Porn. That’s the best way to describe Michael Bay’s Transformers: Dark of the Moon. And all kinds of porn too (well, not gay porn) including the kind of the woman-terrorized-by-phalluses-slash-tentacles variety. The story is ludicrous, the main character’s mate is way too good looking for him and all you want to do is fast forward to the good parts, which involve everyone shutting up and getting some action. That’s not to say it’s all bad. Who watches porn for the story anyway?
To be honest, this third Transformers installment is probably the best in the franchise. The concept behind these films has become completely unhinged, lending itself even further to excess, stupidity, stereotypes, explosions and, well, fun. For the longest time Michael Bay has had a chip on his shoulder about the quality of his films. Everyone says they’re terrible, but he says they’re great, usually citing box office numbers as proof of his worth. This go round, it seems he has finally accepted who he is: a maker of fantastically terrible films.
The plot, crafted by writer Ehren Kruger, actually has a lot of potential. The Autobots (good guys!), now government shills, are blindsided when a former friend turns out to be working with the Decepticons (bad guys!) in an effort to restore Cybertron, their devastated robot planet, to its former glory. The Americans, for their part, hid the fact that the Apollo space missions were designed to learn more about a crashed Autobot ship that had been stranded on the moon since the early 1960s. Then Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) gets annoyed about something, his girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) pouts while narrowly avoiding upskirt mishaps and Patrick Dempsey flips his hair douchily as Sam’s faux-cum-actual enemy, Dylan Gould, accountant to the stars. It’s a mess, but it’s a mess that manages to thrill.
I’m hearing this idle chatter that the action is too frenetic to keep track of, but I think the creative team finally got the speed and motion of these robot aliens right. There is a lot of movement, sure, but Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was hardly watchable as there was too much shit flitting and spiraling across the screen. That still happens, but the movement is more balletic, more pleasing somehow. Say what you will about Bay’s irresponsibilities as a filmmaker, the effects team here is top notch. It is clear that they take the character design seriously, even if nothing else in the film is worth a brain cell.
Michael Bay’s messages are always so boring. The main message that runs through the bulk of his work is quite simple: America is great, the military may be fallible but its soldiers aren’t and fuck all you haters. There is a certain nobility to his unwavering (to the point of stupid) patriotism, but here, in an intergalactic fight to the death, it doesn’t make much sense. The Autobots claim to love humanity, but that manifests itself into fighting wars for America, wars that shouldn’t exist given that only the U.S. has friggin’ robots on its side.1 Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, to pick one, is a far more nuanced film than this one that actually confronts the issue of military disarmament in the face of technological superiority. The best Optimus Prime and his buddies could think up to help humanity was to blow up illegal nuclear facilities in the Middle East? Advanced civilization my ass.
Perhaps we should give Mr. Kruger more credit for crafting this story. It’s entirely possible that there once was a message to the story that got muddied up by all the explosions and underwear modeling. There are obvious allusions to America’s post-9/11 place in the world (e.g. “Chicago is Ground Zero”, a keffiyeh-wearing Megatron wandering the desert, the severing of an office building as soldiers and workers slide to their deaths) but the story never congeals into anything meaningful. Bay is a director for whom emotional and thematic development is a nuisance. He needs to move characters from one firefight to the next, and if that means in one scene Carly is Sam’s greatest defender but in the next she is bitterly pissed, that’s okay as long as she wanders into impending doom.
Michael Bay never really stopped directing music videos. His budgets are bigger and his runtimes may be longer, but he is still a maker of snacks, not meals. As a collection of scenes, Transformers: Dark of the Moon delivers as much action as anyone could expect. It’s far more entertaining, adrenaline- wise, than the other blockbusters that have come out this summer. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention X-Men: First Class, which is a superhero action film that tries to imbue a very real message on its viewers. I liked that film very much, for its performances, its story and the conversations it incited after I left the theater. However, I don’t think I actually had as much fun watching it as I did Bay’s latest. On some level I feel guilty for smiling my way through the mess that is the third (the third!) Transformers film. It is pointless, a bit racist, a lot sexist and absolutely horrible for your teeth. It’s everything a boy could want at the movies.
Or are they?↩