When I was a young boy I loved playing with my toys. We didn’t have Transformers in those days, but we did have Major Matt Mason, plastic dinosaurs, Hot Wheels, and Creepy Crawlers Thingmaker sets. Yeah, in those days a toy could cause third-degree burns and no one really worried about getting sued. Kind of takes the fun out of being a kid today. You know who else, I bet, loved to play with his toys? Michael Bay. I bet he had the coolest toys in his neighborhood. He probably wasn’t the best guy to be friends with, however. He didn’t invite the kids over to play with his toys. He likely charged you a nickel to watch him play with them. It’s many decades later, and Michael still has the coolest toys on the block. Only now you have to cough up twenty bucks if you want to watch him playing with them. Sadly, that is what the Transformers film franchise has been reduced to. We’re all watching the rich kid playing with really cool toys.
I had a decided advantage going into the Michael Bay extravagance that is the Transformers film franchise. Unlike the majority of the film franchise’s target audience, I have had almost no exposure to the other incarnations of Transformers. I was already too old for the toys when Hasbro launched them, and so it was true for the cartoon and comic versions that quickly followed. Like everyone else I had a passing familiarity with the things, but nothing more. How is that an advantage, you might very well ask. Like any film franchise that dares to attempt material often considered sacred by its followers, Transformers had to play the game of expectations. I don’t carry any of the baggage that often keeps an audience from enjoying a film because they already think they know what it should look like. Armed with just the most basic of knowledge, I was able to approach them each freshly and enjoy each as a standalone entity. With that said, I had a pretty rockin’ time of it.
We are just weeks away from the latest entry in the franchise: Transformers: The Beast Wars. That’s the perfect time for Paramount to get you in the mood with this UHD Blu-ray 4K Steelbook collection of all six previous films. It’s in a cool box with a magnetic cover, and now you’re ready for summer box office action.
“Before time began, there was the Cube. We know not where it comes from, only that it holds the power to create worlds and fill them with life. That is how our race was born. For a time, we lived in harmony. But like all great power, some wanted it for good, others for evil. And so began the war. A war that ravaged our planet until it was consumed by death, and the Cube was lost to the far reaches of space. We scattered across the galaxy, hoping to find it and rebuild our home. Searching every star, every world. And just when all hope seemed lost, message of a new discovery drew us to an unknown planet called … Earth.”
In this version of Transformers, Earth is caught up in an age-old conflict between two factions of an Autobot society. These sentient mechanical beings ravaged their own planet with war and now threaten to continue their struggle on a new battlefield: Earth. The bad guys are the evil robots called Decepticons. They see Earth as a new place to sow their seeds of destruction and humans as a minor infestation to be eliminated. The leader, Megatron, has been secretly kept in suspended animation by the government since the 1930’s. The good guys are a guardian group of robots called Autobots, led by a bot named Optimus Prime. Both groups are in search of a cube structure that is more than a little reminiscent of a Borg cube, called The Spark. This cube contains the power of life that can be spread to any technological device to create new Decepticons. So our evil friends envision an Earth overrun by newly created bots from Earth’s own machines.
Michael Bay made the very smart decision to mold this film not around the Transformers, but around a distinctively human element. Thus the film was made far more accessible to folks like me, not particularly big Transformer fans. Shia Le Beouf has been getting a ton of work lately, from last year’s Disturbia to the upcoming Indiana Jones film. His performance here is a good example of why he’s becoming so busy. LeBeouf does a fine job of providing the human face to the f/x spectacular. His character, Sam, has two important connections to the bots. His grandfather is the explorer who discovered Megatron and has left him a pair of reading glasses that are far more than they seem. He also comes to own the popular transformer, Bumblebee, when he buys a rather broken down yellow and black Camaro. His romantic interest and fellow adventurer is Mikaela, played wonderfully by Megan Fox. There’s a good amount of chemistry between these two that appropriately begins as quite awkward but develops slowly into a camaraderie during the film. Las Vegas’ Josh Duhamel is underused as a soldier who is one of the first to engage a Decepticon. Jon Voigt also adds believability to the film in his role as Secretary of Defense. John Turturro adds the comedy relief as special agent Simmons, who attempts to force the kids to help them.
Of course, most of us came to see f/x, and lots of them. You won’t be disappointed, as this film does it all. While the first hour of the film moves along rather slowly, there’s no doubt that the last hour of this film is one long action sequence after another. The final battle takes place with all of the explosions, weapons fire, and Transformer battles you could want. I wasn’t completely happy with the actual transformations, because most of them happen with alarming speed, so you don’t get to take in the dynamics of what part becomes what on the actual fighting robot. Again, I never saw the cartoons or the 1984 animated feature, but these Transformers come armed to the teeth, often literally. Mortars, lasers, and powerful bombs and missiles populate nearly every inch of these bad boys, and they’re not afraid to use them. The result is a wonderful culmination of mostly CGI mixed in with practical stunts and gags, with some miniature work as well. The final hour … well, that’s just showing off.
Finally, I was actually impressed with the script. Often in films like these the alleged story is lost somewhere between f/x shots, and no one seems to worry too much about it. I found this story built a solid foundation for all the mystery and mayhem to follow. Bay actually gives credit to his audience and gives them a complicated plot with plenty of B and C arcs going on to keep you happy between the action sequences. I don’t really know how this story fits in with the original Transformers lore, but enough was explained that I felt pretty comfortable that I knew who these things were and what it was they wanted to do. You do not have to have seen anything Transformers before to totally enjoy this incredible rollercoaster ride. When it comes to Transformers, as Sgt. Shultz might have said, “I know nothing,” but that didn’t stop me from, did I say, having a rockin’ time.
Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen (2009)
“For the last two years, an advanced team of new Autobots has taken refuge here under my command. Together, we form an alliance with the humans: a secret but brave squad of soldiers, a classified strike team called NEST. We hunt for what remains of our Decepticon foes, hiding in different countries around the globe.”
I think I’m not alone when I say this was the weakest of the Transformers films. The actors felt a little fake to me, and whatever was going on with Megan Fox was likely a huge distraction from it all. Shia LaBeouf was also starting to wear a little thin. The antics of reaction and silliness never really won me over at all. There’s little doubt the franchise gained a bit when these two actors were out of the picture. Still, I understand that for many of you the characters aren’t really why you come to these movies. You come to play in that toybox I mentioned earlier, and because Michael Bay does know how to put on a show. The stunts and f/x certainly move up a notch, and isn’t that really why you’re here?
Story-wise it’s the most awkward of the films. We discover that the Transformers were here even earlier and played out their own war on Earth in our long-forgotten prehistoric past. They left behind a great weapon, and there were autobots now called The Fallen. Now their leader, The Fallen, is voiced by Tony Todd, and I will say he has the absolute perfect voice for a Transformer. He’s here to fix Megatron and kill Prime. Pretty much Transformers politics as usual. Sam is trying to have a regular life as a college student but runs into a Terminator-style Transformer who practically rapes him as old girlfriend Mikaela shows up at his dorm. And that’s the issue with the entire story. It builds on one coincidence after yet another. Timing is everything, and the quicker the film moves on to the new cast, the better off we’ll all be.
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon (2011)
“We were once a peaceful race of intelligent mechanical beings. But then came the war between the Autobots, who fought for freedom, and the Decepticons, who dreamt of tyranny. Overmatched and outnumbered, our defeat was all but certain. But in the wars final days, one Autobot ship escaped the battle. It was carrying a secret cargo, which would have changed our planet’s fate. A desperate mission, our final hope. A hope that vanished.”
Following the events of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the Autobots are working hand-in-mechanical-glove with human authorities (in other words, the apparently all-powerful CIA), keeping close watch for Deception activity, but also helping out in human-on-human conflicts. Meanwhile, Shia LaBeouf has traded in improbably hot girlfriend Megan Fox for the equally improbable Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (an improbability that the script does have some fun with). He is also out of work and dismayed at not being given due consideration as a savior of the planet.
Romantic and job-related misadventures will conspire to keep LaBeouf’s nose out of joint for a good stretch of the film’s running time, but other more (literally) earthshaking events are afoot, as a decades-old secret from the original moon missions emerges, as does the Autobots’ former leader, Sentinel Prime (voiced by Leonard Nimoy, and looking a lot like the man, too). Just as Sentinel’s return seems to presage a new dawn for the Autobots, a complex web of conspiracies and betrayals climaxes in the most devastating Decepticon attack yet.
Among the biggest knocks against the previous films were plots that defied comprehension, action scenes cut too close to be clear, and combat between indistinguishable robot adversaries. While the script for the new film isn’t exactly Chinatown, it is a considerable improvement, in that it is easier to keep the big picture in focus. The same is true for the big scenes: it is now easy to tell Autobots from Decepticons, and the battles are both clearly presented and breathtaking.
As for the human characters, they feel more extraneous than ever. While John Malkovich’s shameless slice of ham is entertaining, and Ken Jeong steals the film during his brief comic turn, it is really hard to give two figs for LaBeouf and his concerns. As for Huntington-Whiteley, her initial appearance says it all: nothing but a pair of bare legs walking on tiptoe for maximum walking-in-heels effect. She is nothing more than another aesthetically pleasing object for Bay’s camera, polished and lit to a high sheen. Though her situation is the most egregious, it does rather neatly encapsulate the basic situation: the robot characters are far more interesting, developed, and believable than the humans.
Transformers: Age Of Extinction (2014)
“There are mysteries to the universe we were never meant to solve. But who we are and why we are here are not among them. Those answers we carry inside. I am Optimus Prime, and this message is to my Creators: leave planet Earth alone, ’cause I’m coming for you!”
Age Of Extinction takes place about five years after the third film. The country is just getting back to normal, and both the Autobots and the Decepticons have gone into hiding. The CIA has created a task force headed by Harold Attinger (Grammer). On the surface he’s hunting down the remaining Decepticons, but he’s allied himself with a third race of Transformers and is hunting down all of the robots. Technology has advanced because of our exposure to the Transformers, and a new metal called Transformium (yeah, try and say that with a straight face) has been discovered in the Arctic. It turns out it wasn’t a meteor that took out the dinosaurs, it was the Transformer creators. They converted the area into the substance. It’s a programmable metal that is the basis for the construction of a Transformer. He’s teamed up with billionaire industrialist Joshua Joyce (Tucci) to create our own army of slave Transformers. Yeah, no spoiler alert here. That’s not going to end well.
On the human front we have Cade Yeager (Wahlberg). He’s basically Billy Bob Thornton in The Astronaut Farmer or Hoyt Axton in Gremlins. He has a barn filled with robotic devices that almost work. He’s reaching for that one grand invention that will put him on top. He has a teenage daughter Tessa Yeager, played by Meghan Fox Nicola Peltz. She’s basically the adult while Dad goes out and buys tons of junk to work into his projects. Their lives are about to change, however, when Cade brings a busted-down truck he bought of all places at a theater. No spoiler alert needed to tell you that underneath that rusted hulk is the big man himself, Optimus Prime, still voiced by Peter Cullen. He awakens just as Attinger’s government agents led by James Savoy (Welliver) come knocking on their door with plenty of high-tech gizmos and weapons. Fortunately, with all of this technology, the government guys have crappy aim and can’t even hit the broadside of a tractor-trailer to save their souls.
Now father and daughter along with the Irish boyfriend Dad didn’t know about are on the run from the government and some pretty tough alien robots. They manage to figure out what’s going on with the help of Prime (now painted in bright flames to … you know … keep under the radar) and his assembled surviving Autobots. It’s pretty much a worldwide chase, infiltration of high-tech labs, and sabotaging of giant starships that fills the incredibly over-long two hours and 46 minutes of film time.
That film time is stretched beyond its limit. There is no reason for this film to top out at anything over two hours. I’m sure the theaters would have voted along those lines as well. Bay doesn’t use the time to develop the story or move things very much along. He lingers, and not just on the action shots. It’s true that there’s a lot of waste in a house of plenty. It’s almost as if Bay has totally given up on tight filmmaking. He’s dedicated to making the ride last as long as he can, and I’m not sure it was totally for our benefit. I think Michael still loves playing with his toys and just didn’t want to stop.
Of course, audiences will come for the Michael Bay bang, and you will get a lot of bang for your twenty bucks. The f/x are amazing. Each film in the franchise has pushed the limits to what can be delivered on the screen. Age Of Extinction is no exception in that department. The human machines transform in a whole new and rather cool way. It’s almost like the original machines transform in analog, and now we see what that transformation is like in digital. These machines look more like the Replicators of Stargate than the original Transformers. That’s not all that is stolen from Stargate. Wahlberg ends up with an alien gun that looks exactly like a G’ould weapon complete with retracting sword to pulse rifle. Bay loves to blow crap up, and he does a ton of it in this film. Again, there are moments when he has too much tech at his command. The images become almost an overload. There’s so much more happening on the screen than you could possibly process at any one time. The edits are fast and hide any flaws the f/x might contain.
It’s not just robots, spaceships and explosions in the works here. Bay also loves cars, and there are hundreds of concept-car designs on the road here. There’s more car racing (and crashing) than the entire Fast And Furious franchise. The car companies love the exposure, and Bay gets to preview some forward-looking designs and gets access to all of that fine Detroit engineering.
The new guys here are the cool-looking Dinobots. We get a tease of them very early on, but we don’t see them in action until the last 20 minutes of the film.
The acting is certainly a step up from the original trilogy. Thank God Shia LaBeouf is gone, if just that I hate typing that last name. Mark Wahlberg is a much more down-to-earth character and adds at least a smidgen of realism to the film. Kelsey Grammer is also quite a standout here. He takes this character quite seriously and invests into every scene. I buy him most of all. Let’s face it, Nicola Peltz isn’t here for her acting chops. Still, she was good enough to hang with the guys. Unfortunately, she puts out this “pretty and I know it” vibe that made Meghan Fox such a disappointment. Of course, there was always just watching with the sound turned down. John Goodman provides much of the pun quotient in the film as the voice of the cigar-smoking Hound.
The film takes you on a James Bond-like global tour of exotic locations. Technically, this is a pretty great film. As for the story? The idea actually has some potential and is the natural direction for the franchise. It’s just so full of holes that I get the idea Bay spent most of the pre-production budget blowing up the script. Look, I’m not asking for a lot of story here. I just ask that you keep things a little tighter, particularly if you’re going to demand nearly three hours of my time. This is one movie that could benefit from a Director’s Cut, and I do mean “cut”. With laughable terms like Transformium and the gang that can’t seem to shoot straight, all that we’re left with is carnage … not that that’s a bad thing. I know Bay puts his sweat into the cool stuff, but he’s not even trying to tell a tight story anymore.
Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)
“Knights, Autobots. This cannot and will not be the end. To save earth and her people, we are going to steal Quintessa’s staff. Only you, Vivian, can take it back. I will lead the way into her chamber. And when the account of the ages is etched into the cosmos, let those who exist long after us know that this was our finest hour!”
The Last Knight opens with a prologue set in the Dark Ages and featuring the legendary wizard Merlin (Stanley Tucci), who strikes a deal with a robotic Knight from Cybertron to help King Arthur achieve victory using a staff of incalculable power. I realize this bit of revisionist history may sound silly (because it is), but the last couple of films have established that Transformers also played a role in the moon landing (Dark Side of the Moon) and were present on Earth in prehistoric times (Age of Extinction). This film posits that the staff bequeathed to Merlin is the reason the various Transformer factions keep returning to Earth to settle their differences. (So much for the All-Spark, “Transformium,” or any of the other Macguffins in this series.)
In the present day, humans are weary of Transformers tearing up the planet’s major cities and have established the Transformers Reaction Force (TRF). Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg), the roughneck inventor hero of the previous film, is living as a fugitive alongside a group of surviving Autobots, who are still missing their leader. Shortly after rescuing a street-smart teenager named Izabella (Isabela Moner), Yeager is given a metallic talisman by a dying Cybertronian Knight who crashed on Earth.
“Oh, what we would all give to have Prime back right now.”
Speaking of crash landings, Optimus Prime arrives on the ruins of his home planet Cybertron, where he is looking to (literally) meet his maker. He encounters the godlike Quintessa (Gemma Chan), who brainwashes Prime and instructs him to destroy Earth so that Cybertron can live again. To accomplish that, Prime has to get his hands on the staff. However, a mysterious English gentleman named Sir Edmund Burton (Anthony Hopkins … yes, that Anthony Hopkins!) is also on the hunt for the staff, and he enlists the help of Yeager and an impossibly Fox-y Oxford professor named Viviane Wembley (Laura Haddock, a doppelganger for original Transformers hottie Megan Fox…but with an English accent!)
“I was making the moment more epic.”
Believe it or not, I could actually go on and on describing this movie’s scattered, overly-involved plot. (Whoever would’ve guessed an “overly-involved plot” would be an issue in a Transformers flick?!) These films have consistently clocked in around the 150-minute mark, but I do get the impression Bay felt compelled to jam everything he could into The Last Knight since this is his last Transformers movie as director. (And the first since it was announced that Transformers was getting its own movie universe.) That might help explain the pretty-much-inconsequential return of characters like Josh Duhamel’s William Lennox (now a reluctant member of the TRF), Megatron (who I’m pretty sure got his spine torn out of his body about two movies ago), and John Turturro’s crackpot Agent Simmons. Turturro quite literally phones in his performance here … and couldn’t even be bothered to put on pants to be in this movie.
“Don’t eat cars! Don’t … eat … cars!”
Look, I’m no Michael Bay-hater. I’ve actually really enjoyed his non-Transformers output in recent years. The problem is that his absolute worst instincts seem to take over when he’s not working with a relatively limited budget (Pain & Gain) or having to adhere to real-life history (13 Hours). The man can absolutely film the hell out of speeding cars and blow things up like no other, but every action sequence here is a bloated mess. One place the Transformers franchise has improved over time is by giving us Autobots and Deceptions who are more distinctive from one another; it used to be that every battle was a tangled mess of twisted metal. Unfortunately, Bay’s way of giving the robots “personality” is by making a bunch of them jive-talking clowns. Despite a bunch of new additions in this film, the only new robot that really stands out is Cogman, Sir Edmund’s sociopathic butler (voiced by Downton Abbey’s Jim Carter, in a canny bit of casting.)
Sadly, the humans don’t fare any better. Practically every character on screen is either a motor-mouthed nincompoop or a self-serious meathead. (Wahlberg is the only one who gets to sorta be both.) The “humor” in this movie — Bay feels compelled to shoehorn “jokes” into every single scene — is especially cringe-worthy and repeatedly undercuts the film’s grand-scale plot. Also, it just makes everyone look terrible. For example, I’ve heard really good things about The Carmichael Show … but after watching star Jerrod Carmichael bumble and screech his way through this movie as a whiny ally of Yeager’s, I don’t want to have anything to do with the comic for a while.
A movie that employs the likes of Hopkins, Tucci, Turturro, John Goodman, Steve Buscemi, Ken Watanabe, Tony Hale, etc. is something that everyone should want to see. Unfortunately, they are all completely wasted here. The movie also blows various chances at intriguing storylines — Bumblebee’s emergence as the new Autobot leader, Optimus Prime’s extended run as a bad guy, Yeager acting as a surrogate father to Izabella — because it tries to have everything at once and accomplishes very little other than giving the audience a headache. (The headache won’t come because of the explosions, which are awesome … it’ll hit you from rolling your eyes so often.)
“They literally call themselves Decepticons. That doesn’t set off any red flags?”
The world of the Transformers is back with more action, adventure, and science fiction fun for everyone. The most-loved Autobot from this world has a history that explains where these troubled characters all began.
As the battle of Cybertron comes to a conclusion, the Autobots make their move to flee from the Decepticons to an unknown location to later meet up and regroup. Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) tells B-127/Bumblebee (Dylan O’Brien) that he must flee and head to Earth and hide until it is safe to meet up again.
Once on Earth, Bumblebee must find a place to be unnoticed. He must find a secure safe location for his fellow Autobots and defend Earth until Optimus Prime returns. During his landing on Earth, he encounters a team of soldiers training for battle called Sector 7. This team, led by Agent Jack Burns (John Cena), fear for their lives when the capsule transporting B-127 crashes in the forest nearly on top of his team.
In present time Charlie Watson (Hailee Steinfeld), a teenage girl struggling through high school, is trying to find her way. Suffering from the death of her father, she is not transitioning well, while her mother, Sally Watson (Pamela Adlon) and brother, Otis Watson (Jason Drucker), have begun to move on. With the addition of her new stepfather, Ron (Stephen Schneider), Charlie is desperate to find a way out.
When in search of a car to be able to show that she belongs to the in-crowd at school, she stumbles across a yellow Volkswagen bug in a desperate need of attention. This is where these two meet (Charlie and Bumblebee), and the real story begins.
Director Travis Knight establishes the theme of the story very quickly and manages to continue to flow the storyline perfectly. He includes spectacular special effects that make this world come alive and almost compels us all to believe these characters really exist. Along with some great acting, an excellent soundtrack, and lots of action, this film will keep you entertained.
Each Transformers film is presented in its original aspect ratio. The ultra-high-definition 2160p images are arrived at by an HEVC codec with anywhere from 50-80 mbps. Colors are outstanding and offer a sweet, glossy brilliance that brings out the full palette of the film. Bumblebee’s bright yellow exterior, along with the other bright and shiny Transformers, looks about as good as you could hope for. I was particularly impressed with the desert sand fight with the giant scorpion. The level of light diffusion through the flying sand contrasted with the machine itself demonstrates how well these f/x blend into their environments. The orange flare smoke offers a wonderful example of the depth that UHD provides. You get nice color separation of the bright orange smoke with soldiers at various places within the well-defined smoke field. This all repeats itself with green smoke and city environments toward the end of the film. The detail allows you to really see the inner workings of the machines like never before. Black levels are inky black with tons of sweet shadow definition.
The Dolby Atmos presentations default to a solid 7.1 track. And it is just as much of an upgrade as the picture. You want subwoofer? You want magnificent tones from the score? You’ve got it, and more. I was able to completely immerse myself in the action. Dialog somehow cut through all of this high-powered sound without a single problem. You’ll get plenty of ground-shaking boom out of your system. This is the disc you’re going to play for your friends to show off what your gear can do. Everything else carried a very fine clarity throughout. The surrounds benefited from subtle nuance effects to full-blown ear-shattering screams of power so that you never find yourself bored with what you hear. If your ears have a sweet tooth, this release will put them into insulin shock with all of this ear candy.
The extras are all ported from the original Blu-ray release, and you get the bonus disc instead of Blu-ray copies of the films. You get a Transformer decal.
Maybe it’s time we took away the toys and gave Michael Bay a time out. I have an old Thingmaker he could play with. I assume he has killer medical coverage. You’re going to want this upgrade. I’m not really a Transformers fan. I never got into the cartoons, comics, or toys, but this film is too much of a fun ride not to love. If you’ve been holding off going Blu, then the film you’ve been waiting for is now here in 4K on UHD. I don’t care how good your old Blu-ray player is, this 4K UHD is going to blow you away. In this release there really is “more than meets the eye”.