Wednesday, July 6, 2011

You Win, Michael Bay! (But I Still Hate Your Movie) -- Reflections on "Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon" (2011)

Third verse: same as the first!

Michael Bay has officially beaten my brain into submission.

About halfway through Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon, I saw an Autobot turn into a flying vehicle and make the same manuever Doc Brown did at the end of Back to the Future when he picked up Marty and his girlfriend to whisk them off to the future. It was so unintentionally funny in its execution, and so annoying that Bay would attempt to evoke one of my favorite movies in his bullshit cash grab that I turned my mind off and just put up with the rest of his movie.

I believe this is what Michael Bay wants from his viewers. He wants them to sit down, shut up and tune out. And I guess Americans must want it this way, too. Transformers is one of the highest grossing franchises in movie history, and based on the clapping from the audience after the movie was over, I figure I am in the minority.

Transformers is not a movie for people like me. You would think that it is. It is about the toys of my youth, so it gets the nostalgia vote. It has hot chicks, big explosions, sci-fi geekery, and all the rest of the fantasy tropes I typically gush over. Yet, for some reason, I find them about as despicable as Kate Hudson movies, the Twilight franchise, and Mac and Me.

Upon reflection, here are a couple reasons:

1. Blatant jingoism: Michael Bay has no subtlety in his presentation of patriotism. It's not that I am not patriotic, but his use of patriotic imagery borders on blatant propaganda. During one scene in Transformers 3, an Autobot protects a statue of our nation's founding fathers in Chicago, as if robots give a shit about American pride. In addition, tattered flags are constantly waving, and he intentionally chooses to have his villains destroy American landmarks in order to establish their villainy.

2. Women as objects: Okay, I feel like a hypocrite here. I like movies like Piranha, Grindhouse, and Machete, which have no issues looking at women as sex objects. Yet, Bay holds his camera on his new starlet, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley mainly from lower angles like he's a dirty eight-year old dropping quarters so he can look up girls' skirts. And since this is a PG-13 film targeting children under 13, it is incredibly irresponsible. At least our exploitative filmmakers like Alexandre Aja, Quentin Tarantino, and Robert Rodriguez have the decency to get their films rated R.

Nonetheless, if you've read this far, chances are likely I'm preaching to the choir. I realized as I watched this new Transformers that it doesn't matter what anyone says about Michael Bay and his movies; he shoots on teflon celluloid. The fact that people flock to see his spectacles says more about American civilization than it does about him.

Basics: Apparently, our government has known about the Transformers since the 1960s. During an epic battle for their planet of Cybertron, the Autobots send a refugee ship carrying a special weapon to escape the clutches of the tyrannical Decepticons. Unfortunately this ship is attacked, and it shipwrecks on our moon where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin discover it upon the first landing. Now, after a serious cover-up which the government didn't feel necessary to reveal during either of the first two films as the world faced imminent destruction (Ahhhh, there goes my brain again!), the Autobots have to race to the moon to recover the source of the weapon's power, Sentinel Prime. Meanwhile, Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) has a new girlfriend (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) but no job; apparently, saving the world doesn't count for much on a resume these days. He learns of the government conspiracy and manages to get back involved with the big, bad robots, leading to all-out warfare for world domination. There's more, but it is mostly nonsense involving more government conspiracy, robot politics, and an unecessary love triangle -- and all of it gets in the way of the action and manages to turn this movie into a 2 1/2 hour epic.

What Happened to Megan Fox?: I'm sure most of you know the story. Megan Fox got removed from the Transformers family after comparing Michael Bay to Hitler. My understanding is that Steven Spielberg, who's an Executive Producer for the franchise, was offended by the comparison and fired her. What makes this interesting is the way writer Ehren Krueger explains her character's absence. According to Sam, Mikaela flat out dumped him in a bitchy way. She is referred to as a bitch more than once, and there is not one positive thing said about her. Moral: don't piss Michael Bay off or you get punked on the big screen.

What Happened to the Racism?: One of my biggest problems with the second film of this franchise was the awful Homey-Bots, Skids and Mudflap. Thankfully, Michael Bay decided to forego any obvious cultural stereotypes (like a Mexican Transformer that turns into a pick-up truck with lawnmowers in the back). Yet, he manages to get all sorts of more subtle stereotypes in there, like an Irish robot that dresses in green, bad guy robots with dreadlocks, and the Jersey bot. Wait! There I go again, thinking...

Positive Thoughts: I didn't see this in 3-D, but one of the benefits of the 3-D film process is that Bay couldn't edit the film as scattershot as the first two. Shots needed to be longer in order to allow for the depth perception of the 3-D to register with viewers. As a result, the film doesn't feel as frenetic, and we get to see more of the action. This brought out the clarity and complexity of the effects. One of my biggest complaints of the first two films was that the robot battles felt confusing -- all the mechanical parts seemed to blend into each other, making it hard to distinguish the fighters. Not so bad in this one. The robots are still ugly, and the Decepticons don't seem unique enough, but at least we can see them a bit better.

All of this to say that Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon sucked. Yet, somehow, Michael Bay still wins.