So Michael Bay has signed on to direct Transformers 4. For the love of God, this has to stop.
Transformers was the all-consuming passion of my childhood: I bought the toys, watched the cartoons, collected the Marvel comics. For fans, the prospect of a live-action movie adaptation was an outlandish pipe dream, doomed never to see the light of day after the 1980s craze for the 'robots in disguise' burnt itself out.
Then a funny thing happened: Hollywood went and made one. With the big studios increasingly turning to established properties and brand names in their search for bankable hits, and special effects technology having matured to the point where it was both technically and economically viable, it was only a matter of time before Optimus Prime and company conquered the multiplex. Even better, Steven Spielberg himself signed on to executive produce. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, in two words: Michael Bay. Actually, to be fair, I did enjoy the first movie. No, it wasn't the epic experience I had been dreaming about for 20 years, but it captured something of the spirit of the early comics and cartoons, and certainly had plenty of action and spectacle to dazzle the eyeballs. Crucially, it also had a human dimension on which to hang the tale of warring robots - a necessary entry point for newcomers as well as old timers like myself. As Spielberg himself said, it was the story of a boy and his car. You could quibble about the changes to established Transformers mythology or the flimsy plot, but to me it was a satisfying experience; and there was plenty of scope for future installments to build upon its foundations.
That's the frustrating thing about being a TF fan. Too often they are dismissed as a cheap toy series for kids whose carcass has provided rich pickings for Hollywood. Sorry, but this just isn't true. It was the UK Marvel comics in the mid-80s that treated these characters with real respect and developed a series of gripping, intriguing and thought-provoking stories which fired the imagination. Incredible as it may sound, the comics infused these robotic characters with life: they had distinctive personalities and relationships. Of course there were a few duds, as with any comic, but there was a genuine consistency in its quality of output. These characters can be interesting and I've seen great stories told with them.
So it was sad to see what Michael Bay did with his first sequel, Revenge of the Fallen. The plot had tantalising possibilities, but the least satisfying parts of the first film were this time promoted to the front line: the tedious humour was made longer and even less funny, the characters became sillier, the action noisier and more confusing. Dark of the Moon was even worse: a loud, obnoxious bore, content to deafen us with ever larger scenes of mass destruction, intermittently broken up with ogling shots of the new female lead. It became clear that Bay had no real interest in the Transformers themselves beyond grabbing them like a five-year old and smashing them together for the sake of instant gratification. All he saw was cool action scenes involving giant robots. Hey, we all want that; but we also want strong characters and a good story - things that seem to elude him.
Now comes news that the director has signed on for part four. This means two things: that enough truckloads of cash were dumped on Bay's front porch to make him sign on the dotted line, and we'll be getting more of Bay's own 'interpretation' of The Transformers. Spielberg's diminishing influence on the series is all too apparent; a shame, as it is probably only he who could take the series away from Bay and place it in the hands of someone with a greater understanding of the franchise's potential. The best thing they could do is start from scratch: leaf through some of the classic comics and adapt one of the great stories. My dearest wish is to see Death's Head on the big screen - but not if Michael Bay is calling the shots.
An extended version of this article is available at www.cinemasitter.co.uk.
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