This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Transformers franchise, which began in 1984 with the Hasbro toy line, followed the by the popular animated series. It’s fitting that the anniversary will be celebrated with the release of Transformers: Age of Extinction on June 27 this year. The film is the fourth entry in Michael Bay’s live action film series, which began with the original Transformers in 2007.
In anticipation of the release of the new film, here’s a look back at the Transformers film franchise to date. Please note that this column will likely include plot details and spoilers for the films in the Transformers franchise.
Transformers: The Movie (1986)
A discussion of the Transformers film franchise would not be complete without going all the way back to 1986 and talking about the original animated Transformers film. The film was created as a bridge between the second and third seasons of the animated series and featured some game changing plot developments. Specifically, the film killed off many of the Generation 1 Transformers, including the controversial decision to have Optimus Prime mortally wounded in a battle with Megatron. While this was done to make way for the new protagonist Hot Rod, who would become Rodimus Prime over the course of the film, the decision to kill off Optimus Prime was not a popular one and he was eventually brought back on the animated series.
Transformers: The Movie is also notable for featuring the final performance of Orson Welles, who voiced the planet-sized villain, Unicron. Welles’ health was so bad at the time of recording that the audio had to be put through a synthesizer to be usable. The film also features the voices of Judd Nelson as Hot Rod and Leonard Nimoy as Galvatron, who is the reincarnated form of Megatron.
Also, no discussion of this film would be complete without mentioning the film’s theme song “The Touch” by Stan Bush, which is simultaneously quite catchy and extremely cheesy.
Before it was even released, the live-action Transformers film was the subject to fanboy criticism. From the decision to hire critically derided filmmaker Michael Bay to the near-indistinguishable looks of the Transformers themselves, there was a lot people had to complain about the film. One criticism included how the Transformers took a backseat to the human characters, including the lead character Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf). To be fair, Sam Witwicky, also known as Spike, was part of the original animated series, though in a somewhat lesser role. The film also introduced the masses to Megan Fox, a former model, who was obviously cast more for her looks than acting ability.
On a more positive note, the film brought back original voice actor Peter Cullen to voice Optimus Prime, with Cullen remaining in the role for all the subsequent films. However, instead of following suit and casting Frank Welker as Decepticon leader Megatron, a nearly unrecognizable Hugo Weaving was cast instead.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is remembered less for its plot and more for its controversial characterizations. The film introduced the jive-talking Autobots Skids and Mudflap, who were viewed by many as racist stereotypes. There is also the still puzzling revelation of a Decepticon, who is able to take human form, which would cause many to ask why don’t they all do that?
The plot of the film introduces the new villain The Fallen, who can almost be seen as the Emperor to Megatron’s Darth Vader. The film also takes a page from Transformers: The Movie and seemingly kills off Optimus Prime halfway through the film, only for him to be resurrected by the end. The film’s climatic set piece moves the action into Egypt and introduces the Constructicons, who join together to form the enormous Devastator. Sadly, despite it being a thrilling battle, most probably remember Devastator for a gag involving an inconveniently placed wrecking ball.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
Michael Bay went all out for Transformers: Dark of the Moon, which was likely considered at the time to be the final chapter of the Transformers trilogy. A notable difference in the casting is the addition of British model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who was cast to replace Megan Fox, who left due to creative differences with Michael Bay. The film also featured the return of Leonard Nimoy to the Transformers film series, with him voicing Optimus Prime’s old mentor Sentinel Prime, who is revealed over the course of the film to have aligned himself with Megatron.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon is probably most remembered for its destruction of Chicago, much of which is committed by the new Decepticon Shockwave who commands a snake-like driller robot. The film also accentuated the supposed finality of the film by featuring the most Transformer casualties of the series, which included Optimus Prime finally destroying Megatron, during the final battle.
Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)
While Transformers: Dark of the Moon indeed wrapped up the story of Sam Witwicky, Transformers: Age of Extinction is set to pick up the story four years later, with the film introducing a new human protagonist in the form of Cade Yeager, played by Mark Wahlberg. Not too much is known about the plot of the film, other than that it will introduce a new batch of Decepticons, who will be lead by Galvatron, with Frank Welker returning to voice the character. Also, as the title hints, a major element of Transformers: Age of Extinction will be the introduction of the Dinobots, lead by by the T-Rex-formed Grimlock.
That wraps up this overview of the Transformers film franchise. These robots in disguise have charmed audiences for the past three decades. While the modern films may not be loved be all, and may be seen as only glorified toy commercials, there is still a core fanbase that would love to see more adventures from the Transformers for years to come.