Review: The Transformers: The Movie (1986)

Despite three live-action movies (and an upcoming fourth film), The Transformers: The Movie is still the only Transformers film worth watching.

For about 60 of its 84 minute run time, it is a shockingly mature, thrillingly violent production that doesn’t pull any punches for its younger audience who had grown accustomed to somewhat incompetent villains and a laugh-filled happy ending. That’s not the case here and the film is all the more memorable and better off for it. If only the film’s final act were stronger, the likely casualty of one too many rewrites and changes in direction, this would doubtlessly be considered one of the best films of the 1980s, animated or otherwise.

The Transformers The Movie - starscream shootingThere’s an actual sense of consequences that rarely were realized in the first two seasons of the mid 1980s TV series. Beloved characters get killed on both the Autobot and Decepticon sides.

The young audience avatar, Spike, is now grown up and a father, the good guys actually lose the war and there’s even some curse words (which were mind blowing at the time for 80s kids like myself).

The Transformers The Movie - UnicronThe film starts in jarring fashion with the arrival of Unicron (Orson Welles in his last performance) — the Transformers’ answer to Marvel Comics planet eater Galactus — who proceeds to devour a planet en route to the Autobots/Decepticons home planet of Cybertron.

This kicks off an exhilarating hour with the best Transformers action we’ve seen so far. It’s nearly one big hour-long fight and it’s every bit as awesome as it sounds.

Megatron (Frank Welker) leads his Decepticons in an assault on Autobot City. The attack soon overwhelms the Autobots led by Ultra Magnus (Robert Stack), Kup (Lionel Stander), Arcee (Susan Blu), Springer (Neil Ross) and Hot Rod (Judd Nelson) leading to catastrophic losses before Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) arrives to save the day.

The Transformers The Movie - fallen Optimus Prime

But this time, the conflict has serious repercussions for both factions. Prime is forced to name a successor and Megatron is rescued by Unicron and reborn into his servant, Galvatron (Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek), with the mission of destroying the Autobot Matrix of Leadership.

Before the days when Oscar winners voicing animated roles was commonplace, the voice talent assembled for this film was truly groundbreaking signaling that the property may be intended for children, but that big-names also saw the potential in appearing in them.

The Transformers The Movie - Galvatron and CyclonusFor fans of the cartoon series, the movie’s animation is a dramatic improvement. There’s a greater attention to detail and shading that gives the robots a more intricate design, which gave the movie an appropriate sense of importance.

Vince DiCola’s score is definitely a product of the 80s, but it’s appropriately heavy metal and the soundtrack, specifically Stan Bush’s ‘The Touch,’ is perfectly suited for the material.

Ok, rose colored nostalgia aside, there are a few issues with the film.

First off, Hasbro’s agenda to push the new characters — and make kids demand toys of the new additions — becomes a bit obnoxious midway through with most of the old guard from the cartoon getting killed off or (no pun intended) transformed into other characters.

The Transformers The Movie - Devastator vs The Dinobots

While the new generation Autobots and Decepticons are interesting (Kup is fun as the old veteran with a story for every occasion and Springer is just a bad a$$ Autobot), the movie really should have been more of a payoff for all of the characters fans had grown attached to in the two seasons of the TV show instead of the abrupt shift in Transformers’ status quo.

It’s especially glaring considering so many of the fan favorites like combiners Superion; Autobot HQ defender Omega Supreme (who would have come in handy in that battle of Autobot City) and the fifth Dinobot Snarl were missing.

There’s also a number of inconsistencies during the Great Autobot City Battle. Most specifically the Autobots getting killed with one laser blast in the first fight while Optimus Prime’s cannon having TV series effectiveness of only stunning the Decepticons when he hits his targets.

The Transformers The Movie - Hot Rod becoming Rodimus Prime

And for all of his world-destroying terror, Unicron’s defeat feels like more of a fluke accident than a deliberate plan, which makes the Autobots appear far luckier than heroic.

Still, despite the last act not holding up its end, The Transformers: The Movie is something that every 80s kid experienced or lied and said they did and all these years later it still holds up remarkably well. Until Michael Bay starts making Transformers worth caring about, venture no further than this flawed, but very entertaining old school gem.

Rating: 9 out of 10

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