How Michael Bay Can Save Transformers

Michael Bay and Optimus Prime Transformers

WARNING: SPOILERS for Transformers: The Last Knight Below!

All isn't well in Transformers world. Transformers: The Last Knight, the fifth outing in the decade-long franchise of "Robots in Disguise" opened to a franchise-low 5-day weekend total of about $64-million at the North American box office- a far cry from the $100-million opening of its immediate predecessor, Age of Extinction. In its first week, The Last Knight has raked in about $73-million, only slightly more than the inaugural Transformers film made in its 2007 opening weekend. However, The Last Knight, following the trend of The Mummy earlier in June, is doing bigger business overseas. It opened big in China (the film was financed by Chinese corporations) and has made over $200-million in foreign markets, but in just 7 days of release, The Last Knight dropped a staggering 82% at the Chinese box office. It's hard to argue much of the spark has dissipated from the Transformers AllSpark.

The blame falls at the feet of director Michael Bay, just as when Transformers ruled the world, the credit belonged to him as well. As the auteur of every entry in the franchise, Michael Bay is synonymous with Transformers. In terms of other blockbuster movie series, Bay has few equals among his peers - only Peter Jackson eclipses him as the sole helmer of the six Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit films. Bryan Singer, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas all follow Bay by directing four X-Men, Indiana Jones, and Star Wars films, respectively. For better or worse, we've never known a live action Transformers movie that isn't a frenzied, hyper-adrenalized, explosive cacophony only Michael Bay can deliver. While he certainly has his detractors, as a director of action movies, Michael Bay is in a class by himself.

Bay has announced that The Last Knight is his last Transformers movie, though he's said that before. Age of Extinction was supposed to be his swansong, but he quickly reversed course and signed on to helm The Last Knight. Mark Wahlberg, who starred in the two most recent Transformers and himself claims he's done with the franchise, has his doubts that Bay has rolled out with the Autobots for the final time:

"Right now he says he doesn’t want to do another film and he says that after every film because they are so difficult to make and he pretty much has to do it single-handedly, even with all the help that he has because all of the movie is in his mind... I would be hard pressed to see him walk away and put it in somebody else’s control and care. I mean, that’s just the Michael that I know, but you never know, sometimes people decide to move on, so we’ll see what happens.”

It's admirable that Michael Bay cares so much about Transformers. To be sure, he must care deeply and genuinely; filmmaking is an all-consuming process and studio tentpole franchises like Transformers, which cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make, require years of focused commitment from a director. The Last Knight, the biggest film of the franchise thus far in terms of scope, struggling where its predecessors soared must be a stinging blow to a guy accustomed to success like Michael Bay. One of the main reasons fans are hoping Daniel Craig returns for a fifth James Bond movie is the relatively poor reception Spectre received compared to the superior Skyfall. No one wants to leave a blockbuster franchise on a dud; everyone wants to redemption. It's hard to fathom Michael Bay is pleased to exit Transformers on a low note. While there are Transformers fans who have longed for the day Bay finally abandons the franchise so other directors can put their own stamp on the robots from Cybertron, Transformers is Michael Bay's franchise unless he truly is serious that he's finished with it.

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