There’s no denying that superhero movies are the dominant form of entertainment in Hollywood these days. Outside of Star Wars perhaps, there isn’t much that can contend with a comic book film, as the jaw-dropping box office numbers would indicate. A key selling point of the genre now is the shared cinematic universe, in which characters from various IPs can crossover and star in the same film together, replicating what happens frequently in the source material. This has led to several major “event” works like Captain America: Civil War and Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice.
Seeing the financial gains of the shared universe in action, several studios (besides Disney/Marvel and Warner Bros./DC) are attempting to piece together their own. For instance, Paramount is moving forward on expanding their $1 billion Transformers franchise, establishing a writers room to iron out a collection of sequels and spinoffs set in the world of the robots in disguise. Transformers: The Last Knight is due next on the docket, with a Bumblebee standalone also in the works, in addition to Transformers 6 and 7.
Michael Bay, director of five Transformers movies (including The Last Knight), is at the forefront of all this, hearing pitches from the scribes in the writers room to help plan the future of the series. As one of the producers, he’s very much involved with this particular shared universe, but despite being a fan of superhero films, he’s not interested in lending his talents to the realms of Marvel or DC.
Screen Rant recently visited the set of The Last Knight and spoke with Bay about the influx of comic book movies and the rise of interconnected franchises. After saying that he enjoyed Civil War, the director explained why he wouldn’t take on an installment in the MCU or DCEU:
“Well I don’t ever wanna take someone like a third of something or second of something. I’d rather, I gotta do my own thing. ‘Cause the most fun and a real director creates the world. You know, you talk to Ridley Scott. You know, one our favorite things to do is to create the world. Steven Spielberg, create the world. That is what it’s about. You understand? And I don’t wanna take someone, they created the world and I’m just gonna do number two. Like if I were to do something I would have to do it my way.”
Bay’s comments are interesting, since established shared universes in the past have seen directors depart projects due to creative differences (Edgar Wright on Ant-Man; Michelle MacLaren on Wonder Woman). No matter how talented a filmmaker is, not everyone is built for working in that model. Some directors would rather work on building their own thing than fitting within the confines of an overarching franchise consisting of multiple creative voices. It’s true that Transformers is based on pre-existing material, but Bay was able to forge the property’s big screen identity when he worked on the original movie, creating the world that the other films inhabit.
There’s nothing wrong with that approach. Even though shared universes are prevalent, there’s still a multitude of opportunities in the industry for auteurs to go off and make something that is undeniably their own. As much fun as it is to see Iron Man, Captain America, Superman, and Batman on the big screen, it’s nice that there are directors like Scott, Spielberg, and Bay out there crafting new universes to explore, which in turn keeps film slates fresh. Even if they’re adapting novels (The Martian, Ready Player One), or in Bay’s case, toys, they’re still responsible for figuring out how everything will look on the screen and aren’t following someone else’s lead. For a filmmaker, that aspect is definitely enjoyable and provides them with creative freedom and leeway. And as certain directors have shown, there’s plenty of success to be had with this method.