I loved Transformers as a child more than any other thing.
One of my happiest childhood memories was a far distant Christmas Day, with ten-year-old-me tearing open a box to reveal huge chunks of connected metal and plastic called Galvatron.
Ah, Galvatron. Megatron’s failure, reborn. Vapourised and reconstructed butterfly-like by Unicron into a being that was still Megatron, but more powerful, bitter, and extreme. Driven both by his furious desire for revenge on Optimus Prime (even after the Autobot leader’s own death), but also by his painful and forced obedience to the planet god to whom he owed his new life.
Galvatron’s extravagance stretched to his new silhouette. Megatron was a mere handgun, a Walther P38 that had to shrink down to fit into Soundwave’s hand just to be fired. But Galvatron was a single massive cannon on a tank base, throwing laser blasts around without thought.
And I remember, so clearly, how much I loved getting him out of his box and staring in awe at the thousand individual shards of grey plastic and metal that formed his body. How they needed to be turned and rotated indiscriminately an inch away from your eyes, slushing together in a grey mass until his second form was slowly revealed.
After all, this was a key part of what made Transformers such a treasured toy. It was important to look cool in low-light situations, so all the robots – Autobots and Decepticons alike – were painted from the same chromatic colour wheel. This gave them an edge of reality and authenticity. When it was time for action, you’d use two hands to make a hundred small sliding movements as one piece of grey plastic slotted against another, until finally instead of a grey vehicle you had a grey robot. Then you could fight! Good vs bad! It didn’t matter that it was often hard to tell who was fighting because the only thing we cared about was that it looked like the final battle in Endgame.
I mean, some of the main characters occasionally had a bit of colour. Who can forget the muddy crimson brown of Optimus Prime’s signature chest stack, or Bumblebee’s weak tea gold, or the sludgy green of the Constructicons? This is how dreams were made. It was great that, in the heat of it all, the colours didn’t stand out too much against the neverending bleak greyscapes on which they existed. And how else could you see the blue/white lasers if it wasn’t nighttime?
So what’s really validating is seeing a film like Transformers: Rise Of The Beasts be so faithful to the roots of the toy. It so perfectly conveys the feeling of dull grey machines slotting together without any form or reason. It expertly captures how all our human characters that laced together the action scenes were, at best, serviceable stereotypes written by a MadLibs committee. We always had a single Transformer who died but then came back just at the climax, even if that story beat would have worked far better with the *other* Transformer who’d just also died (but was actually fine in the end), so it was great that this film continued that long-standing tradition.
Not to mention the numerous times when a character said they’d do one thing but did another, or that time one robot – just shown to be fully engaged elsewhere – miraculously showed up out of nowhere to deliver a strained story beat.
It’s as if they looked into our young minds and said, you know, we see you. Let’s make that.
For a second there, Bumblebee (2018) had me worried as it featured actual colour, clear designs, funny characters, a sparkling script and excellent cinematography. But I needn’t have worried; luckily, everyone in the creative team for Rise Of The Beasts realized what’s actually important.
Oh, and I was also very obsessed with brand synergy as a child, so the final reveal that the universe is connected to another toy line, and the reveal of that toy was a grey metallic sci-fi ship, was the perfect, muted red cherry on the bland, grey, tasteless cake.
Transformers: Rise Of The Beasts can be enjoyed at your local cinema from June 9th.