Super Bowl audiences recently got their first look at the next installment of the Transformers film franchise, Transformers: Age of Extinction, in its first full-length debut trailer.

A poll conducted by Fandango prior to the Super Bowl showed that the trailer for the fourth Transformers film was the most eagerly anticipated movie trailer of the night, claiming 48% of the total vote.

The new film, which features the Dinobots (Transformers that turn into various dinosaurs), looks like a considerable improvement over the previous films, although it is still unmistakably Michael Bay's polarizing version of the classic cartoons, comics, and toys.

The debut trailer for Transformers: Age of Extinction. (Source: Viacom (NASDAQ: VIA)/Paramount/Dreamworks)

Writer Ehren Kruger, director Michael Bay, and executive producer Steven Spielberg remain on board from the original trilogy, but most of the main cast has been replaced.

Shia LeBeouf, John Turturro, Megan Fox, and Rosie Alice Huntington-Whiteley will not return in Age of Extinction. Instead, they will be replaced by Mark Wahlberg, Nicola Peltz, Jack Reynor, Kelsey Grammer, Sophia Myles, and Stanley Tucci.

One cast member that is thankfully returning is Peter Cullen as the voice of Optimus Prime, a role he has played since the 1980s.

The plot of the new film will focus on a mechanic (Wahlberg) and his daughter (Peltz), who make a major discovery that catches the attention of the Autobots, Decepticons, and the U.S. government. That discovery, it's assumed, will be the dormant Dinobots. Age of Extinction will reportedly be the final Transformers film for Bay, but it will also serve as a reboot and the start of a brand new trilogy.

As we prepare for Bay's final take on the Transformers, let's take a look back at the box office performance of the first three films to better understand what this film franchise means for Paramount, Dreamworks, and Hasbro (NASDAQ: HAS).

Commercially loved, critically hated

The Transformers films are symbolic of the growing rift between mainstream audiences and critics, as seen in this following chart.

Film

Production budget

Global box office

Rotten Tomatoes

Transformers (2007)

$150 million

$710 million

57%

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009)

$200 million

$836 million

20%

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

$195 million

$1.12 billion

36%

Total

$545 million

$2.67 billion

38% (average)

Source: Boxofficemojo, Rotten Tomatoes.

Combined, the three Transformers films have grossed $2.67 billion on a combined production budget of $545 million, despite netting an average Rotten Tomatoes score of 38%. That simply tells us what we have known for awhile -- bad movies can still be extremely popular.

With profits like that, it's inevitable that the Transformers will keep returning to the big screen even without Michael Bay at the helm.

Yet in my opinion, that could be a really good thing.

How Michael Bay ruined the Transformers

Prior to making the original Transformers, Michael Bay called the film a "stupid, silly toy movie." After critics skewered Revenge of the Fallen, he called his own film "crap" and blamed the writers.

Yet Bay, who arguably hasn't made a good film since The Rock (1996), has gone on to direct four of these films over the past seven years. That's a long time to spend on something that you hate doing.

Unfortunately, Bay never bothered to immerse himself in the source material as Christopher Nolan did with the Batman trilogy. Nolan, who had never read any of the comics, went back and read the comics and relied on screenwriter and comic book writer David S. Goyer's guidance to shape his acclaimed trilogy.

Bay, on the other hand, had a large group of conflicting writers throw together a plot vaguely retaining some plot elements of the original cartoon, then used that as a loose foundation to make his own film about soldiers fighting mechanical aliens.

In addition, his creative team redesigned the classic Transformers to the point that they were no longer recognizable to fans of the original series.

Classic Starscream (L) vs. Bay Starscream (R) (Source: Gameinformer.com, Scificool.com)

The biggest problem with the Michael Bay Transformers was that their designs were so ridiculously complex that they all looked the same. In the original cartoon, there was no way to confuse Megatron (a silver gun) with Starscream (a red fighter jet). In the film, however, both robots were chaotic blurs of jagged silver metal.

The fact that all the robots looked the same also made the migraine-inducing fight scenes seem much longer than they actually were.

As if confusing audiences and alienating longtime fans weren't enough, Bay added a pointless military storyline filled with cliche soldiers such as William Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and Robert Epps (Tyrese Gibson), who looked like as if they belonged in an entirely different film.

How Transformers can be done right

The good news is that Age of Extinction will be Bay's final Transformers film, and hopefully leave the door open for a new director to steer the franchise in a completely new direction.

Bay has, at least, confirmed that the film will take on a more serious tone and wipe away the "goofiness" of the previous three films. Yet that depends on your exact definition of "goofy" -- Optimus Prime riding a radically redesigned Grimlock looks hilariously goofy (albeit not in a bad way) to me.

Optimus rides Grimlock. (Source: Slashgear.com)

Regardless of how Age of Extinction fares critically or commercially, there are a few things that I would love to see a new director bring to the new trilogy:

  • Redesigned Transformers that more closely resemble their Generation 1 counterparts.

  • Revisiting the death and rebirth of Optimus Prime, as portrayed in Transformers: The Movie (1986) and not Revenge of the Fallen.

  • The Unicron storyline (also from Transformers: The Movie) in which the Autobots and Decepticons forge an alliance to defeat the monstrous planet-sized Transformer.

  • The proper introduction of the cartoon and comic book character Spike (not Sam) Witwicky, who eventually becomes an Autobot Headmaster in the comics.

Above all else, I don't believe that the Transformers films need to be serious at all.

It's based on the ludicrous concept that robots turn into cars, planes, and dinosaurs. It needs to have some fun with that idea, rather than ground it in reality with noisy military storylines as Bay has done.

For example, one of the best scenes in the first film was when Optimus and the Autobots "hide" in Sam's backyard by turning into vehicles and parking themselves across the lawn.

The Autobots trying to hide in Sam's yard. (Source: Flickr.com)

As for the ideal director to reboot the franchise, I think Guillermo del Toro (Pacific Rim), J.J. Abrams (Star Trek), or Joss Whedon (The Avengers) would all be ideal choices to replace Michael Bay.

Each of these directors seems to understand how to properly balance drama, humor, action, and geek appeal while paying homage to the source material.

The bottom line

In closing, I believe that Transformers: Age of Extinction will be a huge hit, regardless of what the critics think. The image of Optimus Prime riding a huge robot dinosaur alone is enough to generate global office box sales nearing or topping $1 billion.

However, I'm hopeful that after Bay's departure, a new director can steer the franchise in a new direction that can remind us just how fun the Transformers can actually be.

What do you think, dear readers? Are you looking forward to Transformers: Age of Extinction? Please sound off in the comments section below!

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Leo Sun has no position in any stocks mentioned. The Motley Fool recommends Hasbro. The Motley Fool owns shares of Hasbro. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.