Michael Bay directed five Transformers movies, and he made them for over a decade. It might not feel like it, in large part because the movies all look the same and the stories are nonentities, but it’s true! And while he’s finally stepped aside and it seems like the studio is ready to reboot the franchise with a Bumblebee-focused spin-off, let’s take a look back at what Bay did with the franchise.
Here’s my ranking of the live-action Transformers movies.
Transformers: The Last Knight
Bay’s last Transformers outing proved to be his worst, bringing forward every problem that the franchise has to the forefront, making no attempts to improve anything, and effectively feeling like a 155-minute waste of time. Of course, its predecessor was all of that but 10 minutes longer. Why is this one worse, then? It’s duller, it doubles down on a “chosen one” narrative, its attempt to turn Optimus Prime heel for a time is worthless – he’s gone for most of it and once he shows up after the turn he’s back on the good guy team before too long. And even the action is pretty terrible. It’s awful from start to finish.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
It’s almost worth giving Revenge of the Fallen a pass for its awfulness given that it was made during a writers’ strike, meaning there’s good reason for its script to be less than stellar. On the other hand, it’s not the worst of these anyway, and its script’s quality isn’t significantly worse than, say, the fourth one. This one is basically the first movie but worse in almost all aspects. It makes no attempt to form a coherent narrative or provide us with even halfway decent characters. The effects are good and the action is okay, but outside of that? It’s horrible.
Transformers: Age of Extinction
Transformers: Age of Extinction, a movie that runs for 165 minutes and has maybe enough plot for half of that, stops what it’s doing in order to have a scene in which a twentysomething dude pulls out a card and explains why it’s “technically” legal for him to be dating a 17-year-old girl. The movie could have made her 18 and cut this out altogether, but for some reason, someone needed the audience to hear this.
So why isn’t this one worse? Well, it has Dinobots and new human characters. After three movies, I was really tired of the characters. So we have new ones. And dinosaurs, in natural or robot form, help most things. Throw dinosaurs in a boring movie and it gets slightly less boring.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
It’s only at this point in the list that I start to even marginally enjoy myself with these movies. Sure, it’s also pretty dumb, but the sheer spectacle of the action is enough to at least be somewhat entertaining. It was filmed with large, heavy 3D cameras, which means the action is shot better than in most of the other ones, because the camera isn’t going to be bobbling all over the place. It’s framed better. The effects are great, the humans aren’t the worst, and the moon conspiracy theory main plot is … okay? Look, it’s still nothing special, but at least it’s not an infuriating watch.
The movie that started it all off, Transformers, is the best of the franchise. It gets by a decent amount on its freshness – we haven’t seen live-action Transformers before, and therefore it feels “new” and we’re able to overlook minor flaws. The big-scale action scenes are pretty good, the humor is sometimes successful, and the characters are shallow but at least feel like people. Those three elements alone already put it on top. It’s a shame that, instead of improving upon a decent opener, Bay and his team did the opposite.