As we all know, Michael Bay’s Transformers movies are absolutely critic-proof. And I would be lying if I said that the sight of Bumblebee and Optimus Prime rendered in a real-world setting didn’t send a shiver of fanboy glee up my spine. (Besides which, I could listen to Peter Cullen read the phone book and still love it.) But at the end of the day, the films are damn hard to defend. And I’m not talking about plot holes or excessive explosions. The most egregious moments color the films with a crudity they absolutely don’t need and turn what should be harmless popcorn fluff into something infinitely more hostile. Here’s a list of the lowest moments in the Transformers franchise: moments that, if excised, would have made the Bay-hem a lot more enjoyable.
Frankly speaking, the series was probably damned the moment it made Bumblebee a Camaro instead of Beetle. (So really it’s all Volkswagen’s fault for not going along with the whole thing in the first place.) And the idea of him communicating solely through pop-culture sound bytes has a certain amount of charm… for the first five minutes or so. But the sheer inscrutability of his comments – let alone trying to connect how it fits in to the current context – becomes exasperating. (Postscript: they did a lot to fix this problem in Dark of the Moon.)
Glen Whitmann: fat, cowardly, shrieking at his grandmama and totally superfluous to the plot. So why is he here? Because somebody thought that a spineless overweight black man would be really funny. But it’s not racist; Michael Bay said so. (Remember that point, we’ll be coming back to it.)
Regardless of your personal feelings about Megan Fox, her presentation in these films single-handedly sets women’s rights back by decades. Slathered in make-up, splayed across cars and motorcycles like a vibrating bed, Fox basically screams “don’t you want to fuck me?!” in every single shot. And she’s not the only one treated like a 1-900 sex phone ad. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s new girlfriend, Rachael Taylor’s “computer expert” and Isabel Lucas’s massively canon-breaching Decepticon mole receive similarly stomach churning treatment. We love sexy girls as much as anyone, but you can make them appealing without three inches of base and three inches of powder. Bay may as well put Mrs. Witwicky in a push-up bra and be done with it.
Speaking of Sam’s mom… one wonders what she’s doing in a film like this at all. Teenage boys certainly don’t want to be reminded of their moms when ogling Ms. Fox or watching Optimus Prime rip a Decepticon’s central processor right out of its chest. But rather than reduce the character’s awkward presence to an absolute minimum, Bay deliberately draws attention to it… by turning it into a joke. Hey kids, want to hear about the senior Witwickys’ sex life? How about eating a pot brownie and going wild? And let’s not forget the “Sam’s happy time” moment, in which Mrs. Witwicky attempts to explain to her son that it’s perfectly okay to rub one out. Way to make your core audience squirm like live bait!
The dog pisses on the Autobot. The Autobot pisses on John Turturro. The movie pisses on us. We get it. Peeing can be funny (witness Animal House, The Naked Gun, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and many others), but Bay wields the notion the same way he does everything else: as a weapon to pound us into submission.
Devastator always ranked among the biggest, baddest Decepticons ever: the one made out of six smaller Decepticons in that set your parents would never buy for you. When he shows up in Transformers 2, it’s supposed to be the end all be all of scary moments for the forces of light (and somewhere in the midst of its showdown with Mudflap and Skids is in the kernel of a good idea). That gets shot square in the (ahem) nuts, when Bay treats us to the sight of Devastator’s dangling sack hovering above Turturro’s shocked face. He can’t even be bothered to make a real joke about it; he just shows it to us and waits for the applause.
The two-fisted minstrel show in Revenge of the Fallen has been pilloried to death these past few years, but we’re not going to refrain from kicking it again. Why? Because it’s just that astonishingly bone-headed. Seriously, the only reason the NAACP didn’t kick up a greater fuss is because they’re still trying to wrap their heads around the notion that anyone in 21st century America would be stupid enough to greenlight it. It’s not personality, Mike; it’s racism. And quietly dropping them from Part 3 doesn’t let him off the hook for putting it in Part 2.