful blend of Spielberg-like wonder paired with Bay’s explosive action scale. Transformers proved that the 80s cartoon series had serious box office legs, and is still considered one of Michael Bay’s best movies.
In the years since the 2007 film, the quality and commercial success of the seven-film Transformers franchise has oscillated wildly. After the first five films, Michael Bay stepped away from the director’s chair, although his presence as a producer ensures that the filmmaker’s fingerprints are still present in the more recent entries.
The films are a mixed bag, with many criticizing their bloated runtimes, cheap comedy, and often unintelligible action. However, the original Transformers movie franchise also shows flashes of creativity and inspired craftsmanship that make it impossible to write the franchise off entirely.
10. The Autobot Designs
The Transformers movies have seen their share of fair criticism for deviating from the source material and for their robot fights becoming an indistinguishable mass of tangled metal.
Many of the Decepticons suffer from busy and unmemorable designs. However, the Autobots, particularly the 2007 film’s core group, are exceptionally well-designed.
While the robots don’t always match their appearance from the animated series, they are colorful enough to be distinct in action scenes and their look immediately tells the viewer who they are.
9. Hugo Weaving’s Megatron
The first three Transformers movies saw Hugo Weaving provide the voice for Megatron. The actor, whose uncanny line delivery made The Matrix’s Agent Smith one of cinema’s most memorable villains, brought a similarly memorable vocal intensity to the leader of the Decepticons.
Weaving’s growling, bellowing performance is widely considered superior to that of Frank Welker, who voices Megatron in the original cartoon and replaced Hugo Weaving for Age of Extinction and The Last Knight.
Nevertheless, Weaving apparently “had no knowledge” of the franchise when he recorded his lines for the original film, a task which was completed in one 2-hour sitting in a VO booth (via THR).
8. The “What I’ve Done” Needle Drop
The original Transformers movie and the rock band Linkin Park are two beloved symbols of the late 2000s. Transformers uses multiple Linkin Park songs, but one of the most iconic moments in the franchise is the first film’s end credits needle drop, which launches into “What I’ve Done”.
It’s an extremely satisfying edit that’s become synonymous with the charms of the era. The internet has since appropriated it as a meme, editing “What I’ve Done” into other movie endings to hilarious effect.
7. Blackout’s Military Base Attack
The original 2007 Transformers movie opens with one of the best action sequences of the whole series. After an expositional prologue, the Decepticon Blackout takes the form of a helicopter in order to gain access to a US Military base in Qatar.
The tension slowly builds as the menacing black chopper closes in, only for Blackout to take his true form and devastate the base.
The scene keeps its distance from the Deceptic, focusing on the military personnel who, despite their obvious competence, don’t stand a chance against the transformer. It’s a gripping scene that immediately establishes the Decepticons as a serious threat.
6. Optimus Prime
The Transformers movies don’t always get the characterizations right. Many of the human characters and supporting transformers are positioned as comic relief but often come across as offputting and irritating.
However, the series’ portrayal of Optimus Prime strikes the perfect note. The films maintain a sense of reverence for the beloved lead transformer and allow him to maintain a serious demeanor that suits the character well.
Movie Optimus’ design is strong and maintains the best parts of his depictions in the precursor animated series. What’s more, the films wisely asked Peter Cullen, the voice actor for Optimus Prime in the TV show, to return for the films.
5. Dark Side Of The Moon’s Collapsing Skyscraper
While the Transformers series’ Autobot-vs-Decepticon fights are thrilling, they can lose their novelty over time. One of the most refreshing and well-executed setpieces in the franchise brings a new flavor to the action by depicting the human characters sliding down the gradient of a collapsing skyscraper.
It’s a tense scene, one that’s packed with new dangers and complications as it progresses. The sharp blend of CGI and a practical collapsing skyscraper set gives the fall a real sense of weight, and Bay’s maximalist style brings a frightening immediacy that makes the setpiece one of the best Transformers action scenes.
4. Steve Jablonsky’s Transformer’s Score
One of the strongest points of the Transformers series is its sweeping music. Steve Jablonsky, who had previously worked on Michael Bay’s The Island, delivers a thrilling and resonant throughline for the Transformers films with his original score.
It grounds the series in sincere orchestral beauty and helps deliver the more emotional moments. Jablonsky wasn’t asked to return to compose Transformers: Rise of The Beasts, but his work is synonymous with the charms of the Michael Bay Transformers run.
3. Making Bumblebee Mute
Bumblebee can’t talk in the Transformers movies, which was one of the smartest changes in Bay’s Transformers movies. The change grew out of an initial suggestion that none of the transformers should be able to talk; while this idea was scrapped, the writers decided to keep Bumblebee non-verbal in the 2007 film.
The change helps control the flow of exposition by forcing the characters to wait until they meet Optimus and the rest of the Autobots before they can learn the details of the transformers’ origin. More importantly, it helps Bumblebee and Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) develop a stronger relationship that transcends words.
2. The Transformations
Transformers came along at just the right time to take advantage of dramatic advancements in CGI technology. As such, the film is able to deliver immensely satisfying transformation animations, particularly when the robots are changing into their true forms.
The sound design of the shifting machinery and the detailed CGI which shows the numerous moving parts give the transformations a sense of weight and texture. No matter how many times a transformation occurs, it’s still fun to watch. Thankfully, the fluid living metal “transformium” transformations introduced in Age of Extinction didn’t become the standard.
For the Transformers movies, Michael Bay had access to some of the biggest budgets of his career. As such, the movies offer the purest expression of Michael Bay’s dynamic, maximalist directorial style, “Bayhem”.
Not all of the Transformers movies come together into a satisfying whole, and some of the Bayhem is overwhelming and hard to follow. However, in his finest moments, Michael Bay is a master craftsman whose action sequences deliver unmatched thrills and visual bombast. Every Bay-directed Transformers movie features at least one action setpiece that delivers the full rewards of high-budget Bayhem.