Though sporting a title that suggests that this “mockbuster” from the notorious Asylum was intended to be an exploitative take on the big-budget Transformers (2007), Transmorphers has very few “more than meets the eye” moments and the big mechanoids that do transform basically go from junk and rubble in the devastated cityscape to large chunky robots that look rather like mechanical assault cannons. In fact, the narrative (such as it is) is more suggestive of Terminator: Salvation than it is of Transformers — though, of course, the Asylum flick predates McQ’s blockbuster by a year or so. (Note: apparently the film was written as Robot Wars — no reference to Transformers — and its current title was given to it in order to cash in on the anticipated popularity of the big budget “event” film.)
When Transmorphers begins, the invasion of sentient alien robots from the depths of space has already taken place (several centuries before, in fact), mankind has lost the war and the survivors have retreated to underground hiding-places amidst the rubble of civilisation, forming terrorist squads that struggle to do what they can against the machines. Now a plan to finally defeat the enemy has been developed and our protagonists head off to see if they can make it work.
Given the narrative timeframe, there isn’t much attempt to give the structure of humanity’s underground existence much logic — but that’s par for the course even in big budget scifi flicks. And Transmorphers defines low-budget exploitation cinema. It is spatially and developmentally restricted, with more ambition than it has the means to fulfil it. This above all else governs the film’s limited artistic success.
Transmorphers isn’t a great film by any means. In fact, it struggles to maintain momentum as it goes along, being confined to somewhat repetitious dialogue when more robot action was needed. It isn’t ineptly acted or filmed, but the ultra-low budget does become a problem in that action that should become more expansive is forced by technical necessity to remain sadly minimalist. The CGI robots are very awkward by mainstream Hollywood standards, though the SFX would be more than servicable if the existing script had been both tightened and allowed to expand into other areas — even if those areas were kept claustrophobic enough to avoid blowing out the budget. More CGI action rather than better CGI is what was needed, along with good, succinct dramatic dialogue and original ideas, both of which are only sporadically in evidence.
But Transmorphers has an effectively claustrophic, grungy look to it — an ambiance exacerbated by rain and shadowy darkness — and when there is some action it is professionally, if not imaginatively, choreographed. In fact, the general look of the film, the competent editing, and the fact that the actors remember their lines and can deliver them with conviction, make the film watchable and (mostly) entertaining, despite pacing problems in the second half.
Transmorphers was a successful film for The Asylum. Hopefully, the upcoming prequel, Transmorphers: Fall of Man, will redress some of its deficiencies.