Ends of series
Bay wholly takes on his own material, not to say his own toys which he clearly confesses to have enough played with for now 7 years. The biggest novelty of this 4th opus is probably in the fact that these robots go through the 4th wall, like suggested the lost and found Optimus Prime in front of a projection screen. Whereas the fiction is prepared to restart in this old abandoned theater, the owner begins to speak about the sequels and remakes. « What a shit ! » he goes. Little jibe in which Bay comments with irony his new cinema project. Should we conclude that we are in the extension of Pain & Gain, in which Bay seemed to comment on his own style ? Yes and no. On one hand, the narrative spine, centered around the creators's responsibility and the possibility of letting creations go out on their own plays the parallel with Bay’s situation regarding to his saga. On the other hand, the sequels are often the opportunity to induce these reflected games more aware of its status. However, we are here farther than a simple wink to the audience : without reaching the fierce critic of his cinema, the movie reminds us of Joe Dante's movies. The film director is often being considered like a tutelary figure of the saga : whether it is through explicit remakes such as the invasion of a kitchen by the robots in Revenge of the Fallen, or a certain crazy cartoon tending towards the burlesque during corporate scenes of Dark of The Moon. We notice that again in Age of extinction with a main character, unsuccessful inventor with defected creations (as in Gremlins), a spaceship full of different extra-terrestrial creatures whose robots more or less imported from Explorers, or more generally with Small Soldiers with its company manufacturing a series of products working hand in hand with the militaries.
The movie seems to design itself as a marketing object aimed to sell toys in series. We find in the middle of the conflict between Autobots and humans, the perspective of manufacturing upgraded Transformers as mass-consumption product. Bay explicitly highlights that he is aware of the product he is doing and the importance of being the blockbusters « in series » guy. The very first meeting between Optimus and the copy designer is a particularly intense moment. Optimus, initiator of the franchise and hero through all the episodes announces his leaving and Tucci’s character underlines it very clearly :
« The world will be the first delighted. We manufacture you in the plant, we do not need you...».
Up to now, Transformers 4 is a worldwide success but Paramount must manage several awaiting trials concerning a few brands but also the conflict with China Film Group Corporation, offended by some punchlines left in the movie in a deliberate way for the final cut. Such as this sequence in which, after having cheerfully shot a robot from KSI, Bumblebee declares : « I don’t like pale copies » in the middle of Hong-Kong. In Bay’s movie, Chinese are also financial partners of the series of products ; high technology plants are implemented with lower costs in China, and the big bosses seek shelter in Hong-Kong in order not to lose everything. The frame concerning the character of Joshua Joyce, played by the perfect in the hysterical vein Stanley Tucci, is the strongest human story arc of the movie.
It must be mentioned that the production of Transformers « Age of Extinction » had been particularly impacted by the contribution of Chinese funds. Some obligations are obvious here and there, such as product placements, or spots that should appear on the screen. Without mentioning the presence of local amateur actors (for instance, the scene in the lift with Tucci involves a local martial art champion) as well as other restrictions especially linked to the representation of China and its history. When we see that this Transformers grossed over a billion dollars or that a sequel of « Pacific Rim » is now in-production in regards to its box office takings in Asian cinema market, it seems sure that Bay’s movie is only the first step of a certain long lasting strategy . The question will henceforth be to know on which level this will impact the Hollywood movie business.