While Sony has been teasing the prospects of Bad Boys 3 for quite some time, everyone was shocked to learn that both Bad Boys 3 and Bad Boys 4 are gearing up for production. The studio even issued confirmed release dates for both films, with the first sequel to hit in 2017, and the second to arrive in 2019. We've yet to hear many details on either project. And what many fans are wondering is Will Smith's level of participation.

Bad Boys 3 just wouldn't be Bad Boys 3 without Will Smith somehow involved. In a new THR report focusing on Tom Rothman and his post-Amy Pascal film schedule that was released last week, we learn more about Will Smith's role in the production. Namely that he will be involved in some capacity. But according to an inside source at the studio, it is not yet known if he will star in the movie, produce the movie or both. If he only shows up as a producer, you can bet a lot of fans are going to be disappointed.

It's been more than a decade since director Michael Bay unleashed his wild, action-packed ride Bad Boys II. While it was first written off by critics as an over-the-top, sometimes offensive piece of cinematic garbage, it has become beloved by action fans worldwide, and is even the subject of much adoration in the 2007 release Hot Fuzz. The franchise kicked off in 1995 with the original Bad Boys, which was also directed by Michael Bay. The story follows two Miami detectives played by Will Smith and Martin Lawrence. Will Smith played Mike Lowery, the bachelor who plays by his own rules, and Martin Lawrence was family man Marcus Burnett. And their different lifestyles made them the perfect cop buddy team. It also twisted the black cop-white cop convention that had been prominent up until that time. The first film pulled in $141 worldwide, though critics were never too kind.

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7 years later, audience's appetites for the series had doubled, with Bad Boys II pulling in $237 million worldwide. Some call it one of the most excessive cop thrillers to ever grace the silver screen, and it is a movie full of unbelievable, almost cartoonish action sequences. At one point in the film, Mike and Marcus drive their bright yellow Humvee through a Cuban favela, crashing into homes as it plows through the mountain side with no regard for human life. It's rumored that Michael Bay didn't want to direct the sequel, and used the film as an excuse to rack up a huge budget.

So far, there is no word, or even a hint that the director could return. His 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi has wrapped shooting and will be in theaters this January. He will then return to direct Transformers 5, which is also releasing in 2017. It's unlikely that we'll see Michael Bay behind the camera on Bad Boys 3 or Bad Boys 4.

Without Michael Bay directing and the possibility that Will Smith might not even appear in the movie, should it even be called Bad Boys 3? The chances that Will Smith doesn't show up on screen are slim. And while he hasn't been confirmed, Martin Lawrence has made it known in the very recent past that he wants to return. Will Sony be able to find another director that can inject this franchise with as much energy as previous installments? That has yet to be seen, but with that 2017 release date looming, and a 2016 start date inevitable, we'll probably hear more about these sequels sooner than later.

B. Alan Orange at Movieweb
B. Alan Orange