‘Transformers’ Producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura On Film Critics, ‘Transformers 5′ and ‘G.I. Joe 3′
If any group of movies is actually critic-proof, it’s the ‘Transformers’ movies. No ‘Transformers’ movie has ever made it over that coveted “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes (though the first one came close), but it really hasn’t mattered — the ‘Transformers’ franchise is one of the most successful movie franchises of all time, grossing over $2.5 billion worldwide. But, that doesn’t mean ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction‘ producer Lorenzo di Bonaventura doesn’t read those reviews and doesn’t care about those reviews. And di Bonaventura certainly has some opinions about those reviews.
Also, di Bonaventura gives us a peek at what ‘Transformers 5‘ may look like, and he addresses if we may see Unicron (who is basically a large planet who was famously voiced by Orson Welles in the 1985 animated film) in the next film. Di Bonaventura is also the producer of the just-announced ‘G.I. Joe 3‘ and reveals just how close that movie came to not happening and how their new idea won over Paramount.
‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’ is going to make a ton of money. Are these movies critic-proof? Do you care about reviews?
Well, first of all, I think every filmmaker cares what critics think because, you know, you’re being judged. I think if someone says they don’t care, baloney. Does it affect the gross of the movie? Probably a little bit. But, I think the problem with critics and the big movies in general is they don’t understand the format. So, they’re judging it against the kind of movie experience that it is not trying to do, nor should it.
What do you mean by that?
What I mean is it’s like they’re locked into like, “OK, let’s compare this to a Marty Scorsese movie or a two-hour drama.”
I don’t know about that. Critics liked the latest ‘Captain America’ movie a lot.
But, my experience with the critics is that when they like a big movie, it’s because they’re afraid they’re going to so go against the tide that they act like they liked it. That’s my opinion. I think it’s baloney. I don’t think they understand the form of entertainment and I don’t think they appreciate the form of the entertainment. So, I think in that respect, the reason critics don’t hurt a lot of the big movies is because the audience is smart enough to go, “I don’t care what he’s talking about or she’s talking about. What I care about is did I have a great experience? Was I wowed? Did I laugh? Did I feel like I was transported to a different place?” And they’re judging it on story elements and things that…
But you worked on ‘The Matrix’ and that’s a beloved movie.
Yes. Well, the critics didn’t. By the way, the critics pounded the movie.
The sequels maybe, I remember good reviews for the first film.
No, no, no. We got one good review in one major newspaper in the United States, which was the Washington Post. That’s it. Everybody else wrote second reviews like a week later, sort of re-imagining the history of their first review. Trust me. I read every one of them. And it’s when I sort of gave up on critics.
It’s at 87 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. But, to be fair, those could be newer reviews that were written later…
They did. I’ll tell you, Kenny Turan [of the L.A. Times] wrote a review, then did a second review a week and a half later. And in that one he told us how much he was right about his first review, how great it was. But if you read his first review, [he thought the movie] sucked. My point is, they all wrote new reviews because they saw how so far out of it they were, that they sort of had to make up ground.
It sounds like there’s some resentment in your voice, but, again, these movies are a huge financial success.
No, it’s actually not. It’s not resentment. It’s maybe frustration…
Maybe that’s a better word…
I’m frustrated that they don’t get moviemaking today. They don’t get it. I don’t understand why they can’t evaluate movies on different experiences. My experience when I was first in the business, I really valued critics. Because even when they didn’t like something, they talked about what was good in it. So now it’s like these feasts of criticism — they just love killing the whole thing. And I’m not really speaking about my movies — my movies have been generally pretty well-reviewed. ‘Salt’ was really well reviewed, ‘Side Effects’ was well-reviewed. I’m a fan of film and so, OK, you don’t like the movie? Nothing was good in it? That’s what I’m talking about.
I think even the harshest of critics on the ‘Transformers’ movies have admitted that the visual effects are outstanding.
Yes, they do. Yes, they have.
So even if someone doesn’t like the movie, most people admit it’s amazing to look at.
Damned with faint praise is my response to that.
I don’t think that’s faint praise to say these are some of the most visually striking movies that people have ever seen.
Yeah. Well, there you are.
In this film, the overhead battle in Chicago is an amazing visual effect. In the third movie, the paratroopers gliding through Chicago, I had never seen anything like that before.
Well, I’m glad you feel that way. It’s one of the things we try really hard; each time we’re trying to top ourselves. And we’re trying to find something that makes an audience member go, as you did, “Oh my God, I’ve never seen anything like that.” And when you achieve that, it’s really satisfying because you can feel the excitement it breeds. I think I probably have this reaction about critics more than anything else about ‘Transformers’ movies because I think they’re grossly unfair to Michael Bay across the board on every movie he does. So, I feel protective of my director.
That’s fair. But I feel most people appreciate Michael Bay for his ability to do an action scene. And people were fair to him with ‘Pain & Gain.’ I feel Michael Bay is respected, even though people may disagree with the decisions he makes. Though, I don’t want to generalize for everyone.
Well, I don’t know. I read all of the reviews of the movie and they personally attack him in so many reviews. I’m over it, I guess. Let’s talk about something else.
Yes. [Minor spoilers ahead] Judging from where this movie leaves off, ‘Transformers 5′ could be very different. Could we see Unicron in the next movie?
I mean, anything’s possible. Me personally, I don’t think Unicron is interesting at all. Because the scale of it becomes so difficult to be dramatic. I mean, ‘Fantastic Four‘ has their version…
And it was boring. It’s like a giant object. It doesn’t have personality in a way — its scale overwhelms things. So, for me, I don’t know. Michael is the kind of guy who can probably figure it out. I can’t figure it out.
Optimus Prime is on his way to meet someone, could it be someone new?
I think it could be anything. It could be new, it could be somebody we know.
Will the fifth movie be very different than the other four, setting-wise?
I don’t think so.
I thought maybe it might not be set on Earth.
I don’t think so. You know, Michael has found a really great blend of real humor, integrating a lot of human characters with a lot of different kinds of Transformers. I think in that respect, it will be very similar.
It sounds like from what you’re saying, Orson Welles will remain safe as forever being the voice of Unicron.
[Laughs] You never know! Hey, listen, I’m not the only vote. My own personal point of view is that I find it cinematically boring.
He is just a planet.
Yeah, you can visit it, I guess. But I don’t think you can make it a big element. That’s sort of my reaction.
I was worried ‘G.I. Joe 3′ wasn’t going to happen after it got delayed.
Was it in jeopardy?
Sure. Yeah, for sure. I think the studio was very unsure about it. Look, you always wonder until they say yes, really.
What sold them on a third movie?
Honestly, first of all The Rock is so great and so perfect and so fits the franchise that it seems like an insane thing not to do. I honestly believe we have one of the best ideas we have ever come across for a sequel. Because — I don’t want to spoil it, that’s for sure — but we found a way to be able to articulate the movie in one or two sentences. Which means it’s going to have a very strong backbone and that backbone is very emotional. So, it allows us to make it the most character-based movie of the group. And I think one of the hardest things I think in cinema is to reduce ideas to their simplest form — because that means they’re their most significant. And I think it means that the audience will be able to connect to it in a way that’s very profound and I’m really looking forward to it, I have to say.
Mike Ryan has written for The Huffington Post, Wired, Vanity Fair and GQ. He is the senior editor of ScreenCrush. You can contact him directly on Twitter.