Let’s take a minute to talk about the moral landscape that movies communicate, OK? Yes, Michael Bay produces big, loud, energetic, stupid movies. And, yes, most audiences know what they’re getting into when they buy a $10 ticket. The explosions will be impressive, the women will be hot, the special effects will be the best that money can buy, the comedy will be feeble, and the storytelling will be a witless and convoluted jumble of clichés and disposable characters. The overriding mantra of any Bay movie is that more is always more.
But, as was the case in the previous Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, this third installment trades in casual racism, sexism and murder, as well as an obsessive fetishization of war — all under the guise that it’s just silly robot-bashing fun. Keep in mind that this PG-13 action extravaganza — which casually throws around such terms as “dick,” “bitch” and “clusterfuck,” lingers in 3-D on a Victoria’s Secret model’s ass, and features Decepticons hemorrhaging arterial sprays of blood-red fluid — is based on a line of children’s toys. At the preview screening I attended, more than a handful of 9-year-olds were in attendance. I have to wonder why Hollywood doesn’t just adapt Barbie into a high-concept porno.
Maybe it’s because I am the father of a 9-year-old who craves to see this movie, but I find it disturbing that so many critics are willing to write off the insidiously manipulative values on display in this movie because it’s marketed as big-budget action nonsense. Whether it’s Ken Jeong doing his Asian minstrel show as Wang the wacky computer developer, or the always-entertaining Alan Tudyk lisping his way through the queer German caricature that is Dutch, the Transformers series never met a minority it couldn’t mock or a woman it couldn’t sexually molest. Supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, trapped in a Decepticon car, finds herself pawed at by evil mechanical tendrils a la Japanese tentacle porn. Even sexless Frances McDormand (slumming her way through a throwaway role) doesn’t get away free, with John Turturro playfully assaulting her in an end credit sequence.
While it’s Bay’s typical MO to proffer extreme violence as the end negotiation to every conflict, Transformers: Dark of the Moon celebrates capital execution by having Optimus Prime, supposedly its most virtuous character, choose revenge and murder as the final solution to wicked Megatron’s scheming.
It’s not that I believe action films should be devoid of kick-ass carnage, shock-and-awe effects or pulse-quickening suspense (something Bay’s most often incapable of), but it’s important to pay attention to the audience that might be attracted to a movie like this.
It’s amazing how simplistic messaging can reinforce thoughtless bigotry and a mindless love of violence — especially when the multiplex is populated with pre-hormonal boys.
It’s not uncommon for Hollywood action movies to dehumanize the bad guys — and, in a giant robot movie, that’s pretty much a given. But Transformers works overtime to dehumanize every one of its characters, portraying them as violent cogs in Bay’s mechanized fantasies. Only Sam WitWicky (Shia LaBeouf) and his sexual nemesis, Dylan (Patrick Dempsey) come within hailing distance of three-dimensionality. Not that either are particularly well-developed (Sam has gone from likeable schlub to shrill whiner), but here their carnal jealousy becomes the emotional backdrop for the wholesale destruction of Chicago.
Vulgar, bellicose, too long by a half-hour, and boasting a trio of impressive action scenes (the toppling of a Chicago skyscraper is brilliantly executed), Transformers: Dark of the Moon will undoubtedly please fanboys eager to have their robopocalypse wet dreams come to life on the big screen. For my 9-year-old, however, it’ll be another reason he hates that his critic dad gets to see movies before their opening date.
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