One of the bigger box office battles of the year has seen Caesar duke it out with Optimus in a battle royale. I chose to compare these two films for a few reasons: They are both special effects driven. They both feature main characters that are not humans. Both films were released within a month of each other. Both films are seeing massive box office returns so far. Both are well established franchises with 3+ films in each series. Both deal heavily in the sci-fi realm. Finally, both are personal favourites of mine and this is my blog.
I have been a passionate defender(yes that was me) of The Transformers for my entire life. I have given Michael Bay the benefit of the doubt. I am now ashamed to wave the white flag and admit that after butchering my beloved The Transformers for 3 consecutive films (the first was actually great) I can no longer turn a blind eye to his willy-nilly disregard for the mythos, character development or plot of The Transformers universe. I could turn this entire blog into a rant about why Age of Extinction is a monstrosity with little redeeming value but instead I will focus on what makes “Dawn” an amazing film.
Beware of Spoilers from here on out (you were warned)
1. The use of special effects
These films are truly incredible special effects marvels. Neither of these films could have been pulled off 10 years ago and both are filled with mind-blowing CGI. Apes uses Andy Serkis and Toby Kebbell among others to portray the apes using motion capture technology. Transformers uses CGI on a grand scale to animate robots, incredible transformations, alien ships, and, of course, explosions (it is Michael Bay after all). Here comes critique number one: Transformers has no “wow” moments. Not one. Not a single memorable special effects sequence. Not one interesting camera movement. Apes has dozens. The close ups of ape interactions where you forget they aren’t real are incredible. The battle sequences that are given a personal touch. When Koba steals the tank there is an amazing camera sequence going 360 degrees. Flames casting silhouettes, slow motion Saving Private Ryan-esque war sequences, all of these make you sit up in your seat and say, “wow.” Michael Bay has forgotten to create those moments. For all of its faults, Transformers 1 had scenes you remember. Optimus transforming for the first time, the autobots arrival on earth, even the battle scenes had feeling and suspense. Robots were killed that had personality, not the decepticlones we have seen since the first film.
2. Good vs. Evil
Optimus’ behavior in the first place was a sore-spot to anyone that loves transformers. He is unbreakable, honourable, and would never have beheaded a surrendering villain (Dark of the Moon) or shot a human (Extinction). Nor would he hold grudges, nor would he hate humans, nor would he distrust anyone. This was his flaw in the 1980’s cartoon, in fact, Megatron killed him because of it. Optimus fought because he had to. End of story. This Optimus, vengeful, hateful, distrusting and angry is not one I recognize. Caesar is the Optimus I would want to see. He has faith in apes and humans alike. He values family, strategy, and you cheer for him because of it. You want him to succeed because he is driven for the right reasons. How can you cheer for a character that actually says “I’m going to find that human and kill him.” There are motivations behind being evil. Koba’s evolution is slow but you can identify with him. Gary Oldman is character you can easily sympathize with. Typically the greatest villains are not soulless killing machines. Darth Vader becomes a whole lot less cool if he didn’t save Luke or have the tragic backstory. Otherwise Darth Vader becomes Darth Maul and is forgettable.
3. Less is more
The best franchises focus on a few main characters and show their arc throughout the films. Side characters come and go and some play vital roles but for the most part, the series focuses on the main few and their journey. Think Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, even Toy Story. There are new characters in every movie. Some of these new characters stick around. Some characters play supporting roles throughout every film but by the end of the series, the main characters have taken a journey, they have changed and their arc is complete. You can see this progression happening with the Apes franchise. Caesar is growing and changing. Koba, Maurice, and Rocket all have arcs and have appeared in both films. Blue eyes is new in this film but should appear in the next one. By the end of this film, every main character is different than they were to start the first film. Transformers has utterly failed to do this. Bumblebee is the exact same. Every other character has died, been replaced or has a new name. Optimus is the only character that has taken any sort of journey but even I don’t get what his motivation is anymore. Megatron/Galvatron just seems to want to kill everything for no reason. In the first film he wanted the All-Spark to create life, In the second film he wanted to destroy the sun to create life, third film he wanted to bring Cybertron to earth to steal our resources and now he just wants revenge on humans? I hate to say that i’m lost. I am. It makes me sad. Have a few core characters, have them grow and change. People can identify with them. 50 years from now people will watch Dawn, Lord of the Rings, Toy Story. Transformers 4 will fade into the blackness of space and I hope the 5th film can reverse the damage that has been done.