Iron ladies

The girls are more than just pretty faces in the latest movie of the Transformers franchise, The Last Knight

Michael Bay's Transformers movies rarely portray women in a positive light.

Whether it is American actress Megan Fox or British model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, they are frequently sexual beings in the films, having little to do besides looking good.

The fifth and latest movie in the franchise, The Last Knight, attempts to fix that problem.

The female lead, British actress Laura Haddock, plays a brilliant Oxford University professor named Viviane Wembley, whose contribution is crucial to saving Earth from annihilation.

Although she is still clad in sexy clothing - high heels and low-cut bodycon outfits - the character is nonetheless very much a part of all the action.

That is not all. The Last Knight also features a teenage girl called Izabella, played by rising American star Isabela Moner, who is feisty and better than all her male friends when it comes to kicking butt.

Neither is she subjected to inappropriate sexualised jokes, unlike Nicola Peltz, the teenager featured in the previous Transformers movie, Age Of Extinction (2014).

The franchise's two new actresses certainly feel like their roles represent women well - something that both say is "important".

Haddock, 31, tells The Straits Times in an interview: "My character is strong, intelligent, tough and witty. She has an incredible fight- or-flight response and she always chooses to fight. That's commendable.

"She is ultimately the reason why devastation doesn't happen, and that was amazing to me. In the midst of all the robots and cars and explosions, a woman is in the middle of it all and being the powerhouse that she is.

"I found that really important."

Moner, 15, says in a separate interview that her role "really portrays strength and courage".

"She's so strong and so young, only 14 and going straight into battle - that's almost unheard of in these movies. I think that's just great."

Bay was not available for interviews at the London press event, but it is likely that this change in treatment has to do with the studio wanting the film to keep up with the times.

What with the success of strong action heroines such as Wonder Woman this year and Jyn in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story last year, this is the age of female empowerment.

Not that the sexual objectification of women had ever hurt the old films at the box office. In fact, the slow-motion, close-up shots of Fox's body in the first two films were likely major pulls for the fervent young fanboy audience.

Worldwide, Transformers (2007) made US$709 million and Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen (2009) took US$836 million.

Still, as long as the latest movie continues to throw out mega explosions and the Transformers keep performing their cool, well, transformations from vehicle to gigantic robot, it is predicted to rake in big bucks.

The Transformers films have always done extremely well at the global box office, with two of the films in the series, Age Of Extinction and Dark Of The Moon (2011), crossing the coveted US$1 billion mark.

Despite the franchise's mammoth success, Bay, 52, who directed all the films in the franchise, has mentioned at almost every press event promoting The Last Knight that this would be his final go at the Transformer movies.

His own cast members, however, have a hard time believing him.

Haddock says with a chuckle: "Well, he's said that before. So we'll see. I would say, never say never."

Mark Wahlberg, 46, who reprises the lead role of struggling inventor Cade Yeager, adds: "I can't imagine Michael allowing somebody else to take over.

"He's so protective over this amazing thing that he's created that I can't imagine him walking away and letting somebody take over the helm."

Indeed, no matter how much critics have savaged these films for the incoherent plots or the overwhelming amount of noise, they have to give the director credit for consistently churning out money-making blockbusters of this scale.

Haddock, who previously had roles in Guardians Of The Galaxy (2014) and The Inbetweeners Movie (2011), calls him a "master of all trades".

She says: "It's just amazing how much this man does, and how much he's got on his plate to turn a movie of this size out. It's just beyond me.

"He's in the writers' room, he's holding the camera, he's directing, he's running through the explosions along with us, and he's getting the next stunt set up.

"He's inspiring to see, for someone to dedicate so much time and energy and passion to a project."

After the interview is over, Wahlberg looks around the room and suddenly tells this reporter: "You see all these cameras and equipment set up here? If Michael didn't like it, or didn't think it was right for the movie, he would ask to change the entire set. And he could do it."

Whether or not Bay returns to direct, at least two more Transformers movies are in the works, including Bumblebee, a spin-off featuring the affable yellow Transformer of the same name, which is slated for release next year.

Will Wahlberg come back for more too?

"You know, I'll do it if Michael wants to do another one. I signed on for this (for 2014's Age Of Extinction) because I liked working with him on Pain & Gain. So if he's in, I'm in."

• Follow Yip Wai Yee on Twitter @STyipwaiyee

• Transformers: The Last Knight is showing in cinemas.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 24, 2017, with the headline 'Iron ladies'. Subscribe