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
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.)
One might argue that this is merely par for the course for Bay, and one would not be entirely wrong. Where the director truly begins to break new
ground is in the character of Sam, who is—how to put this delicately?—an asshole. Gone is the eager, All-American boy of the prior movies,
his enthusiasm curdled into a mixture of entitlement, self-pity, and belligerence. (Yes, he does rather seem to suit the political moment.) As the film
opens, Sam is unemployed, a circumstance he accepts with decidedly less equanimity than he did his near-fatal travails in the previous two films.
He’s angry at the employers who don’t hire him, at the girlfriend who has a good job, and at her smarmy boss (Patrick Dempsey), who, like
everyone else in the film, eyes her with undisguised cupidity. Most of all he’s angry, as he gripes on countless occasions, that he hasn’t
gotten enough credit for already saving the world twice.