Best Action Scenes of All-Time: Transformers Edition - The Part-Time Critic

Saturday, April 9, 2022

Best Action Scenes of All-Time: Transformers Edition

 
*Last Updated: 4/9/2022

You want to know how committed I am to this "Best Action Scenes" thing (or at least to getting the most out of my free trial to Paramount+ subscription?) I voluntarily decided (pray for me) to spend the 14 or so hours required to watch the six Transformer films. I tried to give good commentary, but you'll recognize some frustration throughout this overview I think. The Transformers franchise began as an experiment - is it possible to take an old toy/cartoon series and turn it into a high concept/big budget mega blockbuster franchise? If you could turn Batman and X-Men into winning franchises, why not Transformers? To make it happen they found the perfect producer/director match for this obviously empty cash grab - Michael Bay.
 
In my review of the second film in this franchise back in 2009 I wrote: 
"Reviewing a film is a tricky art and a movie like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (from here on referred to as Transformers 2) only magnifies that difficulty. On the one hand, I thought the film was idiotic, boring, and condescending. On the other hand, Transformers 2 presents its own clearly drawn cinematic world along with a directorial vision with the same scope and magisterium of an Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, or even a Steven Spielberg. Like Hitchcock, Kubrick, and Spielberg, Michael Bay filters every aspect of Transformers 2 through his particular worldview, his cinematic lens. The difference being that the aforementioned directors had worldviews that aspired to understand, explore, and learn about humanity and its range of experience; Michael Bay has the worldview of a horny teenage boy in arrested development given over to all his indulgences. I guess the question is, do you want to spend two and a half hours looking through those eyes?"


The Transformers franchise is the epitome of mixed feelings because on one hand it's the kind of loud, stupid, vulgar, and obnoxious action that I can't stand but on the other hand it has its moments of boundary pushing visual effects, outlandish ambitions and a commitment to real explosions and locations that I have to stand and applaud. For me, Michael Bay has to be acknowledged as genuinely talented at action direction - few do spectacle like him. There is a reason he has his own coined action term - Bayhem. After

As I reviewed the six films (it was the most difficult deep dive I've ever done!) so far in the franchise there was one question that seemed to define each major action sequence: Would Bay get out of the way and let the action and spectacle speak for itself OR would he allow all his achilles heel trademarks muck it up? What is his achilles heel? Here are the three major downfalls that can ruin great Michael Bay actions sequences:

1. Convoluted or Never-Ending Storylines: Does Bay overcomplicate the sequence by including 3-4 different story thread at the same time or never let a sequence end by making it an exhausting series of winding steps? See the finale of film 2 and 4 for great examples here.

2. Over-reliance on Loudness for Comedy: Does Bay include a character that never shuts up? They could be constantly screaming (Shia Lebouf), whining (John Turturro), or cracking jokes (Stanley Tucci); but they never, ever, ever, ever, ever (get it?) stop.

3. Over-reliance on Sex Appeal: Does Bay include a female character who's job it is to constantly be in skimpy clothes running away from danger and causing other characters to fight for her? This is such a blatant and offensive part of his formula - see every single film.

When Bay simply lets a well designed action sequence play out within his visual style for spectacle, eye for quality effects, and grand scale - then there are few who can match him. I found that the most fully satisfying sequences were self-contained ones where 1-2 transformers got to fight against humans or one other transformer and show off the cool gadgets they have. The Blackout and Scorponok sequences from the first film are great examples. Restraint and spectacle are two key principles. When Bay's three downfalls show their face (and they are often), we get real soul-less trash with a beautiful surface. This list is my attempt to extricate the good from the bad, what should be celebrated from what should be mocked. For those interested in knowing before you get into the ratings, here's how I would rank the six films so far:

6. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (D+) 2009
5. Transformers: The Last Knight (D+) 2017
4. Bumblebee (C) 2018 *Not directed by Michael Bay
3. Transformers: Age of Extinction (C-) 2014
2. Transformers: Dark of the Moon (C+) 2009
1. Transformers (C+) 2007

Let's get to the list, shall we? What do you think? Did I get it right?

All Transformer Franchise Action Sequences Rated & Ranked

GRADE: C-
26. “Trespassing Kids Saved by Izabella from Killer Droid & Army” -Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)
- Commentary: A few kids trespass into a forbidden area to “see some dead aliens” and they come across a droid that patrols the area. The kids are saved by a young girl (who lives in this area, fixing and protecting the autoboots? Lol) and they hide under an autoboot named Canopy. The idea of this girl roughing it and hiding in this area is absolutely ridiculous – of course she fits Michael Bay’s requirements (clean, model attractive, wearing tight clothing). Eventually, Whalberg and Bumblebee show up and finish off the droid. Before Whalberg can escape he is captured by the military. It’s an introductory sequence to show the status quo of the film and it’s dumb. The idea of the girl is dumb. Cade breaking in to help other bots is dumb and later when Bumblebee is blow apart and then can reassemble himself – it’s dumb as well (when did he get this ability?). Does it still contain some decent visuals? Sure – but this is exhausting and desperate and convoluted.

25. “Protector Knights, TSF, Prime, & Bee Fight it Out for the Staff” -Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)
- Commentary: As I'm writing this, I'm five films in and forgive me - I've just witnessed far too many sequences with far too many shenanigans simply because the script calls for it. This is a sequence that tries so hard to be a National Treasure / Indiana Jones template in the Transformers universe, but it just becomes a tangled mess of motives/agendas and expository mcguffins that the writers of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies think it's a bit much. In this case they are underwater in a ship with Knight protectors of some staff that if used correctly would kill earth in favor of Cybertron. The catch is that only a descendant of Merlin (?) can wield it - which is the lead female (who looks like Bay just brought back an older Megan Fox to be alongside older Shia in Mark Whalberg). Yet, Whalberg is wearing some kind of special pendant that chose him because he has the qualities of a knight or something. Yet, Whalberg in a moment of frustration (that mirrors the audience) when he picks up the staff just throws it away. Then the Knight protectors show up to kill them, then the government agents get involved and shoot bullets that do barely anything, then Optimus arrives - but he is like mind-controlled or something - and gets the staff. The whole base rises out of the water and there is a small fight on the surface with Bumbelbee and Prime's about to kill him but Bee says, "Martha" I mean he uses his real voice and it stops Prime and snaps him out, but Megatron and other baddies show up and steal the staff and leave. LOLOLOL - They likely spent $50 million on the visual effects for this sequence alone and it's absolute rubbish and nonsense. 


GRADE: C
24. “Finale: Cybertron and Earth Collide” -Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)
- Commentary: Cybertron has been brought to earth through the mystical staff. If left alone, Cybertron will zap earth and be rebuilt. The sequence begins with Decepticons using Stonehenge (yes they roped it in) as a portal to Cybertron but they are attacked by the military and Anthony Hopkins whose cane works as a machine gun. The Decepticons get away but the Autobots all assemble on the ground for one last run to get the staff away from Contessa (?) or whatever - the evil queen of Cybertron. As Cybertron heals it's a pretty cool visual and there are some epic visual effects of the consequences around the world, but there's no real sense of what is happening here - how long until Earth is dead, why did Prime give them a speech and then leave? Anyways - the humans and Autobot team gather and make their run and we get some really ambitious jet sequences and aerial dogfight moments. Seriously, the visuals are incredible here. They land and shoot their way to ignition chamber with the help of the Autobots and that little plucky girl from the beginning of the film because the movie needed a cloying/sentimental moment with a young girl and a robot that looks like Wall E shoehorned into this. It's really dumb and offensive. Of course, the military changes plans causing conflict (could this get any more unnecessarily complicated?), but Optimus arrives and takes out the defender bots decapitating them all in one swing. What he was doing the whole time before? Who knows - movie just wanted a dramatic entrance I guess. The nuke idea doesn't work, but the Autobots and Whalberg lead adult Megan Fox girl to the ignitation chamber to grab the staff. Gravity goes out, but through shenanigans she gets the staff and grabs it. Optimus and Bumblebee take out the Queen, and everyone has to make it down safely with Optimus. Whoo, what a long and exhausting finale that had a ton of dumb, ton of loud, and some amazing visuals. 

 
23. “From Campus to Warehouse: Decepticons Capture Sam” -Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
- Commentary: Starting with a Decepticon made to look like a college babe, the Decepticons attempt to capture Sam so they can retrieve the information he has from the all spark. Sam, his roommate, and girlfriend then run across campus as the babe decepticon attempts to capture him. It all ends with a helicopter decepticon carrying them off to the warehouse. Like that its in daylight, lots of real destruction, but everything else is rather meh to repulsive.

22. “Opening: Autobots Lose Cybertron and Escape” - Bumblebee (2018)
- Commentary: This is the first Transformers franchise sequence not to be directed by Michael Bay and it is a breathe of fresh air. "But you just rated it a 'C' how is that refreshing?" Because 'C' sequences don't always indicate their quality, it sometimes just indicates it was a small moment in the movie, perhaps done well, but it's so small and not meant to be more that I can't give it a higher rating. In this case, we get a nice prologue to help us understand the situation - Cybertron is being overwhelmed by the Decepticons, the Autobots are falling back. I love the nod to the original cartoon designs by the way. Prime has the Autobots escape to gather more help and send Bumblebee to establish a base on earth. It's simple, direct, and doesn't have any of the complications that come with most of Bay's sequences. Ahhh, breathe in the normality. Also, it may not give us some of those unique visual wonders he is prone to either.  

21. “Bumblebee vs. Barricade” -Transformers (2007)
- Commentary: The first transformers vs. transformer fight in the film is a bit of a mess. It begins as a chase sequence in car form between Bumblebee, as a vintage/modern Camaro, and Barricade, as a muscle police car. It’s typical Michael Bay flash here, but once the two cars transform into their bot selves, it all gets really blurry on the visuals and very hard to tell what’s going on. Thankfully, they would improve on this much more with time.

20. “Lockdown Hunts Ratchet Along with Cemetery Wind” -Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)
- Commentary: An introductory action sequence to show us the new status quo for the fourth film in the franchise. The decepticons and autoboots are in hiding, being hunted by a government black ops agency called Cemetery Wind with the help of the transformer Lockdown (a kind of special ops Transformer). They discover Ratchett hiding in the smoke stack of an old steamer in a dock. The sequence plays out with the atmosphere you’d expect from Bay when tactical ops are involved. Ratchett is fired upon, runs, gives some exposition, and then is taken out by Lockdown. Short, decent sequence setting up the new situation.

19. “Pyramids Finale: Getting Sam to Optimus” -Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
- Commentary: This finale sequence is everything that is wrong with the series. It is a vulgar, loud, bloated, convoluted, and non-sensical mess channeled through tens of millions of dollars of visual effects and cinematography to get something that looks clean on the other side. It’s hard to undervalue just how bad this is from creators who are capable of so much better.

18. "Yeager Junkyard Attack Leads to Defeat" -Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)
- Commentary: Decepticons are given the location of Yeager's junkyard and they attack, except Yeager was tipped off and they are now held up in an abandoned town with a defense plan (why they couldn't set up a defense plan at the junkyard I don't know). The Decepticons arrive in the town and pick on the little blue robot which brings plucky Izabella out - in just another case of stupidity in these Transformers scenes - to yell at the Decepticons to knock it off and she's to plucky to care if she dies...yawn. Yeager blows some explosives and grabs the girl. They run away and are saved by the T-Rex transformer from the previous film. A few Decepticons get taken out and then they retreat. The government drones then show up (this is like the fourth new government agency to hunt Transformers in like five films) to take them out. The drones have machine guns and Cade (Whalberg) takes a few out with his gun, but o one else has weapons - unless you count character quipping "Does this job even have health care?" (yawn). They enter the biggest building in the town (which has a janitor working? I thought it was abandoned?) and find a servant Transformer to collect Whalberg, but one of the drones push him out the glass elevator and Cade holds on for dear life. Cade then does some nonsense where he uses a few drones as steps and rides one to the ground. The end. What a strange sequence highlighting so many of Bay's faults.  
 

GRADE: C+
17. “Finale: Bumblebee vs. the Military, Shatter, & Dropkick” -Bumblebee (2018)
- Commentary: Bumblebee has been captured by the military with the Decepticons Shatter and Dropkick interrogating him to find out where Optimus Prime is. Charlie (Hailee Stanfield) and her pal go the detention facility with the hopes of breaking Bumblebee out. Bee is shot by the Decepticons and left for dead. The military arrives as Bee revives and begins firing on them. Charlie calms him and they race off to a safe place with the military following behind. Charlie''s parents get involved in this moment as well and it becomes one of those, "I'm grown you have to trust me" moments that make sense from writers trying to add some depth but absolutely makes no sense in the film itself. Ugh. Anyways, they end up at a Sat tower where the Decepticons are sending out a message and we get a fight between Bee and Dropkick. Because these films are absolutely dedicated to making their humans matter, Charlie has to climb a crane to get up to the other Decepticon on the tower. Why can't they just let the people sit back during one of these and just let the awesome play itself out? Most of the time the job of the humans is so much more uninteresting that it detracts everytime they cut to it rather than enhance? Cena shows up next in a helicopter taking shots at Shatter on the tower. Bee and Dropkick have some nice fight beats, but the best bit is when Dropkick changes into an Apache helicopter and Bee throws a chain into his rotors. When Dropkick transforms back the chain gets all messed up into his body and causing him to explode - unique kill there. Shatter shots down Cena but Bee makes the save - winning Cena's favor. Charlie gets up to the tower to cut the connection and Bee shoots down Shatter. They fight and Bee shoots the dock bay door down letting in water and taking out him and Shatter (I thought Bay was the one complicating these finales?). Charlie dives into the water and she and Bumblebee get out safely with a Cena military salute and serious face for their troubles (seriously, Cena's a bad actor). So is this what a Transformers finale looks like without Bay's high ceiling for spectacle but without his low ceiling for humor and vulgarity? Perhaps. I think there's still much room for improvement.

16. “Prime vs. Galvatron: KSI HQ to Highways to Spaceship” -Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)
- Commentary: I feel bad – it probably took weeks to months of work to produce this single sequence that begins at the KSI headquarters in Chicago, to the highways, and ending with a giant alien spaceship headed by Lockdown. Honestly, this is another one of those convoluted sequences with 1-2 jaw dropping moments (there’s a slow motion jump over a bridge with Prime and Bumblebee catching some humans) surrounded by a bunch of loud and overly complicated stupidity. Once again, Prime is injured and almost dead (I think this happened in each film). This is a hot mess with a couple nice moments.

15. “Opening: Nest Team Stirs Captures Hiding Decepticons in China” -Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
- Commentary: Opening up the sequel film is a special team of humans working together along a new group of Autobots hunting down hiding Decepticons all along the world. It’s night and they are striking a huge industrial facility. The resulting action is tough to follow and the big Decepticon isn’t taken down until Optimus Prime shows up. There’s a couple of nice beats/visuals here, but it feels a bit discontinuous and being at night – difficult to follow closely.  

14. “Lockdown’s Ship: Air Battle Over Chicago” -Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)
- Commentary: Another big convoluted action sequence that packs in three or four different sequences into one, loud, and confusing mess…always with a couple of moments of genuine goodness. This one starts out on a large alien ship led by Lockdown. The autobot group and humans fool around on the ship running away from small threats when they get Optimus and get off the ship. This leads to them on some wires connected to the Sears Tower and then getting on some little highly maneuverable alien spaceships for a nice little space ship aerial battle through the city of Chicago. This is easily the best part with a lot of great dynamic moments flying through the city – though its nearly ruined by typical inane Michael Bay like banter. Again, a mess of a sequence saved by some strong visual effects and 1-2 pops of cool action.

13. “Cemetery Wind Attacks the Yeager Ranch & Optimus” -Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)
- Commentary: After a tip that Optimus is at the Yeager ranch, the special ops team Cemetery Wind along with Lockdown. They search and don’t find Optimus but want to arrest Yeager and his daughter and co-worker. When they use his daughter to get emotions going, Optimus emerges from his hiding spot and fires. Lockdown fires from afar. A boyfriend in a fast car ferries the Yeagers away while Optimus runs with Lockdown and a helicopter on his tail. The car with the Yeagers go through cornfields and into town (some nice chase moments here). Ugh – they eventually all converge together in a random industrial warehouse area (so clich√©) where Prime and Lockdown fights on the roof. The Yeagers lose the cars tracking them with a dumb stunt off the fifth floor of a warehouse and end up with Optimus and they escape. A mixed sequence for me…there’s some decent chase stuff here but then there’s also a lot of “wait, I thought they were fighting, how did he get away” stupidity as well as some suspension of disbelief that I can’t get with.

12. “Bumblebee Cheats & Avoids a Cop” -Bumblebee (2018)
- Commentary: These are the kinds of lovely little sequences a commitment to a smaller story can get you with the idea of a transforming car. Bumblebee is speeding down the highways at night (after pulling a prank on Charlie's (Hailee Stanfield) big female nemesis and a cop lights them up to pull over. Bumblebee hits on the gas, turns the radio onto something exciting and we get a little chase. There a couple of nice moments here, one where Bumblebee nearly goes off the road but the left side of the car transforms and holds onto the railing. Another moment in a tunnel where the road narrows and a cop doesn't give them room so Bumblebee transforms into something skinnier, forcing the two passengers to get close together, and ultimately takes form to run up the side of the tunnel and jump onto the cop's car, disabling it. It's a small sequence, but quite fun and adorable.  


GRADE: B-
11. “Finale: Hong Kong Battle Over the Seed” -Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014)
- Commentary: Learning nothing from the best parts of the finale from the previous movie – Bay here doubles down on all the weakest moments from it. The basic premise is that there is an alien seed that is like a nuclear bomb that will turn organic material into transformium (yes that’s a thing) and Galvatron (who is really Megatron) can use that to create a new army. So the CIA guy wants to get the seed, the Yeager group and Autobots want the seed to keep it safe, and Galvaton and his henchmen want the seed. This plays out in the city of Hong Kong over like thirty minutes with multiple twists and turns and room for lots of little sequences like Whalberg in a chase fight sequence with the main CIA guy, major battles randomly played throughout, and then ultimately Lockdown returning. Oh yeah – they throw in some Dinosaur Autobots for good measure. The large scale battles we get aren’t nearly as good as we previously got – there’s just not as many wide shots or identification of immediate goals/obstacles. It’s a lot of shoot-explosion-visual effects-shoot-explosion-visual effects-Stanley Tucci joke – then rinse and repeat. As always – there are some great big spectacle effects moments that are the highlight of the entire sequence – but there’s just too much here to put up that is so extraneous. It puts a real ceiling on how much it can be enjoyed overall. The next phase of the finale sees the seed trying to be taken out of the city, but Lockdown’s ship is sucking up everything metal and dropping it on them while Stanley Tucci just quips and screams and quips and screams. It’s a cool sequence with some amazing effects, but again, the problem is that this is like just 1 major beat out like 12 in this never-ending finale; Whalberg taking out that CIA operative feels like it’s from another movie even though its like 15 minutes ago. The next phase of the sequence sees Prime and Lockdown fight it out with Whalberg having to fend off Kelsey Grammar’s government agent. This is hilarious – we have this visual effects fight between behemoths and Prime just shoots and kills Grammar’s character. Whalberg just shoots his alien gun like he matters (I get it, him not giving up is a them). They take out Lockdown and…oh…that’s the end. I guess that’s end game. Galva…ahem…Megatron just walks off muttering “We shall meet again Prime.”

10. "Racing to Navy Museum Through London" -Transformers: The Last Knight (2017)
- Commentary: MI5 and TRF are hunting the Autobot group with Whalberg and they locate him at Sir Anthony Hopkins' castle. Thankfully Hopkins had finished giving exposition for the last ten minutes so it was the perfect time to amp things up a bit. The Autobots shoot a gun that slows time for those in the blast radius (a helpful little tool) and they are able to escape and the chase is on. Of course it slows down for humor with John Turturro's character and a scene where a group of ladies think Whalberg is doing it with a woman - yeesh. Thankfully the scenes are relatively short. The race is to get to the Navy Museum where the Macguffi...ahem...Alien staff is located. The car chase sequences that follow are pretty darn good (despite the quipping and comedy) - lots of great destruction moments and close calls. I especially like a moment where Bumblebee half transforms (making Whalberg kind of hang out to dry) and fires at Barricade then transforms back. It's a neat visual and moment.      

9. “Scorponok Attack on Desert Forces” -Transformers (2007)
- Commentary: A technically more impressive back and forth than the opening encounter with Blackout, but it lacks the dread and atmosphere of that one. The visuals are again impressive here, but without clearly defined rules, it’s hard to get an idea of the stakes and what might work and what won’t work on killing these bots. Still - this is Bay getting out of his way and I would say one of the more memorable sequences in the entire franchise.

8. “Bumblebee Arrives on Earth, Escapes Miliary, & Kills Blitzwing -Bumblebee (2018)
- Commentary: Bumblebee lands on earth and wouldn't you know it, he lands right in the middle of an elite military unit doing some combat drills (I mean, what are the odds). John Cena is the leader of that unit and he wants to track Bumblebee down - he witnesses him transform as well (I guess so much for stealth on the planet!). Rather than directly attack, Bumblebee knocks down some trees to stop the military jeeps. He is ultimately cornered though and a Decepticon, Blitzwing, attacks in the form of a jet. He and Bumblebee end up scrapping in some nicely choreographed work here and the way he kills Blitzwing is nicely done. 

7. “Ravage Strikes Hardened Compound Holding All Spark” -Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
- Commentary: This is a short little moment that is primarily a visual effects showcase. A big cat like Decepticon named Ravae lands on shore at a hardened military facility holding a part of the all-spark. The cat jumps over the fences and lets a bunch of small insecticons down into a tube going into the base. The insecticons come together and form a bigger figure that attempts to get the spark. The military notices and fights them off. Visually, this is spectacular. Short, impactful, and extremely memorable. Bay is so good at moments like this.


6. “DC Highway Smackdown & Sentinel Prime Turns” -Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
- Commentary: This sequence begins with a rather restrained highway action scene that reminds me of the original and its moments on the highway heading to the finale. Nice destruction and clear geography here, with a truly special visual effect moment with Sam getting thrown from a transforming Bumblebee and back into Bumblebee all in “one shot”. It’s a cool moment and its fairly easy to see. The chase turns into an action sequence where Sentinel Prime turns on the Autobots and joins the Decepticons. He takes out Iron hide in a dramatic moment and lays waste to much of the NEST HQ.

5. “Chernobyl: Tentacle Like Shockwave vs. Optimus Prime” -Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
- Commentary: This is a template that I wish more of the films would follow – a restrained sequence where only one or two Decepticons and one or two Autobots do battle in daylight for a limited goal. Military soldiers are investigating a possible energon source at Chernobyl when a new Decepticon called Shockwave arrives with his tentacles. Optimus arrives, grabs weapons from his cache, and does quick battle. Shockwave retreats. This is the template here – less is more. Pops of cool visuals, a couple kinetic action beats, then leave the audience wanting more.

4. “Opening: Blackout Attacks Military Base in Qatar” -Transformers (2007)
- Commentary: This is the glorious way Michael Bay introduced Transformers action to the cinema world and it set a tone that the Transformers were dangerous and had to be taken seriously. Here we get Blackout in the form of a helicopter arriving at a U.S. military base in Qatar. From the moment Blackout transformers into his true self, the visuals and sound effects impress. Blackout demonstrates a wide variety of cool weapons including a cool secondary bot that can burrow into the sand. The base is essentially unprepared and overwhelmed. Real practical explosions and CGI of such high quality that it holds up as real today set this nice little set piece apart from many others. This is a great example of Bay getting out of his way and letting the piece speak for itself.


GRADE: B
3. “Forest Battle: Optimus Prime vs Three Decepticons” -Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)
- Commentary: This battle is often cited as a clear “best of” for the franchise, but after watching it several times, and despite it being in clear daylight, it still becomes hard to follow. At one point in the three on one battle Optimus Prime tears the head apart of one Decepticon that looks like Megatron (who died last film and is back again) and then Megatron shows up. This is a problem that plagues almost every action sequence – Who is that again? Who is winning? What does it take to kill them? That said, this is definitely a stand out sequence for the franchise – just not enough to get higher than a B.

2. “Saving the Spark Finale: From the Dam to Mission City” -Transformers (2007)
- Commentary: Michael Bay’s first chance to give the world an all-out transformers battle and we get this absolutely beautiful mess of an action sequence. Seriously, this is a tough sequence to rate because the parts are clearly better than the whole. The parts that are good are REALLY good, but the rest just never fully connects and comes together to tell a clear story. First, the good – there are a couple action beats and shots here that have become iconic because they are such beautifully framed and executed moments. Most of them are shots of a Bot landing, transforming, and completing some action move. Most of the major transformer bots get a shot or two like this and they are worth the price of admission alone. Unfortunately, these sequences are peppered through a rather nonsensical story on the macro and micro level. Why did they decide to take the all spark to a city with so much collateral damage? Why are all the decepticons right on their tale on the road until they arrive in the city when the decepticons all arrive in random order? Why is it so hard to tell the difference between the transformers? Two other problems that would bother the franchise rear their head here as well: it’s tough to give the humans something significant to do when they are surrounded by over-powered robots and when the robots go at each other its often very visually difficult to follow along.

GRADE: A-
1. “Chicago Finale: Jumps, Aerial Attacks, Falling Buildings, and More!” -Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
- Commentary: This is easily the gem of the Transformers franchise. So much time and energy spent to get this finale right and they almost pull it off flawlessly. First, despite this being a world-wide and city-wide sequence, they are able to focus most of the action on a single group of Autobots, soldiers, and Sam working to counterstrike the main pillar. This allows the sequence to be epic without ever feeling convoluted or exhausting. The sequence really begins when the military brings in choppers for teams to jump in on flight suits using the Willis Towers as cover. The visuals here are incredible – mixing live action footage and Vfx remarkably well. They are wise to make this about the visual spectacle and less about the back and forth action. They land, hook up with Sam, and the autoboots. They decide they need to get to a higher building to take a missile shot and take out a glowing rod. As they ascend the building the Decepticons attack and we get some amazing stunt work as the crew fall out of the windows, down the slanted side of the building, bust the windows to get back into the building, and then slide back down the other way. It’s a cool moment. 
Shockwave and his tentacle pal show up and begins to destroy the building – bringing Optimus Prime (who now has his jet pack) to tackle him and destroy him. See how the sequence is linear rather than intercut between multiple locations? With each idea leading to the next? Sure, one wonders why Prime couldn’t just jet pack and fire on the main rod himself or send another autoboot to do it (I’m sure the film would say the Decepticons would see it coming), but I’ll take some questions about the logic of them splitting up (leading to a messy finale like the previous movie at the Pyramids) rather than a linear one thing leads to another extended finale. Unfortunately, Michael Bay just can’t help himself and has to bloat out this finale as well. After the Optimus vs. Shockwave showdown, we should be moving into the final phase, but we get this extended sequence where Sam and his girlfriend get separated (losing the group focus) and get tracked by Starscream. It’s not bad, it’s just not as good or epic as what came before and isn’t necessary. Deciding to cut things like this for the betterment of the whole must be tough – but as a viewer, it’s important. There’s also still a few confusing moments – I swear there were 2-3 times I thought Shockwave had been killed, but he kept showing up. At least they put a robe/cape thing on Megatron to differentiate him. Additionally, Bumblebee seemed to go from free to captured to free and away a couple of times. The decision to have Shia’s girlfriend bait Megatron into taking on Sentinel and Jack Dempsey’s character fight with Shia over the rod feel kinda lame given the epic stuff going on. Anyways. Eventually, the humans gather, form a coherent plan, and strike the random Decepticons (or maybe its still Shockwave, IDK) and take them out (or not, I think Shockwave survived, lol). The autoboots arrive and we get a glorious “one take” dolly shot with Optimus just thrashing through Decepticons and then taking out the tower to disable the portal. Sentinel Prime comes down for the showdown and we get some nice one on one stuff and aerial battles in the background. Another shoutout needs to be given to the city of Chicago and how Bay films it, which plays a beautiful background to this finale. I wish we could have done without the mistakes mentioned above, but thankfully they are more limited than usual, and the strengths of this sequence stand out more than they are diminished.
 

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