The Autobots Wage Their Battle To…

There will be spoilers. Please be wary.

Cartoons from the 80s permeated much of my childhood, largely because a lotSource: of older shows were aired in the Philippines, like the Captain America segment of The Marvel Super Heroes.1 Most people who grew up in the 90s have been exposed to Transformers, however, and know exactly what I’m writing about when I say that at one point Megatron didn’t transform into a tank or a jet, but a gun.2

Beginning in 2007, director Michael Bay began creating films based on the franchise, the content of said films fitting more in line with current cultural norms. In other words, the level of violence was ramped up to much higher levels.3 I never saw a transformer go down when watching the cartoon, but in the first two films we are witness to Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots: ramming his Energon Sword through Devastator’s head/neck region4, cutting off Starscream’s arm and clubbing him in the face with it5, and ultimately killing Grindor by pulling his head apart with hooks6.

As the antagonists in these films, the deaths of the Decepticons are seen as victories and not tragedies. Their design, especially when it comes to their sharp teeth and red eyes, helps to depict them as more beast-like than human. The Autobots being seen as people, however, is a point that’s pushed pretty hard in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the third and final instalment in the series. Wheeljack, the elderly inventor of the Autobots, is captured by the Decepticons and, as he begs for mercy, brutally shot twice. Ironhide is betrayed by Sentinel Prime and shot in the back, and as he asks why the Prime “dismisses” him and deals a finishing blow. Sam [Shia LaBeouf] and Bumblebee have a relationship going back to the first film, and whenever the Chevrolet Camaro-transforming robot is endangered the audience feels as Sam does, taking emotional cues from his panicked yells.

Since the first film we’ve seen Optimus Prime lay down the law and watched him and the Autobots wage their righteous war against the Decepticons. In spite of them clearly being in the right [no one wants humans to become slaves to the Decepticons] some of the actions that they perform in the third film seem . . . excessive. One battle is concluded by Ironhide pulling a spear out of his shoulder and impaling it into Crankcase’s (a Decepticon) face, slamming him into a car, and then kicking the wreckage into an auto shop.7 More disturbing by far, though, is what happens when a Decepticon aircraft is brought down. As the pilot struggles to get out he is surrounded by Autobots and dismembered. His head, arms, and legs are all yanked from his body, with his torso being further pulled apart by one of the Wreckers. Optimus Prime ends the carnage (and the film) by finishing off Sentinel Prime in a fashion eerily similar to how Wheeljack and Ironhide were, by executing him with Megatron’s fusion shotgun as he begs for mercy.

As exhaustive as this post seems to be, there are many instances of robot carnage which I have neglected to include. I suppose that the ones mentioned could show us that extreme violence can be justified when it is the forces of good against the forces of evil (and when they are robots). What it doesn’t explain is how, exactly, to understand this. If the Autobots are to be seen as people then why aren’t the Decepticons? Their fight is a civil war, and with this in mind would we be so cavalier to promote the murder of brother by brother? Are there any real-life parallels that these levels of brutality can be placed on?

The well-known Transformers theme song has the line “The Transformers! More than meets the eye!” The lesser known lyrics immediately proceeding that are: “Autobots wage their battle to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons!” Knowing this, I suppose we always knew as children that Optimus and his forces were destined to more than defeat Megatron and his cohorts. A dozen or more years later, what I don’t think we could have known is how brutally this would happen.

1. First syndicated on US television in 1966: []

2. Specifically a Walther P-38, a World War II era handgun. Source: []

3. Levels that  can only really be described as Bay-esque. [citation needed]

4. For your viewing pleasure: []

5. Source: []

6. Source: []

7. Which then promptly explodes. Courtesy of Michael Bay.

5 responses to “The Autobots Wage Their Battle To…

  1. I have a lot of bonuses for you guys:

    a) An /excellent/ review of Dark of the Moon by Charlie Jane Anders at io9:

    b) A National Guardsman who legally changed his name to Optimus Prime:

    c) My favourite scene from the first film, in German:

  2. This was good because it didn’t deal with sex/gender stuff. Not that those posts weren’t also good- they were. But there was lots of it.

    I didn’t enjoy Transformers 2 enough to want to see this new one, but I did see 1 and 2, and I watched the clips you linked to in this post, and it definitely looks like 3 is more graphic. It seems to me that they’re doing what Lucas did in the Star Wars prequel trilogy and Tartakovsky did in Samurai Jack: include robot antagonists, which the heroes can then butcher and decimate because it’s *robots* and not *humans* getting carved up.

    I am personally offended by your favorite scene from the first movie.

    There’s a website called that reviews Christian artists, and also reviews new movies. At the bottom of each review, they list all the possibly offensive material in the movie. This is what they had under the violence section for the third Transformers:

    “EXTREME violence. Laserbeak shoots up a car, killing the man inside; Sam violently kicks his car that isn’t working properly; A man appears to have little tiny robots causing him pain in his hand; We see Laserbeak attacking a man and then throwing him out a window to his death; We see Laserbeak attack a family in their home and menacingly chase after a man; Optimus and several Autobots attack Shockwave’s tentacles that destroy a factory; We see Laserbeak attacking an office and destroying all kinds of things, even tossing a man violently into a wall, then chasing after another man; There’s a massive battle with robots and cars on a highway, which includes a man being thrown from his car and injured; Some Autobots fight Decepticons in the street, resulting in the death of the Decepticons; A robot suddenly shoots and kills another robot, then goes on a rampage, tearing up a military helicopter and jet hangar before driving off; A robot watch is put on a man’s wrist that causes him a lot of pain; We see a rocket carrying robots explode, presumably killing those on board; We see a robot with part of its face missing due to being shot there in the previous film. Little robot parasites crawl around the wound; Huge alien robot ships invade a city and begin shooting up buildings and cars, killing lots of people. In one sequence, we see the Decepticons vaporizing humans; Sam raids an apartment and holds some characters at gunpoint. The room is then riddled with bullets from Laserbeak; Two men fist fight. One then knocks out the other by hitting him in the face with a large pole; A robot is executed and blown to bits, with its head rolling around on the ground. Another is about to be killed, but falling debris interrupts the execution and the victim turns around and kills the attacker by shooting its head off; A robot is hit in the eye with a grappling device and then a person jams a bomb in its head. We then see two people stuck on the dangling wire as the robot writhes about before exploding; Characters evade a Decepticon in a collapsing building and then jump out the window (at least one person falls to their death). Shockwave’s tentacles then tear apart the building, causing it to collapse further; Humans put bombs on several robots feet to blow them off; Humans bombard an alien to take out their eyes and then shoot it to demobilize it. Another robot then finishes it off; Two robots fight, one begins to overpower the other, cutting off their arm and is about to kill them when another robot attacks them and takes them down. The injured robot then decapitates the other robot before finishing off the one that it was first fighting; And lots of other action/sci-fi violence.”

  3. All of the clips I linked to were actually from the second movie, Revenge of the Fallen.

    I’m glad you liked my “change of pace,” or whatever. I definitely felt like we were writing on a lot of the same topics, and this was my attempt at broadening our scope a little bit.

    Were you really offended, because I find the idea of Megatron disgustedly flicking a man hilarious. Also: Laserbeak was pretty terrible, he shoots a vulture for no reason, and I don’t think mentioned that.

  4. Oh. They blend together for me.

    Yeah, I felt the same way. Don’t get me wrong, both you and Elisa talked about important things in great ways, but it was all sex/gender related.

    I was not really offended. I giggled a little. Also: you’re right on that one.

  5. Oh, goodness. I’m reading the review in its entirety and the fact that they listed: “Sam violently kicks his car that isn’t working properly” under “EXTREME violence” makes me guffaw.

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