Robot saga transforms
The man behind blockbuster franchise Transformers is hoping it’s third time lucky for the latest instalment, writes Geoff Boucher
MICHAEL Bay is among the most driven filmmakers in Hollywood and right now his biggest motivation is making people forget his last movie, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
‘‘ It was kind of a mess, wasn’t it?’’ an unsmiling Bay says of the 2009 film, which was far from a flop – it grossed a potent $ 836 million worldwide, finishing third for the year behind only Avatar and the sixth Harry Potter movie.
‘‘ Look, the movie had some good things in it and it was entertaining and it did very well, but it also failed in some key ways,’’ Bay says.
‘‘ I learnt from it. And now with this third movie we’re going back to basics and I absolutely believe this is going to be a much better film than the second one.’’
Bay is standing on the Playa Vista set of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, his ninth feature film as director and, to his own surprise, his third movie about Bumblebee, Megatron and the other giant, shape-shifting alien robots called Transformers. It’s due out on June 30.
The 45-year-old director was sceptical when executive producer Steven Spielberg approached him in July 2005 with the concept of making a Hollywood franchise out of a 1980s toy line.
‘‘ The term I used at the time was ‘ stupid idea’, if I remember right,’’ Bay says.
But after visiting Hasbro and learning about the characters and cosmic mythology that had been created around them, the filmmaker warmed to the idea.
Now, the franchise is the centrepiece of Bay’s 15-year filmmaking career.
Though he has no expectation that he will make a fourth Transformers film – or maybe because of that – he is fiercely focused on leaving the franchise on a high note.
He also has been reaching out to journalists to show them footage and perhaps, through his candour and enthusiasm, win a reprieve in the court of public opinion.
The 2009 film was memorably savaged by critics. Rolling Stone magazine’s Peter Travers groaned that it was ‘‘ galactically stupid . . . beyond bad, it carves out its own category of godawfulness’’.
In private, many of Bay’s industry peers held the film up as a prime example of what happens when story and character are made subordinate to CG spectacle and one-liner humour.
The surprise isn’t that critics didn’t like a Bay movie – they didn’t like Pearl Harbor, Bad Boys 2 or The Island, either – the surprise is that Bay is publicly agreeing with them.
‘‘ I think we have something to prove with this third one,’’ Bay says of the movie that brings back star Shia LaBeouf in the role of Sam Witwicky, the young everyman who befriends an Autobot called Bumblebee.
‘‘ We’re back to basics. The second one was something going on inside of Sam, the way he’s affected and feeling and that’s a hard thing to do. It’s more mystical, in a way.
‘‘ This one, there’s nothing mystical about it. It’s a good old-fashioned mystery and it’s a tougher movie . . . it’s funny but it’s not a wisecrack-funny; it’s funnier in the situation.’’
Some critics have taken Bay to task for making chrome-plated movies that have hollow hearts but Spielberg says he brought the filmmaker in for Transformers because of the way he works with humans, not machines.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon brings back John Turturro as federal agent Seymour Simmons and familiar faces in Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson.
Joining the cast this time are John Malkovich, Frances McDormand and Patrick Dempsey, but the big news is the prominently absent name on the call sheet – Megan Fox, the female face of the franchise ( unless you count the robots).
Fox played Mikaela Banes, Sam’s girlfriend. When the topic of Fox comes up, Bay’s expression turns to something between apathy and seasickness.
‘‘ I don’t want to talk about it but we obviously replaced our girl and by everything I see we fared well,’’ Bay says, nodding over his shoulder toward Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, a Victoria’s Secret model from England who has zero acting experience – which is even less than Fox had when she made her feature-film debut in Bay’s Bad Boys 2 as an uncredited bikini-clad actress.
‘‘ Look, I will say that I think we have a better cast with this third movie than we’ve ever had,’’ he adds.