Well friends, I guess it’s come to this. We here, the dedicated staff of MovieChopShop, have gotten a decent amount of disgust in response to our general distaste for the ever-popular Transformers movie franchise. And while I know that my opinion doesn’t rightly matter to anyone—and at the end of the day, it shouldn’t (I mean, really, who the hell am I?)—I nevertheless feel like I have something valid to say (don’t we all??).
I believe in this cause. That is, I believe that I have no belief in the skills of Michael Bay to deliver a quality film. I believe that his mentality—or lack thereof—is destroying the face of cinema today and that if he isn’t stopped then we’ll all be sucked into a vortex of flashy redundancy and cheap ploys. I am taking this day—this last day that Transformers will ever exist as only one terrible movie—to put up my dukes and go down fighting.
It’s a funny thing, though. I never really hear any defenders of Michael Bay. Everyone in on the discussion usually seems to be pretty much in agreement that he sucks. Yet I am endlessly hearing a barrage of defenders of this insanely successful Transformers franchise of his. Why is this?
I guess we’re talking generally about two different camps of people. Bear in mind that his is only the generalized point of view. People who know who Michael Bay is are generally movie nerds such as myself who like for their movies to exist as more than what a Michael Bay picture has to offer—given our care for film, we follow movies and thus know who the hell this character is. And people most likely to watch Transformers and consider it to be a great film are generally people who care little about movies aside from the fact that it’s something fun to do on a Friday or Saturday night. (And for the life of me, I really need to stop feeling so superior to these people. I’m such a dick.) These people don’t follow movies very closely and thus have no idea who Michael Bay is.
But Mr. Bay knows who they are and he knows them well. He knows that all it takes is flashy robots, big explosions, an attractive cast, and everyone taking things way too seriously to trick America into thinking they’ve just witnessed rousing cinematic entertainment at its most profound. (See? I’m a dick.)
Of course there are also plenty of movie nerds who know who Michael Bay is and like Transformers despite themselves. And that’s fine. As far as pure entertainment value, I say to each his own because who the hell am I to judge? I can’t honestly sit here and say that the millions of people who love immersing themselves in cars turning into robots and blowing each other up aren’t being entertained when that’s a totally subjective point of view and a decision to be made entirely by the individuals in question. We all have our guilty pleasures, don’t we? I guess it must go without saying that this one simply isn’t mine.
But maybe it’s gotten personal for me. I’m finding myself time and again in a position where I’m defending my distaste for these films. Naturally, given the strength of my feelings and the fact that I’m a human and inherently flawed (not like these here robots), I really feel like it should be the other way around—why aren’t the fans on the chopping block? To me, Transformers is pretty obviously the bottom of the barrel in the entertainment industry, but the masses wholeheartedly disagree with me and I can’t help but wonder why. There are plenty of big, mindless, action-focused summer blockbusters, but this one clicks more than most. Something about this one caused the audience with which I saw X-Men Origins: Wolverine to erupt in vicious applause at the very appearance of the first shot of the Transformers trailer. Why this? Above all else, why this?
My gut reaction is to say that Transformers is quite simply a better movie than most others. After all, that’s how word-of-mouth spread on The Dark Knight enough to give it phenomenal staying power and propel it to the second-highest-grossing film ever. But actually watching Transformers (the first one, anyway, as that’s all I have to go on at the moment) immediately discounts that theory.
Transformers is a bad movie. I say that not because it’s some big dumb movie about cars turning into robots, but because it’s only about cars turning into robots—not even bravura cinematic style plays a part here. The plot is thin enough to be a literal carbon-copy of Independence Day and everything that happens revolves around one simple concept: cars that turn into good robots are at war with cars that turn into bad robots. Two-and-a-half-hour runtimes should be reserved for movies that have enough story to fill that amount of time, and Transformers certainly doesn’t. Anytime a new plot development is made, it’s always concerning one more person discovering the fact that the cars that turn into the good robots are at war with the cars that turn into the bad robots. Maybe this bodes well for the sequel, though. Maybe now that everyone knows that good robots and evil robots are at war, we can get on with things.
But from what I can tell from the first one and any semblance of a plot that I’ve been able to pick up from the trailers for the new one, that’s all pretty much the extent to which the sci-fi mythology of Transformers goes. And yet everyone involved in it continues to put their serious-face on and act like they’re actually making something creative and genuinely intriguing. The writing team clearly wasn’t talented enough to create a smart and involving piece of science fiction—or maybe they just weren’t interested in that—yet Michael Bay will die before he makes a “campy” movie, so the resulting film ends up trying to make a “great film” out of third-grade material.
The movie is most certainly big and dumb, but it has no idea. Why, just look at that stirring air of self-importance and captivating drama in the faces of those noble car-bots on the film’s poster. The movie has a sense of humor, sure, but it’s not part of its mood, its flow, its consciousness—instead it includes awkward humor embedded at random moments, such as blatantly racist-stereotype robots and bad jokes about masturbation, inappropriate for the audience of ten-year-olds that it’s obviously been designed to attract. (And now apparently we have a nice shot of Decepticon testicles, the perfect thing to appeal to all of those obnoxious pseudo-alpha-male douchebags and their oh-so-hilarious TruckNutz that surely aren’t there to compensate for something…*cough-cough*.) John Turturro is the only one in the movie who seems to understand the fun, campy tone that the script should have been given and that poor son of a bitch gets peed on by a robot in one of the most cataclysmically unfunny attempts at comic relief that I’ve ever seen.
And there’s that term: comic relief. As in to relieve us from all of the hardened drama at hand by giving us a little something to chuckle at—little specks of humor as punctuation. Many movies benefit from that a great deal, but it’s all just worthless and insipid in Transformers in great part because there’s simply no drama, no actual plot, and no intrigue from which to be relieved!
And all of this is directly related to what I dislike most about Transformers—it’s boring. It’s me sitting in a darkened room watching a filmmaker trying to trick me into caring about things I couldn’t possibly care about because there’s just nothing to them. I’m watching action scenes that bore me senseless because nothing’s really at stake in them. Sure, there’s the fate of the world, but I think we all know that that’ll turn out okay so everyone can come back for the sequel. With most high-profile movies such as this we know going in that it’ll all end well for the good guys and poorly for the bad guys and it’s the how that’s the fun part. But there are no ‘how’s in Transformers—it’s simply a series of quick breaks while we watch a few things explode, usually with very little direct importance to the plot of the movie. The film’s action–for all intents and purposes the star of the show–is the most agonizingly boring thing that this film has to offer. It’s just there to waste time.
I realize that I’m very, very alone on this point. The action, after all, is why most people like the movie so much. Many champion the movie on the basis of its expertise in special effects. But here’s another area where I just have to disagree. Sure, the special effects are good insomuch as they’re well-done, but from a conceptual standpoint, there’s not much of particular interest in their composition. Yeah, I know, there are cars turning into robots and that’s kinda cool for a few minutes, but the design of the robots isn’t really that creative or awe-inspiring. I guess they deserve a little bit of credit for genuinely looking like robots that five minutes ago were cars—shiny cars!—but they really aren’t that much to look at–in fact, they’re kind of a mess. Hell, most of the time I can’t even really tell which part of the robot I’m looking at. I know a lot of people are giving Terminator Salvation an endless barrage of shit, but you can’t honestly tell me that the robots in Transformers are cooler and better-designed than the robots in that film? At least give it that, America!
But I do have to give Michael Bay a bit of credit in one area–and it’s here that the answer to my question (Why this??) can be found. For the most part (universally bad moments of comic relief aside) he really knows how to make his movie look and act like a good movie—like a force to be reckoned with, a film to be taken seriously. And this all comes back to the fact that Mr. Bay knows his audience and he knows them well. It’s a strange thing to say, but if the Decline of Western Civilization has its very own Alfred Hitchcock, then Michael Bay is it.
You see, Alfred Hitchcock and Michael Bay make essentially the same types of movies—audience movies. And like Hitchcock, Michael Bay knows that the way to an audience member’s heart is through an attractive cast, big sweeping locales, political backdrops, and a nice simple MacGuffin (the glasses, in the case of the first film). He even manages to wrangle up some perfectly passable performances from his actors! But where Hitchcock pulled the strings in a crafty and expertly orchestrated manner, letting the plot twist and turn and unravel, Bay simply lets the strings just sit there, blowing around in the backdraft of the last explosion. When you look at all of the big, grand pomposity of the whole ordeal a little more closely, you see that there’s really not anything there at all. Yes, I do believe that what I’m saying is that Transformers is decidedly less than meets the eye.
The ingredients are enough to make a person think that they’re watching a big epic piece of landmark cinema—and they’re enjoying the hell out of it, to boot, because there are high-octane action sequences at every turn. It’s basically a guilty pleasure that tries to extract the guilt under the cloak of extravagant cinematic intrigue. When you add these elements together—the movie that knows how to appear grandiose and important, coupled with the movie that just wants to give you some big dumb thrills—it’s no wonder some might go particularly rabid about this one–”It’s got all the cheap dumb stuff that I love, and…and…I think it’s good!!” Oh, Mr. Bay, you crafty motherfucker.
But nevertheless it’s destroying cinema and everything that’s great about it. It’s lowering the standard for what it takes for Hollywood to make those bucks they love so much, and it’s perverting the meaning of true cinematic spectacle by obliterating the concept of storytelling upon which motion pictures were founded. It’s the quintessence of merchandising—a movie based on a popular line of toys (and on a cartoon series that was guilty of the same thing), conceived by guys in $5,000 suits who wanted to recycle someone else’s idea to make money off of moviegoers that just need for their movies to be big and loud and simple. And the finished product from all of that is dear old Transformers, with all its GM tie-ins and video games and toys, all orbiting a movie that has absolutely nothing else to offer us. Even Friday the 13th is more of a legitimate movie franchise than this. Transformers is a franchise in the same way that McDonald’s is a franchise and like McDonald’s, it may look delicious, but it’s bad for you and it’s taking over the world.
Movies have always been and always will be extremely important to me and I don’t feel like anyone involved with Transformers—especially Michael Bay—feels the same way. If this kind of thing continues to expand and become a huge worldwide phenomenon, that importance will be lost. Movies won’t be movies anymore. They’ll just be products. I know to many—maybe even most—products are what they’ve always been and always will be, and I can empathize that, for some, film is simply the shot in the arm that one might need to numb two and a half hours from the pains of this horrible economy and all the woes that the world has to offer, but why must it be this banal and mindless? It’s like watching someone jingling a set of keys in front of our faces—and as it would happen, it’s Michael Bay and the keys are to his mansion, his Corvette, and his big damn safe full of all of our hard-earned money.
So there it is. That’s my two cents—my full justification for why I don’t care for Transformers as quick and easy entertainment, and why I deplore it on a matter of sheer principle. I’m not here to tell you that you can’t be entertained by it. To each his own, I said, and I’ll say it again. This just isn’t my thing. Sure, I’d like for more people to see things my way, but maybe that would just take away from my sick snobby fun. In the mean-time I’ll just lock myself up in my cold dark basement, watching old-timey pretentious French films and cursing the world above with a scowl on my face and a burning rage within my soul.
Fuckin’ Michael Bay.