Well, we all knew it was going to happen. Michael Bay has signed on officially to direct the fourth installment of "Transformers." All the signs were there for continuing this terrible series, from the sky-high box office totals of "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," to the dwindling supply of viable motion picture franchises, to the industry's increasing willingness to let film series go on for as long as it likes, as long as it can still make a profit. Yet I'm not unhappy with this decision, and depending on how things play out, "Transformers 4" might be a "Transformers" film that's actually worth getting excited about.
The most interesting news is that the new "Transformers" is going to be a reboot, and leading man Shia LaBeouf is not expected to return as Sam Witwicky. Now if the film comes out when it's supposed to in 2014, that would mean a three year gap between the end of the "Transformers" trilogy and the reboot, which easily beats the five year gap between the Sam Raimis "Spider-Man" trilogy and the reboot coming out this summer. That's setting a scary precedent for other franchises, but on the other hand, I'm curious as to what Bay wants to do with the series. I really dislike the films as they are now, a bad mix of big action, juvenile humor, and crass pandering to the male id that makes me worry about the current generation of little kids who are growing up watching them. Still, I've always thought that "Transformers" had a lot of potential to be better.
There have been rumors floating around for a few months now that future "Transformers" films were ready to strike out in a new direction. Jason Statham's name was in the mix as a possible replacement for Shia LaBoeuf a few months ago, raising the possibility of the new films becoming more action-oriented. Currently, the "Transformers" movies feature plenty of special-effects spectacle, but most of the fighting is done by the Transformers themselves, and Sam Witwicky spends most of his screen time running away from the action or babysitting tepid subplots. I don't see a character played by Jason Statham doing either for very long. Ironically, an older hero would also probably be more kid friendly, because any romantic element would be much more straightforward than Sam Witwicky's brand of adolescent male horndogging. Or the series could stop trying to appeal to kids entirely and just be a standard Michael Bay action film, dropping the stupid robot jokes and the comic relief characters, who have been the bane of every single "Transformers" movie to date.
On the other hand, the reboot is being helmed by Michael Bay, the same director responsible for making such an awful mess of the "Transformers" in the first place. As George Lucas and others have repeatedly proven, those with too much creative control can often be tone deaf to criticism and incapable of seeing their own flaws. Though Bay may be perfectly sincere in wanting to overhaul the franchise, he could just end up remixing the same bad elements form the first films into something even dumber, sleazier, meaner, and more incoherent. And though Shia LaBeouf has insisted that he's not coming back to the series, there are no guarantees. For some of the younger audience, LaBeouf is a draw, and the whole reboot idea could be a lot more cosmetic than Bay and Paramount are currently making it out to be. It could even be meant to help prod LaBeouf to come back and accept another paycheck. We've seen similar tactics before in contentious contract negotiations.
However, there's already one very positive result to "Transformers 4" being made: it's part of a two-picture deal between Michael Bay and Paramount. Before Bay goes back to wrangling alien mechanoids, he's going to direct a much smaller action film, "Pain & Gain," with Mark Wahlberg and The Rock, due to begin shooting in the spring. It's based on the real life antics of a group of steroid-abusing body builders in Miami, who became part of an extortion ring. The proposed budget is only $25 million, which would make it the cheapest Bay film since "Bad Boys." Bay had intended to do a smaller project like this between the second and third "Transformers," films, but was derailed by scheduling problems. The important thing is that Paramount is footing the bill, and "Pain & Gain" almost certainly would not be moving forward without their support.
So it's thanks to "Transformers 4" that we're getting a new Michael Bay action movie that has nothing to do with the "Transformers" franchise. It already sounds like a much more interesting project than anything he's made since "The Island," which, for the record, I liked. I rag on Michael Bay, but he's made a few good movies, and with any luck he'll go on to make more. Maybe one of them will be "Transformers 4," and maybe not. We'll see in 2014.