It’s Michael Bay’s American right to sign on for “Transformers 4.” Who could say no to all that money (even if the guy probably doesn’t need any at this point)? But while the “Transformers” movies have consistently made bank, there’s no doubt they’ve become somewhat creatively stagnant. Sure, you can cynically remark that they were never that great, but the second and third movies ladled on the gratuitous characters, abundant explosions and confusing narrative. So yeah — Bay can do more of the same if he wants, but here are five baby steps he might take in order to change things up.
» 1. Lose the Beef. With all due respect to Shia LaBeouf, the saga of Sam Witwicky has gone about as far as it can. Even Mr. LaBeouf agrees on this point. Three movies in a row, Sam has been acting alternately brave and cowardly (with quips thrown in for good measure), and while LaBeouf has filled his role admirably, it’s time to let Sam go and introduce a new cast. Producers seemed to agree about the temporal role of “Transformers” characters when they bounced Megan Fox out of the third film; why not go a step further and get rid of everyone — not just Sam. Starting from scratch would be the easiest way to pour some humanity back into the series.
» 2. Scale Down the Robots. Over three “Transformers” films, we’ve seen dozens of Autobots and Decepticons. Some of them, like Optimus Prime, are time-honored classics. Others, like Skids and Mudflap, are not. In order to keep things from getting too jumbled and generic, Bay should consider paring down the roster by at least half. Focus on creating distinct personalities and visual styles, so that audiences will care more about what they’re seeing. It might hurt the toy department’s revenue, but creatively, it’ll be a lot easier to work with.
» 3. Dark Does Not Equal Serious. I mean, this is “Transformers,” not “The 400 Blows.” Hollywood often tends to think audiences want dark material, but that’s not true — they just want a good movie, whether it’s dark or silly, happy or brooding or whatever. The more Bay tries to burrow into some cave of gravitas (foreign policy, ancient Egyptian history), the goofier the series looks to people who remember that this is a movie based off a toy line.
» 4. Less bad explosions, more good explosions! Self-explanatory, we think.
» 5. Unicron, please. You want to make the scope bigger? Create a plot where the Autobots have to take on Unicron. Revealing the evil planet in all its gigantic glory would be a visual highlight of the series, and it would raise the stakes past the typical here’s-a-bigger-robot-to-destroy escalation. Fans will be stoked, casual filmgoers will be impressed, kids’ minds will be blown. That’s the way to do it, no?
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