“Kill it. Kill it with fire. Toss some biblical plagues at it. Hand Michael Bay over to North Korea. Throw some more air conditioners at him.” Those were my first thoughts out of Age of Extinction, the Transformers sequel that might somehow be worse than Revenge of the Fallen and is the worst summer blockbuster I’ve seen in a long time. I don’t know how it happened but there are 4 Transformers movies. This is the physical manifestation of why we can’t have nice things. But it doesn’t have to be this way. There are ways to fix the Transformers franchise.
So without further ado, here are 5 ways to fix Transformers.
1.) Get Rid of Michael Bay
I’ll admit to actually enjoying the first Transformers quite a bit. It’s the definition of serviceable but I find myself continuously entertained throughout the 2 hour runtime. The action wasn’t spectacular, just more of a lightning in a bottle scenario where it wasn’t thrown in your face every 15 minutes. Characters were actually established in a decent fashion, and action was moderately (for a Michael Bay movie) spread out. However, the most important aspect of the first movie was the friendship between Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, and Sam. It wasn’t a classic movie relationship by any means but it had just enough heart to drive the story.
Now Michael Bay doesn’t give a shit. About anything. Ever. I’m not a fan of Pain and Gain, but at least I can tell Bay actually gave more than one fuck on those days he sat in the director’s chair (We’re talking about a man who actually walked off stage when he was asked what he does for a living). Revenge of the Fallen probably suffers the most to the director’s ego and apathy. In the first 15 minutes of that film, there are 3 separate uninspired action scenes. It’d be amazing if it wasn’t so visually exhausting. By the opening of the first sequel, it’s painfully obvious that there is no heart left. It’s a prime example of a soulless movie (Fun fact: The movie had no script when it started production).
What I find really astonishing is that no matter who gets cast in the lead of a Michael Bay movie, their acting skills will be so twisted and toyed with that at first glance we could confuse them for bad actors. Ok, some of them are pretty terrible (All the female leads in all the movies), but Bay somehow recruits Coen Brothers alums like Frances McDormand and John Turturro. They’re either played for comic relief or generic government official #815. Kelsey Grammar was in Age of Extinction… I don’t really have anything for that.
And of course Bay’s action set pieces are not only inconsequential, they’re horribly constructed. The framing is too close and the haphazard editing makes it impossible to follow the fights. Not to mention the robots are incomprehensible to a normal human eye. Let us see the action! That’s what we came here for. Of course it wouldn’t be too bad if the robots were distinguishable from one another. Which leads me to my next point…
2.) Get Better Robot Designs
You know, the first Transformers has some pretty good designs for giant chunks of metal. Hell, even the Decepticons seemed more threatening. They actually had some decent characteristics to tell them apart. The scorpion one, Helicopter guy, Tank thing… hey, I didn’t say it worked well, just well enough to give them distinct villain features. Megatron’s design was probably the least distinct but his lack of distinction was still justifiable since no two robots looked the same. If you have the stomach for it, watch the final fight in Revenge of the Fallen between Megatron, Starscream, The Fallen, and Optimus Prime. Three grey piles of garbage vs a red and blue robot covered in more grey and black jet engines or something. I’m still trying to understand what happened at the end of that one.
This one should be painfully obvious, but it isn’t so I’ll say it anyway.
3.) Drop the Racism, Sexism, and “Comedy”
If you’re anything besides 100% pure blooded American in these movies, you’re going to fall into a stereotype. Why? Because Michael Bay knows his intended money-flinging audience doesn’t care about characters. But that doesn’t mean his bigoted caricatures get to go without comment. Furthermore, there’s an exchange between Mark Wahlberg and Jack Reynor’s characters in Age of Extinction that really drives home the way Michael Bay views women in these movies. You’re not going to believe this. Ready?
Shane Dyson (Irish racecar driver in Texas): I’m not here to save your daughter. You’re here to help save my girlfriend.
It might not be 100% accurate but it is 100% bullshit. Then there’s another point where Cade Yeager (actual name of a character outside of anime and Pacific Rim) thinks he’s going to die so he tells Shane (the Irish racecar driver in Texas) that he has to be the one to protect Tessa now. Because she can’t do anything on her own apparently. And it’s all being driven by a punchline about how Tessa is only 17 and the movie takes time to explain that it’s okay because statutory rape is so funny!
4.) Make These “Family Friendly” Movies, I Dunno, Family Friendly
If you look at the characterization of Optimus Prime over the course of these movies, you can actually see him becoming more fascist and a bit psychopathic. Age of Extinction has him beat up a robot dinosaur in the name of freedom, but nothing will ever be able to top Optimus’ cold-blooded execution of Sentinel Prime who literally dies begging for mercy. Maybe try toning down the sociopathic tendencies of a robot who kills unarmed prisoners? For the children.
5.) Make Human Characters Secondary
Godzilla 2014 handled this topic expertly. The human characters sans Bryan Cranston are paper thin. But that’s the point. They’re supposed to be meaningless amongst the giant monsters battling it out over our very existence. The humans in Transformers don’t need to be philosophical or anything. They just need to be shown as worthy allies to the Autobots and size doesn’t matter as long as you keep fighting or something. ANYTHING.
The mindless “shut your brain off and enjoy it” approach to entertainment is basically my bread and butter. I practically live for the summer blockbuster season. I don’t want to see my favorite time of the summer movie season dismantled by this cancerous tumor on cinema. Until serious changes are made, I can’t even comprehend what the next clusterfuck of a movie is going to look like, nor will I be watching it (unless I actually need to review it but please, Dave, if you’re reading this, find someone else). The bad news is Michael Bay is probably going to continue having his second unit director do all the work for him so he can continue to finance his cocaine addiction. The good news is, Pacific Rim has a sequel coming in 2017 and I get to talk about that in my next feature. Stay tuned and please avoid the Transformers series until it dies a horrible, slow, painful death.