Those giant robots storming the silver screen in “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” don’t look much like the Transformers of yesteryear. Optimus Prime may still be trucking along, but the Autobot Bumblebee has ditched his old Volkswagon Beetle shell to take on the form of a fifth-generation Chevy Camaro. Other Autobots and their evil Decepticon foes now form a veritable fleet of the latest motorcycles, cars, trucks and U.S. military hardware. Never say obsolete to robots that can shape-shift, right?
Well, not quite. A few Transformers seem literally stuck in the 1980s when it comes to their faded exteriors. And not to nitpick on the choice of vehicle chassis for extraterrestrial robots, but it’s not just about choosing the latest car or airplane — even the snazziest hardware can have a short shelf life or just represent an outmoded concept in today’s modern world.
So here are Newsarama’s modest nominations for Transformers that could use an upgrade or two. Because the times, they are a-changin’...
This small Decepticon relied on stealth to survive in a world of big humans and bigger Transformers. Fortunately, the modern world offers plenty of handy household gadgets to transform into, and so Frenzy chose ... a boombox. OK, so the boombox sported a sleek exterior and played CDs instead of cassette tapes (bonus: CDs doubled as lethal shurikens to fire at protagonists!) That doesn’t change the fact that people these days are far more likely to carry mp3 players, rather than tote around a boombox on their shoulders. Nostalgia for the ’80s aside, can a tiny Transformer spy get more retro?
Upgrade: iPod. Those darn things are everywhere, which makes them ideal cover for a tiny saboteur.
Ratchet represents an Autobot medic in the form of a search and rescue H2. The civilian version of the Hummer may be great for a bit of off-road driving, but the Transformers aren’t on a camping trip — they’re at war. This is war as in giant robots firing alien weapons and stomping each other’s faces. Even the U.S. Army doesn’t count on its military-grade Humvees to withstand IEDs and other explosive hazards in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has instead begun buying Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, Stryker combat vehicles, and modified Bradley Fighting Vehicles as battlefield ambulances. Surely a robot medic shouldn’t settle for less to protect its patients.
Upgrade: MRAP. At least Ratchet won’t need constant armor upgrades with his Autobot technology.
Blackout may have perished in the first “Transformers” movie, but the Decepticon first single-handedly demolished a U.S. military base after sneaking in as an MH-53 Pave Low helicopter. Now a near-identical replacement named Grindor promises to continue that lethal legacy, except for one possible hitch — the U.S. military retired the long-serving helicopter near the end of 2008. Keeping the MH-53 appearance won’t do much for deception, unless Grindor plans to infiltrate the Air Park for retired birds at Maxwell Air Force Base.
Upgrade: V-22 Osprey. It’s the new tiltrotor ride of choice for the U.S. military.
Jetfire makes an appearance in the new “Transformers” movie as aging Decepticon who defects to join the Autobots. The crotchety Transformer retains his outdated form as an SR-71 Blackbird, the supersonic and futuristic-looking reconnaissance jet that could fly over Mach 3. It was the darling of the U.S. Air Force during the Cold War, and was finally retired in 1998. However, Jetfire supposedly recognizes his obsolescence and simply accepts that he’s not hanging with Bumblee and the cool kids anymore—a situation which may provide for some unexpected pathos in an otherwise slam-bang summer blockbuster.
Upgrade: DSP-23 reconnaissance satellite. It flies higher and can watch for those pesky missiles.
Ah, Starscream. The scheming Decepticon once flew as an F-15 Eagle, and has since reincarnated as an F-22 Raptor for the new “Transformer” movies. It’s an unparalleled fighter aircraft, make no mistake. But if Hollywood has taught anything, it’s that a rich genius with his own armored suit can take out an F-22 without even trying (looking at you, “Iron Man”). And then there’s the real world, where a swarm of Predator and Reaper unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) now regularly carry out surveillance and missile strikes. The U.S. Air Force has already transformed one squadron of F-16 pilots into UAV operators, and the U.S. Department of Defense has stopped new orders of F-22s. Ultimately, the Raptor may simply have the distinction of representing one of the last great fighter aircraft flown by humans.
Upgrade: MQ-9 Reaper. It may not fly as pretty as the F-22, but it would set up the delicious situation of a robot disguised as a robot.
1. GM Bot
GM may look like a beleaguered giant in the real world, but the Autobots seemingly all wear the GM brand emblazoned on their gleaming bodies. Seriously, there are a lot of GM cars and trucks in the new “Transformers” movies. Concept cars such as the Chevrolet Trax and Beat enter the fray, and even the upcoming Chevrolet Volt electric car joins the Autobot cast as a new creation named Jolt. It’s all a brave showing, considering that GM has only begun to emerge from bankruptcy and owes $50 billion to the U.S. government (also its new majority owner). This comes after the economic recession has capped a long downward slide where the car company found itself constantly outfoxed by competitors. But then again, maybe the Autobots want a challenge as GM’s hopeful face of the future.
Upgrade: Who knows? Here’s hoping that GM can transform into something both lean and mean.