The Transformers live-action movies directed by Michael Bay have polarized the fandom in an extreme manner. These days it seems you either consider Michael Bay the rapist of your childhood and devil incarnate or the saintly man who single-handedly resurrected a dead franchise and elevated it to stardom. And whichever side of the argument you fall on, it seems to be an all or nothing thing. Or in other words: you either love all his Transformers movies or you hate all his Transformers movies.
Here is where I out myself: I don’t like the Bay Transformers movies (hate is a bit too strong a word, as I was mostly apathetic by the time part 4 came around), except for the first one. That I still adore.
Now comes the point where people usually look at me like I’m mad. Mostly because I’ve probably just been involved in a lengthy argument or rant about how bad part 2, 3 or 4 of the TF movie saga was and apparently it is common wisdom that part 1 is guilty by association, simply because it was directed by Michael Bay and/or is part of the Transformers movie line.
Now sure thing: the 2007 movie contains a lot of the same things that we love to complain about in your typical Michael Bay movie. Things exploding often and rapidly. Porny shots of Megan Fox (or whoever else plays the hot female lead). Weird racism. Unfunny parents. Tons of product placement. Shaky cam and extreme close-ups. But you know what? While I noticed many of these things when I first watched the movie, I didn’t mind them that much. Why? Because there was actually a pretty decent movie happening on the screen.
The 2007 movie certainly isn’t a cinematic masterpiece, but it did what it set out to do: introduce the Transformers to an audience that, for the most part, had either never heard of them or just dimly remembered them as being some kind of 80s toy/cartoon thing. Sure, most of the Transformers don’t really appear until halfway through the movie, but that serves a purpose: we discover them together with audience surrogate Sam Witwicky. And even as a pretty entertaining boy-gets-his-first-car story takes place and Sam figures out that something strange is going on with said car, we have two side plots going on that subtly raise the tension. A military unit somewhere in the desert tries to escape from murderous robots, and a computer hacker at the NSA discovers a virus the Decepticons have planted to disrupt global communications.
Sure, some of the humor falls flat and I didn’t really need to see Bumblebee pee on a guy. But then there were epic scenes like the Autobots’ arrival on Earth, Bumblebee’s discovery of the Allspark Cube, or Starscream performing jet judo on a squadron of F-22 Raptors, that totally made up for that. And even more importantly: there was a coherent story tying these scenes together. An epic, intricate and complex story? No, but a story you could easily follow without wondering what the f*** just happened or where everyone else went while stuff was happening. Sure, the Allspark Cube is a McGuffin, but it worked in the context of the movie and was a concrete goal for both good and bad guys to chase after.
Also worth mentioning: all the Transformers involved on the screen are named and distinguishable. You see all of them transforming at least once. And the human characters are (for the most part) not behaving like stupid idiots or just there for the laughs.
The 2007 movie was the introduction of the modern audience to the world of the Transformers and it worked just fine in that context. The problem with the follow-up movies was, that they didn’t really follow up, but rather just did the same thing over and over again: focus on the human characters for long stretches of the movie and barely showing the Transformers until it’s time for the big end battle. It made sense for movie one, but not for the follow-ups. Add in the fact that the sequels pretty much abandoned the idea that a coherent plot was needed and you end up with the messes that were Revenge of the Fallen, Dark of the Moon, and Age of Extinction.
So the bottom line for me: the 2007 movie was good. Not great, but good. I saw it three times in the cinema and got the DVD the day it came out. I’ve rewatched it numerous times since then. It’s fun, it’s entertaining, and it doesn’t require me to completely shut off my brain and pretend to be a mindless idiot in order to enjoy it.
So yes, I still love the first Transformers live-action movie. Too bad none of the others lived up to it.