The Flickering Myth Debate – ‘A new Transformers trilogy is a great idea. Michael Bay can do no wrong.’

In the first of a new feature, two Flickering Myth writers go head to head to debate a hot topic from the world of a film. Here, Oliver Davis takes on Chris Cooper to decide whether a new Transformers trilogy is a good idea…

The Motion: ‘A New Transformers trilogy is a great idea. Michael Bay can do no wrong.’

For - Oliver Davis

Against – Chris Cooper

Opening Statements:

Oliver Davis: Many people argue that the essence of cinema, what makes it different from other art forms, is the inherent truthfulness and objectivity of the image – what Andre Bazin, the père of the French New Wave, called celluloid’s ‘ontology’. 

But there’s a conflicting school of thought that takes montage as film’s defining feature, the ability to manipulate and edit that ‘reality’. This argument can be traced back to the Soviet Montage movement in the 1920s, in particular, one Lev Kuleshov. For my money, and that money is in rubles, he’s responsible for uncovering the single most important device in all of cinema – the Kuleshov effect.
 
However, before he realised that, he had to stumble upon editing itself. You see, in the 1910s, Russia made very static films. They were theatre pieces shot with a camera in the stalls. The only cuts were scene transitions. Audiences would get bored. It was all very pompous.

It wasn’t until he happened upon an American movie that he realised what Russian cinema was missing, what would influence one of the most significant film movements in history, what he would then believe to be the very essence of cinema itself – montage. Although the American movie wasn’t as cultural as Russia’s filmed plays, the audience were far more involved. They would shout and curse at the screen, stand up and throw their arms up at the villain. Kuleshov theorised this as the Americans having more camera angles to keep them entertained. The film would cut to somewhere else before the spectator’s attention waned. It showed expense, that the production spent time recording different shots. The Americans, wrote Kuleshov, wanted more bang for their buck.

Digest that… more bang for their buck.

And now we come to the topic of the debate – Michael Bay’s Transformers trilogy, and the further three films he’s promised. Everyone likes to kick Transformers. It’s easy. It’s the object of scorn for the anti-dumb brigade. Well, you know what? Sometimes dumb ain’t bad. Sometimes, people just want more bang for their buck.

Because that, ultimately, is what Bay’s Transformers is. A hell of a lot of bangs, bought for a hell of a lot bucks (say what you will about Transformers, but financially the franchise has been very successful). And on a deeper level, with its dizzying cut rate, the franchise encapsulates the central idea behind Kuleshov’s theories – that montage is the true essence of cinema – whilst simultaneously and unabashedly embodying his inspiration, the American action movie.

Not to mention all the cool robots and stuff.

Chris Cooper: I’m pretty keen on Transformers. I’ve owned a Gen 1 Grimlock toy since I was 3 or 4 years old. He’s awesome, as are the Transformers as a whole. I mean come on…Robots in Disguise! The Transformers films however, are not.
I’ll put my best argument forward straight away. Michael Bay.
That’s not an argument you say? I disagree! This is the guy who seems perfectly fine with the following atrocities being committed…

Devastator’s ‘Wrecking Balls’

Skids and Mudflap

Fights where you can’t tell who is who

No one fixed Bumblebee’s voice!

The Arcee triplet bike mess

He killed Ironhide and Jazz

Megatron and Starscream’s relationship whittled down to one line

Shia LaBeouf

Can anyone explain what that drill thing in Dark of the Moon is?

Too many humans

What I can only think of as ‘Robot heaven in a sock that brings people back to life’

Megatron in a hoody?

Shia LaBeouf

The first film is OK. It was impressive at the time, and great to see something from my childhood on the big screen getting the attention it deserved. I was hopeful the second film would improve…but this hope was crushed. Bar Optimus ‘dying’, and then him coming back with parts of Jetfire, it was a shocker of a film, and I left the cinema really disappointed. Fast forward some time and I read the interviews with Bay, where he acknowledged the second film was terrible, and promised us a quality end to the trilogy. I appreciated the honesty and was hopeful…and he crushed it.  Again!

I do actually like a few of Bay’s films, and small parts of the TF films (Sam’s parents and Megan Fox’s derrière), so it’s not as though I think he is an unmitigated disaster. The Rock and Bad Boysspring to mind as really fun, entertaining, quotable action films. I even liked Transformers at first. But the quality of the second and third films was so poor that it drags the whole thing down. I’m talking Laurentian abyss deep.

I do have a soft spot for Linkin Park, so that’s one plus I guess.
Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. Not again. Bay had his chance, and he wasted it.
Responses:
Chris Cooper: You say it’s easy to kick these films. I’d agree with you wholeheartedly. It is easy to kick them…because they are awful.

Dumb is not bad. Commando springs to mind as a film that perfectly encapsulates this. All we want to see is Arnie taking out the bad guys whilst spouting one liners. This single mindedness is admirable and ultimately successful. Arnie wins, the bad guy is dead, hooray! Everyone leaves happy and content.
Transformers however, is muddled. I wanted to see big transforming robots fighting and er….transforming! I got this, but Bay also deemed it necessary to fill the films with non-entities such as LaBeouf, Duhamel, and Fox. If they weren’t there, not only would I have not been annoyed by them, but I’d be spending more time watching Transformers! Save paying big bucks to ‘stars’ and give it to ILM to make Grimlock. I get that there needs to be human element – they are on Earth after all – but I don’t need awkward teenage romance. You can be dumb, but you don’t have to be annoying at the same time.

Oliver Davis: There was a time when a lot of people would bash Matthew McConaughey. He had a run of not-very-good films where he’d lean on his co-stars in the posters. A lot of people found him smug and annoying. I always liked him. Sahara is severely underrated.

But sometimes, what Family Guy says is sacrosanct to a large group of people. Rather than form their own opinion, they prefer to go along with whatever observation Seth MacFarlane cuts away to. In McConaughey, they had a fair point. He does always appear quite pleased with himself. But in Lincoln Lawyer it helped tremendously with his character. And now look at him. He released Killer Joe and Magic Mike in the same year. It’s a McConaissance.
I believe the Transformers franchise has been victim of a similar snowballing effect. But rather than Family Guy, it’s been the polemic opinions of critics like Mark Kermode influencing people.
He heavily criticises Shia LaBeouf in the film, going so far as to call him a charisma vacuum – an insult so fantastic that it pains me to disagree. Shia’s exasperation with the robots and the inept adults around him provides an anchor for the farce. His human character is rather engaging, as is Megan Fox’s body.
In fact, I would argue the human characters outshine their Cybertron counterparts, the adult cast particularly. Shia’s parents, John Turturro (Barton Fink), Alan Tudyk (Serenity), John Malkovich (Con Air) and Francis McDormand (Burn After Reading) all give brilliant comedic, cameo performances. If the film were completely computer generated, I’d share your view – the robots should be the main source of emotion. However, when a film is mixed with live action, the empathy in one’s heart will rush from CGI pixels to those living like a 2p piece swirling for the hole in one of those games you seem to find in every McDonalds.

Chris Cooper: So you admit it is a farce! In all seriousness though, that you consider the human characters stronger ties into my problems with the films (I can only agree with you on Sam’s parents). Surely Optimus, Bumblebee and co should be the main characters?

I waited through the whole of the first film for Megatron and Starscream to get snarky with one another, and I got one line! It all felt so half hearted. Mere lip service to those of us who have loved it since we were young.They made so much effort to design and build them, but then dropped the ball when it came to writing them. Optimus is easy to write for – throw in ‘freedom is the right of all sentient beings’ and you’re most of the way there. But I found most of the other Transformers less well catered for. Jazz got a few stereotypical ‘cool guy’ lines and then got ripped in half.
To bring this back round to the title statement, and to get away from Shia (vacuum seems a bit harsh), Bay has had three films to show us his vision of the Transformers and their battles. He has touched on some of the major points. Optimus dying (I did feel for him at that point, way more than when Sam ‘died’) and there being other Primes being the main two that spring to mind. But it all feels so hollow. He can do explosions bloody well, there is no denying that, but don’t we want to see something more? I’d like to think that people want a compelling story as well as things blowing up. The Nolan Batman films are proof that people can be entertained and think at the same time.
Wouldn’t it be more exciting to see something new? Someone else’s take? Maybe get a film that doesn’t include humans meeting robots in heaven and then being brought back to life with dust?
As a spectacle it’s all mightily impressive, but can’t it all mean something next time? Or at least make sense. Change please!

Oliver Davis: The notion of making Transformers the central characters is admirable, but it wouldn’t work in practice. Unless the film were to be entirely animated, I could never fully empathise with the robot characters. And the issue isn’t even one of humanity. I feel for Mogwai and Johnny Five just as equally. My heart is wired to always side with entities onscreen that exist in the real world. It’s too cynical to believe in pixels – pixels that will always be the building blocks of Transformers, robots too complex to be realised in animatronics. But you know what won’t be difficult to relate to..?

…Mark Wahlberg.
Marky Mark is a terrific actor, excelling as a comedic presence, but also more than capable of being an action film’s leading man. His is the only confirmed name for Michael Bay’s Transformers 4. Whether he’ll be the protagonist, or one of the supporting players that the Transformersfranchise is so good at showcasing, the movie will still be worth checking out for his involvement.
I had a Transformers video when I was younger. It contained about four episodes, which were set shortly after the events of the film. Optimus was dead and Hot Rod had become the new Prime. I knew the cartoon trailers at the video’s beginning as well as the episodes themselves. I once took it on a Centre Parcs holiday, unable to be away from it for a whole five days.
But I never begrudged the film for any perceived mistreatment of those mid-80s cartoons. In a similar way, I feel no hostility towards Nolan’s Batman films, even though they don’t represent my Batman, or how some of the best parts of the Game of Thrones television series aren’t lifted exclusively from the books.
Source materials aren’t sacred, and positioning them so – particularly when it comes to Hollywood adaptations – is both futile and naive. I’m more of the position that, currently, Transformers is cool. You can wear a Transformers t-shirt out to a nightclub. Sure, it’s postmodern. But it’s also a release of society’s inner-geek.
After all, we’ll inherit the Earth. And I believe that something to be celebrated.
Chris Cooper: Mark Wahlberg is sometimes a good actor. He is Jekyll and Hyde. For proof I point to both Max Payne and The Fighter. In one, he is perfectly suited and amazing. In the other, he is just as terrible as everyone around him. Good teams bring out the best in him. Bale and Farrell are great and have brought out the best in him. But put him alongside Bay and whatever talentless young actress he decides to choose? I’m not hopeful. I will give him credit for his ability to act alongside pixels in Ted (extremely average film but I’ll save that for another day) so he has a slightly better chance. Maybe him and Bay together in Pain and Gain will show me otherwise. I want to be hopeful I really do! I’m just not seeing anything to create hopefulness yet.

Does the franchise really showcase supporting actors? I’ve always felt it shoehorned them in when they need a pay-cheque!

Transformers is cool (I’ve got a Grimlock T-shirt on right now), and that is due to the films. It’s opened it up to a far larger audience and I’m happy with that. But it’s also hollow and I’m not happy with that. Maybe I’m asking too much but I’d just like a bit more care, a better script, and a fresh director. Surely someone could take over the reins and inject it with a new lease of life. The only people who said Dark of the Moonwas any good were children. The rest of us went ‘oh that’s a cool explosion. Oh look cool stunt’. Then we got bored, remembered we could watch a decent action film, and ignored it. You could fix all of these things without being slavish to the source. Most people who see it won’t know what we know. They’re probably in a better position with no preconceived notions. But I’m sure you could make something that pleases the majority of us. I just don’t think Bay is the man to do it.
To love the characters but not like the films is a tough position to be in. On the one hand, I can see that they’ve done amazing things and brought to life things we’ve never seen before, which has made my inner geek whoop with joy. But on the other hand I feel let down. Call me greedy, but I want more from it. I really feel it can be done. Just not with Bay.

Concluding Statements:
Oliver Davis: Is Michael Bay the right man to make yet another Transformers film? Deep down, I don’t believe it matters. The franchise is such a behemoth of explosions, farcical humour and short-shorted women that any further sequels will be forced to continue in such a vein. And there are few, if any, directors out there capable of the wonderful niche that is the explosion-farce-short-shorted-women movie. Simply put, too much money is now required to make these films. Another director wouldn’t have as much clout as Bay. The studio would push them to make the same-again but with deteriorating quality.

I’m not a huge fan of sequels that become trilogies that become franchises. But the next Transformers film interests me. A new cast, a reported “complete redesign” – there will be a lot of ‘new’ for Number Four. Yet the most intriguing aspect is Bay’s presence. Who’s ever lasted longer than three films as a director? The fourth is uncharted territory.

Bad Boys, The Rock, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, Bad Boys II, Transformers…those are the man’s first six films (with The Island left out for purposes of this argument). In spite of what many critics propagate, that’s one hell of a run. He makes entertaining films.

And he also makes awesome adverts:


Awesome.


Chris Cooper:
Do we really need more robot peeing jokes? More borderline racist stereotypes? More dust filled socks? More Michael Bay?

He has already given us a trilogy. I think it’s quite enough.

Yes there is a possibility that a new cast and a redesign of the Transformers will inject some freshness. But this guy promised a lot whilst making the first trilogy, and he didn’t deliver. He’s had his chance! He might have made some entertaining films, but these films are not them. Revenge of the Fallen and Dark of the Moon are terrible films.

By all means make more Transformers films. In one way I’m glad so many people have made the mistake of seeing all three films at the cinema (sadly I fell for the promises) because it means there will be more, and we might get a good one at some point. I yearn for the day where we will all get to see the Dinobots on the big screen. But damn it, let someone else do it. Bay won’t be left wanting for work, so let someone else hold the matrix of leadership.


Who do you think won this Flickering Myth Debate? And what do you think about Michael Bay and the new Transformers trilogy? As always, comment below with your thoughts…

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