Welcome to the next piece in a new sub-series of ‘How to Fix’, revolving around the monumental task of fixing the Transformers movies, which started in 2007 with Transformers and have since become infamous for their paper-thin character development, over-dependence on CGI and racist or otherwise offensive content. Since fixing such an infamously bad franchise can hardly be done in just over one thousand words, this ‘How to Fix’ feature has been broken down into parts, and each part has been broken down into segments, Part One dealt with several missed opportunities of the series’ basic foundation, including the odd characterisation of Optimus Prime and the use of classic characters for cheap shock value deaths in later sequels. This piece opens with another great missed opportunity that could have made the Transformers movies great:
Although there is very little wrong with Megatron as he is presented in the first film, gradually, like Optimus, his original character begins to fall away and is replaced with an aimless idiot. For a start, it has to be asked – what was the actual reason for Megatron being on Earth? Each film gives a different reason. Initially he’s there because he was hunting the Allspark, but it is later implied that he was there at the behest of the Fallen, and then later, to meet Sentinel Prime. Overall it seems Megatron is treated as whatever the film needs him to be as the cackling villain, and rather than have him come up with a devious scheme in each film in a similar fashion to G1, instead the Decepticon leader often plays second fiddle to other evil Transformers, to the extent that he has less than ten minutes of screen time in the entire of Dark of the Moon.
Ultimately, like so many other things in this iteration of the iconic franchise, Megatron was wasted. The greatest tragedy was that Hugo Weaving was great as Megatron, and he steals every scene he is in and clearly had a great time recording his lines, which enhances his performance. In fact, it is safe to say that Megatron is one of the best things about the series as a whole. The issue with him is that he barely features, and when he is featured, he is usually playing the Starscream role to some other generic villain, which as a knock-on effect damages Starscream’s character as he is given very little to do in these movies and the audience has to be outright told by Megatron that Starscream is ‘traitorous’ because that’s what he was like in G1, but the film spends absolutely no time establishing this.
Still, back to Megatron, the concept of another Cybertronian villain working alongside Megatron only to be betrayed or otherwise undone by the leader of a faction that literally define themselves around their abilities of deception would have been fantastic, and we see an inkling of this in Dark of the Moon, in which Megatron eventually backstabs Sentinel Prime in a final moment of glory before being unceremoniously beheaded by the power-mad Optimus. However, Megatron’s overall motives and even basic character lose even more focus in the final two movies, as the character becomes Galvatron in Transformers 4 only to the revert back to Megatron in Transformers 5, and by that point it was clear that the writers held no regard for even basic continuity between films.
In the original Transformers cartoon, the Decepticons were as diverse and recognisable as the Autobots, which was essential as the series was designed to sell as many toys as possible, and it stood to reason that kids would want a diverse and recognisable cast of villains in their favourite franchise. However, Michael Bay didn’t seem to think so, as when producing the new Transformers films he not only limited the Decepticons in terms of their character but also their visual design. The original film does, to its credit, attempt to make each Decepticon distinctive from one another, but even as early as the second film any hope of Decepticon characters beyond Megatron, Starscream and Soundwave getting any development at all were dashed as the producers opted to make the Decepticons a faceless generic army of evil-looking robots – most of the Decepticons in the second film don’t even possess vehicle modes.
In similar fashion to the shortcomings of having a new villain depose Megatron in each film, the movies also suffer from ‘trailer syndrome’ – the idea that each film has to have a bigger and more powerful Decepticon than the last in order to put something explosive in the trailer. The second Transformers film started this with a combination of ‘Wheelbot’ and Devastator – both of whom share a combined screen time of about eight minutes in the actual film, yet make up the majority of the trailers. Transformers 3 had Shockwave and the Driller, which again appeared very briefly in the film and were easily dispatched. Unfortunately, in a fashion similar to how the films used the Autobots for cheap emotive deaths, the iconic Decepticon characters were also squandered for cheap action sequences. Transformers 3 is particularly bad for this, as Shockwave, Soundwave, Starscream and Megatron are all dispatched too soon for the sake of an action sequence.
But it isn’t just the main Decepticons that suffer the wrath of Michael Bay’s total disregard for character – as the films progressed the once threatening Decepticon forces were reduced to mindless fodder. In the first Transformers film, total of six Decepticons are featured with each having a unique body type and vehicle form. Most take part in the final battle, during which a lot of time is dedicated to the humans and what remains of the Autobots figuring out each individual Decepticon’s weakness and taking it out. However, by Transformers 3 the Decepticons have inexplicably obtained an army of soldiers despite Transformers 2 asserting that they are running short of energon and that the ‘hatchlings’ keep dying. Again, note that the Decepticons seem to be driven by desperation in these films – rather than by a lust for conquest as in the original series. The fact that Optimus seems completely indifferent to the fact that his race is nearing extinction and Megatron just wants to do something about it makes the audience question the basic foundations of the story.
Each New Bot on the Block
As previously discussed, this franchise suffers badly from the repeated use of the ‘bigger baddie’ – the idea that the villain you thought was the strongest and most powerful villain in the series is surpassed by an even bigger villain. The problem with re-using this idea is that it quickly becomes cheapened – to recap, Megatron is upstaged by the Fallen in Transformers 2, Sentinel Prime in Transformers 3, Lockdown in Transformers 4 and Quintessa in Transformers 5 with no explanation given as to why, after four attempts at working with another evil Transformer, Megatron doesn’t decide to just go it alone for once. The series even went to the trouble of reformatting Megatron into Galvatron for the fourth film, which would have been the prime opportunity to bring him back as the main villain for the series, except his role is reduced to a lackey for Attinger and eventually a minor threat compared to Lockdown.
The repeated sidelining of Megatron coupled with the films lack of basic continuity not only makes Megatron’s true motives for being on Earth unclear but also contributes massively to the decay of the threat posed by each film’s newest Decepticon army. Despite the loss of fan-favourites like Ironhide and Ratchet to the new big bad of Transformers 3 and 4, respectably, the true irony is that even with Leonard Nimoy voicing Sentinel Prime and the inherently interesting idea of a faction-less villain in Lockdown the films fall short of realising the potential that Megatron himself had as a villain. In many ways, the character could have stayed dead at the end of the first film and it would have made very little difference to later films.
Though it cannot be said that Sentinel Prime and Lockdown weren’t good villains, others like The Fallen were less than impressive, and Shockwave may as well have not even been in Dark of the Moon since he did absolutely nothing and then died. If it wasn’t for the less effective usurper villains, the few good ones would be far more effective.
Next in this series is Part 3 of How to Fix – Transformers, in which we shall discuss the continual re-use of another lazy writing trope, the ‘chosen one’ prophecy, as well as several others, with the recurring theme of each film starting with a ‘reset’ of sorts.
Next: Part Three – Good Plots in Disguise