Film & TV Film Reviews Muse

Suffering Through 767 Minutes of Transformers (So You Don't Have To)

Cavan Gilbey examines the series' often problematic elements, as well as Michael Bay's cinematic style

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Image Credit: Paramount Pictures

Michael Bay, amongst those interested in film as an art form, is like a volcano into which studio budgets are sacrificed before the inevitable eruption of bile oozes out and bombards audiences with products that take out brain cells with sniper-like accuracy. Mr. Bay could very generously be called an auteur, he has a distinct style which he consistently sticks to with no compromise. However, an exquisite oil painting of a turd is still a turd at heart. Whether it’s Will Smith and Martin Lawrence emerging from KKK disguises at a cross-burning in Bad Boys 2 or recruitment video energy of 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi, Bay always has a certain skill at creating distasteful multiplex fodder. And this is where the Transformers franchise steps in; with five films all directed by Bay, the series is by far his most profitable venture despite how critics haven’t exactly been nice to these pictures.

And I hardly strive to change that because these movies drained the life out of me.

To make watching the Transformers movies vaguely tolerable so I could write this, I created a rating system called C.R.U.M.M.P. This encapsulates the six primary elements that go into making the films in this series so insufferable; Car Porn (where the camera shoots cars seductively), Racism, Unpleasantness (includes homophobia and cringeworthy sexual humour among other things), Misogyny, Military Propaganda and Product Placement. With these parameters in place, I set about making my way through the horror of the Transformers movies.

Car pornography, a phenomenon within this franchise in which expensive super-cars or muscle cars are shot in ways that make them seem sexy and alluring, is rampant throughout each film. Luckily it’s the least obnoxious of the C.R.U.M.P scales metrics but it’s the one that you’ll notice first and foremost. Every other shot in these films is one where a convoy of glistening muscle cars, essentially seen by Bay as a fertility symbol on shiny chrome-capped wheels, speed across a highway in the desert or countryside. The camera cutting to every angle of the car to show its crafted bodywork in borderline erotic ways; the Corvette Stingray Concept seen in Revenge of the Fallen and Dark of the Moon is the example that immediately springs to mind for me. In both films Bay really focuses the camera on the rear end of the car, making sure that the coveted Corvette insignia on the rear end is pushed to the centre of the frame. What Bay sees as an alluring pair of buttocks is seen by the audience as a plumber’s crack which hogs the screen just long enough for you to never want to see a car boot again. Match these scenes up to the bombastic score then there is a disturbing machismo to it all; these are just cars, and yet it's like Michael Bay wants to give them both a big sensual kiss and a sweaty post-workout bro hug.

The next three categories all go together, like the Avengers line-up that sprung out of Pandora's box. Racism, misogyny and a general unpleasantness are shockingly rife throughout these films and really give the films their hate-watch value. Every second you sit watching on the edge of your seat waiting for the next cringe-inducing stereotype or line of dialogue to be thrust into your mind. Sometimes the stereotypes are just lazy such as the sleepy Mexican jokes seen in Transformers or the uptight British characters in The Last Knight, but on occasions you get something so blisteringly hateful that it is sickening. Megan Fox infamously gets the brunt of the franchise’s misogyny as her body is ogled and leered at by lecherous camera work which is made even worse when you remember her character in the first movie is still in high school. Revenge of the Fallen traps the actress in tight leathers for much of the run time, but the happy ending came soon enough as Fox escaped this franchise. Revenge of the Fallen is also the owner of a pair of characters called Skids and Mudflap; and this is possibly Bay’s most racially insensitive moment to date. These twins are incredibly awful stereotypes of Afro-Americans; they are dumb, loud and violent on top of being obnoxiously in your face. And of all the people Bay chose to voice one of his robotic minstrels, he chose white voice actor Tom Kenny. I think that says it all really.

And yet it still gets worse because in Age of Extinction we get a lengthy sequence in which a character, who we have only just met at this point, pulls a card out of his wallet. A laminated, professionally printed business card that is emblazoned with the ‘Romeo and Juliet Laws’. I urge you to Google them and this scene for that matter, you have to see for yourself how shockingly out of touch this sequence is. The last thing that should be transformed in a Transformers movie is the public’s perception toward the age of consent.

Finally, we come to the military and product fetishism. Honestly, they are quite easily ignored in comparison to how awful everything else is. It’s going to be taken as a given that Bay will make the American military look as good as possible while they commit a series of war crimes, he’s done it before and he won’t stop so there’s no use pondering on the dude-bro frat party that is Bay’s view of the military. Product placement opens up many opportunities for unintended comedy; a sentient Mountain Dew vending machine in the climactic battle of the first film which guns down pedestrians is so bafflingly funny. Does Bay hate the drink? Is he saying that it tastes so bad it could kill? Or does he think it’s badass, so badass in fact that it can gain sentience.

This was a draining experience and I am so glad it is over.

Some words of advice, don’t give these movies the time of day.

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