Not everyone likes the Michael Bay Transformers films. Hard to believe but after 12 years and 4 sequels it’s fair to say that some of the good will has dried up a bit, even amongst diehard fans. Yet when you go back and look at the original film, there’s still a lot to like. Is it perfect? Absolutely not. But whilst it still has many of the same problems as subsequent entries in the franchise, it also does a lot of good too. Today’s we’re counting down 8 reasons why the 2007 Transformers is still the best of the Bay films.
Oh, and in case you’ve never seen it in the last 12 years… yeah, SPOILERS ahead, obvs.
#8. The soundtrack
Let’s get this list pumping! In fact, I wholeheartedly recommend you kick in the track above and let it play whilst giving this article a gander to get you in the mood! Yes, for all the things you can fault the original Transformers live action film for, the music is definitely not one of them. Even though long-time Michael Bay-collaborator, Steve Jablonsky would go on to work on all of the sequels, none of the scores ever sounded quite as good as this, in my opinion. Sure, it’s slightly derivative (it’s verrry Hans Zimmer, and Jablonsky’s previous work on the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise will also come as no surprise), but it still manages to give us memorable themes, rousing action beats and solemn but tender moments as required.
The track above, Arrival to Earth is a definite highlight, and wonderfully segues into the main Autobot theme towards the end. The Decepticons also receive their own very distinct and creepy theme, characterised by rousing alien-esque voices, which is another standout. Whilst the scores from the later films never quite shone in the same way, this one has stood the test of time really well and merits another listen.
#7. The robots
A common criticism of the Michael Bay Transformers films is that many of the robots have little to no discernible personality. Whilst in some instances that’s very fair (particularly with the Decepticons in the later entries), it’s also slightly too forgiving of other areas of the overall franchise. Regardless, the 2007 entry holds up as the best live action example for distinct robot characters, in my opinion. Whilst the baddies are still rather overlooked (more could have definitely been done with Starscream, surely?), there are some notable highlights.
Ironhide is a great example of a character who does a lot with very little, as you get a real sense of personality from the few bits of dialogue he’s given. He’s more than just your typical action tough guy, in that he’s also quite funny and is almost playing up to a stereotype. Likewise Optimus is a little easier to get a read on here, before going quite distinctly murdery as the franchise wears on. Look, they’re by no means the most fleshed-out characters ever, sure, but compared to the other films there’s at least a sense of tangible personality tropes at play here.
#6. The human characters
Hoo boy. Let’s be clear, I’m not saying the human characters in Transformers are always well-written or fleshed-out (in fact some of them are downright problematic), but there are still more good examples in that original film than can be found elsewhere in the series. Some of them are distinctly “less bad” than in later entries (e.g. Sam, who is still unlikeable but hasn’t yet devolved into whatever was going on with him in Dark of the Moon). Others are more positive altogether. Maggie Madsen, portrayed by Rachael Taylor, is a decent example of a character who is credible in their field but just so happens to be a woman. In fact, despite a few instances of her being hand-waved away by Jon Voight’s Secretary of Defense, she ends up being the only person in that whole department who comes across as entirely competent and ends up uncovering the truth that more experienced analysts have missed. It’s a shame that she just sort of disappears towards the end.
Hard to believe people still think of Mikaela Banes as the worst character from Transformers 2007. She’s the most compelling human character, with the best story arc & (some) actual development. Bay’s camera work betrays her but watch the film with a different paradigm to see it. pic.twitter.com/hunBiUPmHm
— Sixo (@SixoTF) December 29, 2018
Another interesting example is Megan Fox’s Mikaela Banes, who is often a go-to example of everything that’s wrong with these films but actually has all the groundings of a decent action flick character. She’s certainly more than a mere love interest for the male protagonist. It’s unfortunate that Bay’s camera work betrays her by framing her as a lust object, but the script does it’s best to present her as someone who longs to be taken seriously in a male-dominated world and ends up finding her place come the film’s end. She’s also shown to be loyal, capable, intelligent and creative. I’d actually go so far to say it’s a shame she’s not the primary character, but hey.
#5. The action
If there’s one thing Michael Bay does well, it’s action amiright? Well, yes and no. I remember sitting in the cinema watching Dark of the Moon and just feeling a distinct numbness to everything I was seeing on screen, as though the sheer… volume of all that clanging metal was just too much to process. By comparison the first film is a lot more restrained (comparatively anyway) and gives the action time to breath in between quieter scenes. There’s also a greater use of practical elements going on, which helps to make everything feel a bit more weighted, whereas by the time The Last Knight rolled around it started to feel more cartoony, in my opinion. Just take a look at the shot above – there’s a real sense of Scorponok being in the scene and the human characters running away from him.
Not all of the action scenes work in the 2007 film (one of the early fights, featuring Bumblebee & Barricade, is very hard to follow), but when they do it’s really something to witness. The dessert attack, Bonecrusher vs Optimus on the freeway, Jazz taking on Brawl… it’s all pretty super stuff.
#4. The humour
Oh, come on! There are definitely some laugh-out-loud moments in the original film, despite what you might think! Sure, not everyone was happy with a masturbation reference in a Transformers film, but I can still name you a good few moments that were welcomed with audible merriment in the cinema. Even some of the less obvious moments like Ironhide’s “the parents are very annoying” are at least worth a celebratory nose snort, surely? Other bits fall flat, but when it works I think there’s a genuine humour to the proceedings. Likewise with the comedy characters – some work, some don’t. Despite being loathed by lots of fans, I’d argue that Sam’s parents are actually on good form in the first film and provide some welcome relief, whereas characters like Agent Simmons are still pretty annoying (although considerably less so than in later films). Anyway, for my money the laughometer was definitely at its highest back in 2007.
#3. The transformations
Back when I was compiling our Countdown of the most epic live action transformation scenes, one thing was very clear – a lot of the obvious choices came from the first film. Whilst there are plenty of standout moments from the sequels, the 2007 entry goes out of its way to showcase stunning sequences every chance it gets, with robots contorting this, that and every other way all whilst the camera spins round to take it all in.
As the films go on, less and less time is given to making such a feature of these scenes (with Age of Extinction pretty much giving up and just having the bad guys morph between modes), but it’s not just that. In the first film the transformations also have a kind of presence to them that feels somewhat lacking the further along the franchise we go (in a similar critique to the action). Just observe Ironhide’s scene above. The transformation feels woven into the mix by his necessity to jump over the approaching missiles, but the whole thing is so epically shot that it ends up being a memorable moment all by itself. Hey, when you go to watch a film called Transformers, you’d hope to be blown away by the transformations, right? And in 2007 that’s what we got.
#2. The plot
There’s a cube! And then some glasses! An eBay page and… oh, alright, the plot of the 2007 film is still incredibly silly and takes an unnecessarily convoluted route to marshal characters like Sam and Mikaela into the proceedings, but at least it can all be boiled down to a classic Macguffin caper at the end of the day. Bad guys want the cube, good guys need to stop them. There you go. Now try and tell me what the other films in the franchise are about as easily as this. Go on, dare you. Something about harvesting the sun… something about a secret mission on the moon… and don’t even get me going on The Last Knight. OK, I’m being a bit dismissive, but all of the later films feature plots that are way harder to boil down to a single concept. For all it’s many distractions, the 2007 film looks almost quite simple by comparison, and it works.
#1. The excitement
OK, maybe this one is unfair… but purely by virtue of the being the first in the series, the 2007 film managed to knock our socks off in a way that subsequent entries haven’t come close to doing. Ask anyone who went to the cinema to see it on release and they’ll likely tell you a similar story – it was a real spectacle that had people talking. Whilst it didn’t win everyone over, the general buzz about the film was positive all things considered, so much so that the idea of a sequel was genuinely exciting (just seeing that Starscream in the mid-credits was enough to get people talking).
For my own money, I remember it all very well. In fact I have a distinct memory of turning to look at one of my friends in the cinema audience during the scene above, as both of us locked eyes with a HOLY CRAP-style expression on our face, mouths agape at what we were witnessing. It’s harder to imagine now, so many films into the franchise, but at the time this really was more than meets the eye.
So, that’s our list! Do you agree with our choices? Let us know if not and of course feel free to suggest your own!