Yes, it’s seriously called that.
I try not to exaggerate when I say this, but this is one of the first films I ever remember watching, in a dark room accompanied by my cousin attempting not to fall asleep. At such a young age, I was amazed at all the action scenes, the robo-transformations, and the rock n’ roll soundtrack. Despite this initial introduction, I have seen this film very few times… maybe twice in my life? Three times? All of those times came at a very young age, likely at six or seven-years-old. Last night, I watched it again after nearly twenty years. How does it hold up?
Let me present a scenario:
A man walks into a store. An employee of the store greets him, then offers to assist him with finding any desired item. The man says no. The employee nods and immediately drops to the floor, flopping around like a fish on land. The man, attempting to understand the situation, is then confronted by a giant stereo blasting ’80s music at levels unfit for public stores. Trying to run away from the loud noise, other customers come rushing into the store, attracted by the discomfort exuding from the man. The roof slowly cracks open, revealing hundreds of rats dancing and fighting amongst themselves in rhythm with the blaring ’80s music. The man finds himself with a gun that runs on solar energy; he decides to shoot at the rats with solar blasts that incinerate bunches of rats on contact. The other customers begin to dance; the ’80s music gets louder. The man grows ten years older. The earth explodes.
Get all that? Good. The plot of The Transformers makes about as much sense.
This feels like a passion project that borrows from a large variety of sci-fi adventure stories. A story that runs at the pace of a cheetah chasing prey, it doesn’t hold any hands. One is expected to understand the context of the story of the Transformers and who everyone is, because there is no attempt at an origin story. Everyone appears as though one is dropped into the third or fourth chapter of a long-winded novel—the prior chapters have been destroyed. As it continues, more and more things—seemingly disproportionate to the central plot—occur, leading to further and further isolation from any and all sense.
On top of that, the animation and vocal performances can be really shaky. Judd Nelson as Hot Rod sounds like he is cashing the check he was promised as he’s stating every line. The kid’s performance is kind of annoying, too. Lots of complex action scenes are performed well enough, but there are some casual shots that lack sufficient fluidity. I definitely recall cringing at various sequences that seem glossed over. Overall design looks incredibly ’80s (may or may not be a compliment), and when the animation is fun to watch, it’s typically during action sequences.
Finally, characters, especially on the antagonist faction (Decepticons), are thrown around like toys (haha). People die in this film like they die in Game of Thrones, only the characters here don’t have any development whatsoever. Very vague tropes define these characters, often predicated by what adventure stories of the past dictate (young and cocky chosen one; leader that dies for greater good; comic relief). They don’t change, they don’t face introspective issues, and all they really do over the course of the film is react to dire situations. There’s very little room to do anything with these characters because the pace is so fast. At about eighty minutes outside of credits, a very large portion of this film consists of action scenes.
If these things scare you, don’t even bother with this film. It is by no means a deep or challenging film designed to tug at the heartstrings (outside maybe one scene) or inspire a certain message. It’s a good-versus-evil adventure sci-fi action whatchamacallit that’s more likely to cause seizures than empathy. And with that, let me tell you why this film is awesome.
It’s absolutely bonkers. What I stated before about The Transformers being lightning-fast and the story not making sense actually ends up being a positive. It is an unforgettable experience; even after twenty-ish years, I remembered various aspects to this film as if they were fresh. It’s (somewhat) the opposite of the most boring of experiences: the tried-and-true formula that’s easy to understand. The insanity makes it memorable, the pace requires constant attention, the random settings and scenarios may not make sense, but they’re interesting visually and from an entertainment standpoint. This is a really, really fun film, boosted by all sorts of things that should be faults.
If one were to watch a trailer for this film on Youtube, they may note that it’s advertised as a “rock n’ roll” film. This may seem strange to those who haven’t seen the film, but it makes so much sense during and afterwards. The soundtrack to this film is almost absurdly ’80s rock. Heavy on synth and guitars and the typical voice of ’80s singers, everything about it just screams ’80s, from the look to the sound. And again, it’s awesome. I was jamming out to every action scene, bobbing my head to and fro. And Stan Bush’s “The Touch” is a great hype machine that is perfect for this film’s all-or-nothing stakes. What this film does with its soundtrack can do one of two things: improve the “epicness” of the overall experience, or alienate the viewer into thinking, “Wow, this is unfitting.” Whatever it is, it may be an acquired taste.
Action scenes are great. Many memorable moments and situations. Characters that aren’t obnoxiously annoying (generally). Hype-boosting soundtrack. A twitch of insanity. The Transformers may be boosted from a large coat of nostalgia, seeing as I watched it at a very young age, but even now I find it incredibly satisfying. I rarely looked at my watch throughout and it was a blast to watch once again. I had a great time watching it and I’d love to watch it many times over. It’s not a great movie whatsoever, but it’s Transformers; this isn’t Citizen Kane or The Godfather. It’s a dumb franchise with a convoluted premise that writers can basically do anything with. Here, they planted the seed of passion with just enough care to make it a fulfilling experience. It won’t win awards, but it may definitely win hearts.
Final Score: 7/10
The rating for all other films can be found at Letterboxd.
If you’d like to see more reviews like this, feel free to look at my full list of film reviews!