The Breaking of Optimus Prime


[Flixist community member Fengor wrote up an awesome piece examining the characterization of Optimus Prime in Transformers: Age of Extinction, check it out! Did you see the new Transformers? What did you think? If you want your blog featured on Flixist’s front page, all you have to do is write one! –Liz]

Much to nobody’s surprise, Transformers: Age of Extinction was terrible even by the standards set in the previous three films. What may surprise you, however, is the character drama hiding just below the surface, and begging to be released; Optimus Prime having a crisis of faith in his, to date, unwavering moral code.

Of course this inner conflict is interspersed and stamped out by the other competing story lines; many of which never go anywhere or have any payoff. For the purposes of brevity, these sections will be detailed by various pictures of explosions I found on Google. This is your spoiler warning. Leave now, or forever hold your peace.

Consider this picture of Cher and Lady Gaga, while you decide if you wish to stay.

Welcome to the point of no return! Let’s begin. Optimus has spent the last three films preaching about how all sentient beings have the right to live free, and even voices again at the start of this film that his moral code forbids him from killing humans; then adds that he’ll kill whoever is responsible for the systematic extermination of his comrades. Then that all takes a backseat for the next hour or so, while Optimus proceeds to annihilate a small platoon’s worth of black-ops guys in his escape. However, we’re writing that off as just Bay’s bullshit fucking up the better story.

He was only 2 days from retirement, you metal monster!

Fast-forward to FIS, or whatever their apple knock-off was called, and Optimus learns that the reason his comrades were being exterminated was so they could then be butchered and melted for scrap metal. As far as these Bayformers movies go, that’s pretty fucking dark for them.

Optimus is, rightfully, pretty pissed with this so he and what few autobots he has left charge into the facility guns blazing; there are two very important moments which happen here. The first is that once they get into the lab, Optimus’ first order of business is to intimidate all the humans inside to leave. On the surface, this makes perfect sense for Optimus’ character, but you have to remember he is angry to the point of wanting metaphorical blood for his massacred people. While people would have called him on acting out of character, very few would have argued he was wrong for wantonly annihilating what was basically a facility committing the most heinous of war crimes. Even in his anger, Optimus steadfastly sticks to his code.

Secondly, he comes face to face with our “Steve Jobs stand-in” character. Optimus, and his somewhat unhinged band of bots, are already in the process of destroying the whole research area when this asshole strolls up; then flat proceeds to tell Optimus that he knows exactly what he’s been doing, and doesn’t give a shit if it makes him angry. There’s a slight pause, and in this pause you can tell Optimus is really, really considering blasting this guy into plasma residue. In the end, however, his moral code wins out over his anger; killing this man will not bring his friends back.

I don’t really remember this next part of the film too well, and maybe that’s because instead of being an ending to to the movie it was a clunky segway for moving things to China for a sequel they decided to attach. The summary though is that the humans turn Optimus over to Lockdown (who’s on some mission from the Cybertronian creators that will no doubt mean a 5th Transformers movie) who in return gives them a bomb which turns everything in its blast radius into Cybertronian metal. Oh, and Optimus is apparently part of some Cyberton Knights of The Round Table thing.

Explosion to create plot hole big enough for late game introduction of Arthurian legend elements to the story, is not to scale.

Once saved, it’s clear that Optimus’ faith in humanity is destroyed, and he decides it’s best he and his buddies leave before they do something he’ll regret. He stays, however, because he finds out that the grand puppet master behind this is Megatron’s severed head; who’s been plotting to use “Apple” to build him a new Decepticon army that’s completely enslaved to his commands, and a new body. Prior to that revelation, which was revealed to the audience so long ago we’re like “DUH! Of course Megatron’s behind this bullshit!” Optimus was quite content to let the humans abuse Cybertronian tech and annihilate themselves. It’s clear that he stays behind to help because he can’t afford Megatron to return to the universe with a ready-made army.

Fast-forward through China, and the afterthought introduction of the Dinobots, and we find Optimus locked in his final battle against Lockdown. At some point his motivation shifted from “Fuck Megatron” to “The Creators can have my cold, dead body if they want it so badly.” (a fitting analogy to how I think any other version of Optimus would feel about having to participate in these movies.)

On the plus side, the ensuing fight solves the issue of what to do with the Beijing Olympic stadium by having it destroyed by a space ship.

Mark Whalberg’s character is also locked in a climactic final battle with Kelsey Grammer, who orchestrated the systematic slaughter of the Autobots and remaining Decpticons alike, because our heroic good ol’ boy from Texas has to have a macho showdown as well. At some point during both battles, Mark Whalberg kills Lockdown with a hand-held gunblade he picked up in the Knight’s of the Round armory; resulting in Kelsey Grammer getting the drop on him.

With literally seconds to spare, Optimus blasts Kelsey Grammer with his arm cannon; killing him. This is the moment where Optimus Prime abandons his moral code, and deliberately kills a human. Some would say it was the only option he had, but I say he had a choice.

Grammer was already knee deep in his villainous monologue to Whalberg. It can’t be said that Optimus didn’t know this because one, his fight with Lockdown had been over long enough for him to collect himself; two the movie had already shown his hearing is incredible enough to have heard Grammer’s ongoing monologue. Third, and most important, when Optimus’ towering figure looms over the pair Grammer’s character turns with fear on his face towards Optimus.

This is the point where in any other situation Grammer would have been defused by the sheer pants-shitting terror that the idea of Optimus and his kind already induce him. All Optimus would have had to do is rattle off a witty one-liner and the day would be saved, but Optimus went over there with one thought already in his mind; he was going to kill that man.

Optimus Prime, a character who has always shown mercy towards his enemies, broke in that moment.

The movie ends, not with the previous messages of peace, but a threat of retaliation and revenge as Optimus flies off into the stars with his rocket boots, by the way, Optimus sprouts rocket boots at the end of this movie, to presumably kick the metaphorical asses of the Cybertronian Creators. The movie left Optimus a changed bot. With breaking his moral code, his faith in humanity all but shattered, and revenge his, seemingly, primary motivation.

That is the story that would have made this movie great, and at some level I think somebody in the writer’s room tried to write it. Unfortunately, like I said at the beginning, it’s buried under a mountain of shit that contradicts it in the name of more explosions, and product placement.