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Why Does Transformers Need John Malkovich and Frances McDormand?

Francis McDormand and John Malkovich have been cast in Transformers 3. Both are fantastic actors. In fairness, Malkovich has fairly low standards when it comes to choosing his movies – he was linked to Spider-Man 4 as the Vulture before it all fell apart and managed to be the best thing about Con Air (okay, second best – but Steve Buscemi is just awesome anyway) – but McDormand is an actress known for being relatively choosy about her roles. She isn’t exactly matinee idol fare. But, as I read the story, I couldn’t help wondering: why does Michael Bay even need actors for Transformers?

Who needs actors when you have explosions?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not dissing all action movies and suggesting that actors are an irrelevent indicator of an action movie’s quality. Quite the opposite. I doubt Taken would have succeeded without Liam Neeson’s superb talents and Die Hard worked because Bruce Willis made you care about John McClane. Hell, even Bay’s own magnum opus – The Rock – anchors itself in two fantastic lead performances and a slew of impressive supporting ones. But Transformers and Transformers 2 are not these films.

As Castor at Anomalous Material pointed out in an eye-opening post (it is well worth your time), Transformers have made Shia LaBeouf the most bankable actor on the planet. Think about that. Shia LaBeouf. I have nothing against the kid, but the most bankable actor on the planet? The guy who basically allows movie studios to print their own money is that kid who was in Disturbia and then was the lead actor in Transformers. Okay, he was a supporting actor, but Optimus Prime doesn’t make the list. He really needs a better agent.

If you look slightly further down the list, you’ll find Daniel Radcliffe. Yes, Harry Potter. He is trying to broaden out, mainly by appearing naked on stage, but his bankability comes from being picked from obscurity to play a teenage wizard in a run-away success story of a fantasy franchise.

My point is this, and it’s meant with due respect to Messers Radcliffe and LaBeouf: those entries on the “most bankable” list may as well be labeled [Harry Potter himself] and [star of Transformers], because whoever landed those roles would be on that list, regardless of talent or the success or failure of their work outside a given franchise. I’m not being harsh, I think I’m being honest. People don’t go to those movies for the actors, they go for the spectacle. For the scale. For the sheer thrill of it. It doesn’t matter whether or not they know the lead from Adam.

Who needs actors when you have Megan Fox?

I’m wondering why Michael Bay needs two extremely talented actors who could be doing literally anything else to star in the third movie in a franchise about a bunch CGI shape-shifting alien robots? Sure, he’s probably paying them more money than they’ve ever received before and I am genuinely delighted to see that money going to two deserving actors, but I have to ask – what’s the point in spending his budget on actors? Nobody sees Transformers for the actors! That’s money that could be spent making an explosion even more… explosion-y, I guess! Seriously, who is running the show over there?

And it isn’t as though hiring these two actors is going to make the movie any less painful for the audience. I won’t be queuing up to see it, even though I love both of them dearly as a film nerd – I can’t imagine any non-film nerds will be convinced to watch the movie by their presence either.

I am, of course, over reacting. The odds that either Malkovich or McDormand could be producing a stone cold masterpiece of cinema instead of this are more than slight. I don’t think I can point to any legitimate harm this causes anyone. It won’t even dupe anybody into seeing the movie. It’ll just give two well-deserving actors a long-overdue payday. I just can’t reconcile it, to be absolutely honest. I know I’ve been flabbergasted by how ridiculously cynical Hollywood moviemaking can be in the past, but this just seems a waste of money – you’re hiring two ‘name’ actors who give nothing to the project. And I can’t fathom the economic reason for that.

Maybe I’m just becoming too cynical in my old age.

6 Responses

  1. With John Turturro, Frances McDormand, Hugo Weaving and John Malkovich in this it’s starting to turn into a Coen Brothers drama…with 40 foot fighting robots.

  2. Good for them. I’d milk the film for what it’s worth.

    • Yep, on a fan level I’m total behind that, but I just can’t see what the bean counters or Bay see them as adding to the film. It’s obvious they add dramatic talent, but talent doesn’t strike me as the kinda thing that the producers will be especially interested in (and if they are, it isn’t supporting roles they need to worry about, given their dull-as-dishwater human leads). It just seems… odd.

      But you’re right. They’re damn right to ride that gravy train.

  3. It’s been years since this movie came out, but I feel like i should give my two cents. Perhaps they hired these guys to give it some kind of legitimacy?

    I mean, the Star Wars movies they had people Alec Guinness, James Earl Jones, Peter Cushing and other highly regarded actors to perform various roles. These guys managed to bring some kind of class to those films that enhanced them.

    Considering that the Transformers movies have a similar Star Wars-like story going on (whiny teenage protagonist caught in a war between good and evil), maybe that was what they were going for? Obviously they aren’t as good as Star Wars, but clearly they were aiming for that kind of epic saga approach. I could be wrong though.

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