It’s the opening weekend of Transformers: Dark of the Moon and we know that the second sequel is going to make a pile of money for its owners. Michael Bay may have said that he won’t be coming back to direct Transformers 4 but that won’t stop Paramount and DreamWorks from having development meetings this summer about making the next one.
Let’s put aside the questions about who should replace Michael Bay and who should be writing the screenplay for Transformers 4. The only real question that matters right now is this: where do they take the franchise?
Fair warning: spoilers for Transformers: Dark of the Moon will be dropped from here on out. You’ve been warned.
The Case for a Transformers 4 Movie
If you look at the Transformers universe of stories created before the live-action films, there’s still one big storyline that a lot of Transformers fans are primed to see: the arrival of Unicron, the Transforming planet first seen in the animated Transformers movie. Unicron could serve as both the big adversary in Transformers 4 and as a means to refill the ranks of the Decepticons. After Optimus ripped out the spine of Megatron in Dark of the Moon, and with both Starscream and Shockwave also dead, who becomes the bad guy for the Autobots?
Unicron is the most likely choice now for a villain in the next Transformers movie but if The Powers That Be are thinking proactively, Transformers 4 will need to set up a long-term adversary for Optimus Prime for the next three TF movies. Introducing that nemesis in TF4 and making him secondary to the threat of Unicron would work best.
Of course, introducing a new Decepticon leader and making him the secondary threat was precisely what the Transformers animated movie did, and look at how badly that turned out. Care will have to be taken when the screenwriter hired to develop Transformers 4’s story starts walking down this road so he doesn’t repeat the mistake that the Transformers animated film made with Galvatron. Simply resurrecting Megatron (perhaps by Unicron’s design) may seem like a better solution to the problem but let’s not overlook that in the live action TF universe, Megatron’s already been brought back from the dead once. I know it’s a movie about giant alien robots but still, let’s try and keep a little bit of believability.
It’s too bad they killed off Starscream in TF3. The character wasn’t given much screen time and certainly not the same antagonistic relationship with Megatron that was shown in the animated series. Had he lived through the events of Dark of the Moon, Starscream would have been the most likely Decepticon that fills the void in the Decepticons’ power hierarchy.
Soundwave and Shockwave are both dead too, so there’s not much else of the original Decepticon pack to call upon as the new leader. As Optimus said to Megatron near the end of TF3, now comes the time to see how the Autobots and Optimus can define themselves as heroes with their longtime enemies finally destroyed.
Paging Shia LaBeouf to the white courtesy phone
The conclusion of Dark of the Moon sets up a possible end of the journey for Shia LaBeouf’s character, Sam Witwicky. By now his value as a liaison between the Autobots and the U.S. government and military should be clear for all to see and he should be rewarded with a prime job in that capacity. So is now the right time to reduce Sam’s role in the Transformers franchise? Should he be given a cameo in Transformers 4 or should a new human character be introduced to become the audience’s connection with the Autobots?
I don't think that there is an easy answer here. So much time has been given to Sam Witwicky that the audience could now see the Transformers movie as his story. What happens if Transformers 4 gets made and there’s no Sam in it? Where does Bumblebee fit into a Transformers movie without Sam?
Before striking any key on their screenwriting software, the screenwriter of Transformers 4 should have a clear idea who the main human character is and what their journey will be. If it’s a new character, what’s their relationship to the Autobots? Who is their closest Autobot friend and why? How do they fit into the universe that’s already been established? And what do they bring to the emotional story being told that different from Sam’s arc over the three films?
Yeah, I know. I’m asking for character development in a movie where there’s been robot fart jokes and beautiful women sliding on the hoods of cars. A man can dream, can’t he?
More Talk, Less Explosions
Bay’s Transformers movies have been great at delivering the action; where they haven’t been as successful is in developing secondary characters. Case in point: Ironhide gets killed by Sentinel Prime in Dark of the Moon and the gravity of his death isn’t even given a moment’s screentime. This was a supporting Autobot that was right beside Optimus Prime through three movies. At least in the first Transformers movie, Prime mentions the death of Jazz. In Dark of the Moon there’s no acknowledgement for the death of Ironhide because his character never mattered more than being a special effect.
One of the lines of dialog I liked in Dark of the Moon came from Josh Duhamel’s Lennox when he explained that Autobots and 14-year-old boys have a lot in common about the way they act. It would have served the movies better if we got to know the differences in personality with Optimus’ crew of Autobots. This is an area where a fourth movie can do a better job, and it should.
Spending 5 minutes on developing the personalities of the Autobots – and any new Decepticons introduced in the Transformers 4 movie – will pay off with critics and the audience members who feel like their brains aren’t needed when watching these films.
Grimlock Smash Transformers 4 Movie If He Not Included
I’ve got to give Michael Bay a point for not weighing down Dark of the Moon with too many Decepticons and Autobots. That said, I’ve already mentioned that we’ve got a lack of Decepticons to fight the Autobots in TF4. What about introducing new Autobots too?
One of the most popular Autobots amongst fans of the TF cartoon series was Grimlock, the T-rex Autobot that talked like Conan the Barbarian as a child. Not only does having a giant robot in the form of an extinct dinosaur sound awesome but Grimlock and the rest of the Dinobots were great for comedic relief.
I totally get that you may think that Grimlock won’t work in a Transformers movie but I think that if the idea is pulled off correctly, he could become a breakaway hit with the people that don’t know he exists yet. It’s like having The Hulk in the Avengers: the idea doesn’t make any sense but man, you really want to see Hulk standing beside Iron Man, Thor and Captain America yelling out “HULK SMASH!” All it takes is the right approach and bingo, we’re good to go.
Plus, it’d be fun to see the new Decepticon leader look at a T-rex Autobot in battle and ask the question, “Why didn’t we get one of those?”
More Females With Brains and Brawn
I know that she pissed off Bay and Spielberg with her inappropriate comments but I missed Megan Fox in Transformers 3 (and not just because of the way she looks.) One of the admirable qualities about Fox’s Mikaela character was that she got involved in the fight in the first Transformers, chaining up the fallen Bumblebee and then acting as his wheels while he rode shotgun and blasted Decepticons. Mikaela also showed that she could take care of herself when Wheelie terrorized her in Revenge of the Fallen.
What did Carly (Rose Huntington-Whiteley’s character in TF3) do that was up to par with Mikaela? Talk to Megatron in a back alley? Wow. Thanks for playing on the boys’ team, Carly.
This isn’t the fault of the actress or writer, it’s a Bay trademark and it’s one of his weaknesses. So let’s improve Transformers 4 by taking the James Cameron heroine 101 course on writing a strong, realistic female character and show her being just as important to the story as Sam Witwicky. Even better yet, why now make this new female character more like Ripley from Aliens or Alice from the Resident Evil movies? There are women warriors in our armed forces; why not show some of them fighting alongside the slo-mo guys?
Also, where did Arcee go? She was there (briefly, yes) in TF2 but gone from the Autobot ranks in Dark of the Moon. Bay said that he disliked the character in the second movie, so we know what happened to her. Still, why aren’t there more female Autobot heroes? Why can’t there be a couple?
Maybe James Cameron can be talked in to working on Transformers 4 on the weekends.
So Where Do We Go From Here?
Just like every other movie project in development, it should always come down to the strength of the story and core ideas. Producers Don Murphy, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Tom DeSanto and Steven Spielberg, let me make the case that you should start thinking about Transformers 4 now before you get the call from the studio and the money is on the table. You know that the call is coming, so why not start thinking about how to take this money-making franchise into its second trilogy of movies and new creative ground. Take the Matrix of Leadership position and get an early start on assembling the story that will make Transformers 4 appear on the top 10 movies of the year list for all the major film critics.
Well, maybe top 10 is too much. Top 20?