Denouement: Why Jason Statham Could Be Great for ‘Transformers’

The Projector
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If you're anything like me, you probably weren't all that thrilled with the news that there are going to be more "Transformers" movies coming our way. Not surprised, obviously, but still sad. The first three made almost $2.7 billion worldwide. You'd be an idiot not to make more. Still, I did find one silver lining in this dark cloud: There's a rumor that perhaps Jason Statham will take over from the departing Shia LaBeouf. I'd love for that to happen. And the more I think about it, the more sense it makes.

These rumors aren't new, actually. Back in July when "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" came out, Statham was suggested as a possible addition for future sequels. (Dating "Dark of the Moon" actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley probably didn't hurt.) But although Statham pleaded ignorance last month, this moneymaking franchise could sure use his specific qualities. It's not a question of star power. (I could play the hero in "Transformers 4" and it would still make $750 million across the globe.) It's more like a question of style and essence.

Except for "The Italian Job" and "The Expendables," Statham has never been the star of a blockbuster. That's probably why a lot of people like me love the guy. He's built like any of a dozen former action stars, but there's something about him -- he's a little too sardonic, a little too his own man -- that's always made him seem like he wasn't entirely interested in being an A-list titan. That's what makes him so cool: Many of his films -- OK, too many -- seem to be private jokes between him and the audience. Isn't all this sort of ludicrous?, he seems to be saying to us. Oh well, I'm gonna have some fun. And so, we do as well. The "Transporter" films, "Death Race," "The Mechanic" ... he never winks at us, but he always carries himself lightly. He may be the first true action hero who has a well-honed sense of irony since Bruce Willis.

For all their whirring noise and dizzying effects, what the "Transformers" movies painfully lack is a sense of irony. Oh, director Michael Bay tries to be cheeky with his over-the-top set pieces, but when he goes for humor it usually comes across as frat-boy arrogance. (Never forget that the man signed off on jive-talking robots in the second installment.) Bay's movies convince you he lives in a military-recruitment commercial that's next door to the Playboy Mansion, and even good actors like Frances McDormand seem to throw up their hands and just go with it.

Maybe in his small, wry way, Statham could help. The guy's actually a good actor -- "The Bank Job" proved that -- and while acting isn't a major component of a "Transformers" movie, a certain square-jawed heroism definitely is. This, Statham can do. This is what he's done again and again: elevating C-plus material into something that's squarely entertaining and diverting. (Even when he's been in dumb movies, he doesn't make you feel dumb for watching them.)

That may not seem like a lot -- and, hey, he might end up going with "Fast and the Furious" instead -- but it would definitely make me more interested in "Transformers 4" and beyond. Listen, there's no getting around it: They're coming our way whether we like it or not. But at least Statham's presence will give me something to smile about. It would be the first time with this series.