'Transformers 3': Sour, Sexist, and Salivary

The film is an ugly journey through Michael Bay's adolescent id

transformers shia and rosie.jpg


The second Transformers movie, Revenge of the Fallen, was, as any viewer who failed to repress the experience will recall, astonishingly awful: a script of unsurpassed inanity, a pair of crude, jive-talking robots, a running time best measured in geologic terms—I could go on. (And did.) The latest installment in the epic tale of good Autobots, bad Decepticons, and Shia LaBeouf, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, improves on its predecessor in almost every obvious way. (Apart from length, that is: it clocks in at a brutal 157 minutes.) The plot—which posits that the midcentury U.S.-Russian “space race” was actually an effort to recover lost Autobot artifacts from the dark side of the moon—is much sharper. The special effects are more impressive, and the action considerably more intense. The movie even manages, in stark contrast to such summer duds as Green Lantern and the last Pirates of the Caribbean movie, to make effective use of 3D.

Yet despite these manifest improvements, there is something so sour and unpleasant about the new film that it left me almost nostalgic for the innocent idiocies of its predecessor. As its title hints, perhaps unwittingly, Dark of the Moon is a journey into the angry, adolescent id of director Michael Bay. I, for one, could not wait to get out.

Let’s start at the beginning. Following a Kennedy-era prologue, the first shot of the movie is a closeup of the barely-pantied bottom of Rosie Huntington-Whitely as she ascends a flight of stairs. This is the second shot as well; the third, opting for expository variety, shifts to the front and works its way up her torso. Now, it is true that Huntington-Whitely has a fine bottom, as one might expect from a veteran Broadway character actress former Victoria’s Secret model. But Bay’s lens leers so emphatically, almost pornographically, that this opening can’t help but come across as a statement of his philosophy of gender. This is, after all, the man who fired previous franchise eye candy Megan Fox for being insufficiently sexy, which is a bit like firing water for being insufficiently wet.

Huntington-Whitely plays Carly, the new squeeze of returning hero Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf), which means that her narrative functions—apart from a scene near the end, in which she goads a Decepticon by calling it a “bitch”—alternate between being ogled and being held hostage. It’s a bit of a challenge to capture just how retrograde the film is on this score. Bay clothes Huntington-Whitely in a series of short dresses and, as often as is practical, films her from floor level, as if his camera were a mirror hidden in the shoelaces of a horny 12-year-old. Early on, a pint-sized Autobot, fresh from rooting around in her underwear drawer, pauses to peer up her skirt; shortly after, John Malkovich (in perhaps the most embarrassing performance of his career), tilts his head a full 90 degrees to stare ostentatiously at her ass. In what evidently constitutes a pun these days, it is Huntington-Whitely who is center screen when another character, commenting on the case a medal came in, gushes “What a gorgeous box.”

In keeping with this view of women’s proper role—Sartre, with whom Bay has more in common than one might imagine, would have called it the etre-pour-autrui—the director also supplies us with a pretty Latina who is ushered briefly onscreen to be berated for her “hoochie” outfit, and a hard-nosed National Intelligence Director (Frances McDormand) whose authority is gradually usurped by a renegade male agent (John Turturro) to the point where she ends up, literally, across his lap. A few circa-1980s gay gags are thrown in for good measure, notably a lisping German named “Dutch” (played by the far-too-good-to-accept-such-material Alan Tudyk). But credit where it is due: Bay has at least abandoned the outright minstrelsy of streetwise Autobots Mudflap and Skid. (There are two poodle-sized imbecile-bots thrown in for comic effect, but they are, so to speak, race-neutral.)

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Christopher Orr is a senior editor and the principal film critic at The Atlantic. He has written on movies for The New Republic, LA Weekly, Salon, and The New York Sun, and has worked as an editor for numerous publications.

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