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A Love/Hate Relationship with Michael Bay

7/11/2011 3:06:39 PM permalink

I should start with a couple important notes before delving into this post.  First, this post will be half review, half commentary of Transformers: Dark of the Moon (I had tried posting this under the Review tab since that would be more appropriate, but I couldn't figure out how to post under there).  Second, I will be discussing specific scenes and plot points in the film, so SPOILER WARNING!  Third, I welcome any and all comments or responses!

Fair enough?  Okay, let's get to this...

I grew up in the 80's, and Transformers was by far my single favorite cartoon.  I still have the original series and animated movie on DVD.  I actually had enjoyed the first Michael Bay-directed Transformers film, but so utterly hated Revenge of the Fallen that I had vowed to never sit through another Transformers film directed by Michael Bay ever again. 

And then I saw the trailers for the film.  While a well-thought out plot was never something Bay has ever had in any of his films, Dark of the Moon looked like it had a semi-decent idea behind it, and would have more focus than Revenge of the Fallen.  I decided I'd give him another chance. 

When I had read most of the reviews (including on Mania), most of my concerns about the film were confirmed.  It still had stupid juvenile humor, it still managed to be mysogynistic, and it put explosions at a higher priority than telling a story or developing any characters.  When I finally went to see it, I was quite disappointed with those elements that have plagued the two previous Transformers films, especially Revenge of the Fallen. 

Sure, there were plenty of logic flaws within the overall plot of the film, but I won't waste too much brain power on them.  I will however bring up a couple important issues with the concept of having Transformers stuck on the moon.  In the first film an Empty Suit from Sector 7 approached the Secretary of Defense to show him a short video clip taken from a robot exploring Mars.  Exactly how did no one stop to wonder whether the robot ship on the moon was connected in any way to the robots found on Mars?  I suppose it's possible that NASA never told Sector 7 about its findings on the moon, but Sector 7 was explicitly formed to study the Transformers and form a plan to defend Earth against them, wasn't it?  So wouldn't it make sense that Sector 7 was the result of NASA's finding the Ark?  Simmons (John Turturro's character) certainly had no idea about the ship being on the moon, and the guy who showed the video in the first film made no hints about knowing anything either.

One other important point about Transformers on the moon: How and why were there Decepticons buried there?  And why didn't they come to Earth sooner?  What were they waiting for?  And when the Autobots first landed on Earth in the first film, why didn't any of them notice the Ark sticking out on the dark side of the moon as they had approached the planet?  Even if the ship was hidden from Earth's point of view, a ship approaching the planet from outer space should be able to notice it.

I'm sure right now you're saying, "Wait a minute.  This is a MICHAEL BAY film we're talking about here.  You gotta ignore plot holes like that since he clearly doesn't care about telling stories, only blowing things up."  To which I reply, I am fully aware of all that.  And in spite of these major plot oversights, I did enjoy the film.  I just felt they were important enough to mention here.

Yet, those major plot holes weren't the major problems I had with the film.  The real issue I had was Bay's absurd sense of humor and his fascination with turning every woman into a sex object in his movies.  Consider this scene midway through the film: Sam meets up with Simmons to find a Russian astronaut in order to figure out what the Russians know about the Transformers.  Simmons brings along his bodyguard Dutch, and when they finally meet with the Russians, a standoff incites.  Dutch somehow beats up a woman bartender and at least one other thug before realizing what he's done, and he then curls up in a ball and profusely apologizes for his actions.  Audience members were laughing at his reaction to his own actions in this scene.  My question is, what's the joke?  That wasn't funny.  And I couldn't quite figure out if Dutch was supposed to be gay or not throughout the film.  He's a tough guy for a few fleeting seconds, but then he recoils into a prissy?  How is that funny?

Another "what's the joke" moment came earlier in the film when Sam was interviewing for a job with a wacko boss played by John Malkovich.  During the interview, Malkovich's character noticed an employee who had a red coffee mug on her desk despite them being on the "yellow floor."  He then ordered a security guard to remove the mug and apparently fire the employee on the spot.  Again, what's the joke here?  How is ANY of that funny? 

Michael Bay must have the strangest sense of humor in the world.  He adds eccentric characters in his films for no reason other than for them to act weirdly around other people.  Somebody acts straight-faced, and the wacko character acts so over the top that the "normal" people are left being creeped out.  Every Transformers film Bay made had at least one or two of these types of people.  I'm simply left wondering how Bay sells these moments to the actors and convinces them that the scene will end up being funny.

Switching away from the so-called humor of the film, I also wanted to talk about Megatron in the film.  That is to say, he WASN'T in the film.  He had absolutely nothing to do except mope around until the very end when he was duped into joining the fight.  And even after he had joined the fight, he only stuck around long enough till he met his fate.  Why put him in the movie for 10 minutes when any other Transformer could have been put in his place?  None of the Deceps in the film really had anything to do in the movie, even Shockwave, who was promoted as the main villain this time.  Shockwave was in only two scenes and had nothing to do with Sentinel Prime or his plans in the film, so what was he doing there?

Having said all that, I will commend Bay on his use of 3D in the film.  I was concerned I'd be left feeling VERY nauseated from his constant cutting and camera movement, but his use of 3D really did work well.  One shot in particular that was exciting was of a bunch of objects and a soldier falling out of the side of a building as it was collapsing.  Seeing everything fall in slow motion through the air was simply breathtaking.  In fact, the final battle sequence as a whole was really well put together.

And that brings me to the end of the film.  I will say that my personal expectations got in the way here, but I really had thought the ending would be somewhat introspective and perhaps even meloncholy (I know, I know - introspection in a Michael Bay film is asking WAY too much of him).  But consider the meaning of the phrase, "dark of the moon": A time of inner stillness and contemplation, and preparedness for a new beginning.  Where was that moment at the end of the film?  Bay had said the end of the film would bring completion and closure to the trilogy, and for a while I thought the film was setting the audience up that way.  Instead, the movie just....ends.  Chicago gets blown to bits, all the Deceps are defeated, and the Autobots simply stand around and admire the destruction around them.  They don't say anything about their fallen comrade from earlier in the film, or how they regret causing so much destruction around them, or what they do next. 

The debate on this website is largely between those who feel audiences should just suspend all logic and disbelief when watching a film like Dark of the Moon, and those who want something a bit deeper.  Some feel a summer Michael Bay film should only be about action sequences and blowing stuff up, and audiences can just suspend all disbelief and logic.  Others want a more thought-out plot and some decent characters to care about in addition to everything else.  I fall into the latter category.  Consider a film like Aliens - it's a kick ass action film with colonial marines shooting every alien in sight.  It has a fantastic one-on-one fight between Ripley and the Alien Queen at the end.  It's got great special effects that by and large still hold up to this day, 25 years later.  But on top of all that, James Cameron knew he had to tell a story first and foremost.  He gave Ripley a character arc in the film, and he avoided any action sequences until an hour into the movie.  He knew the action sequences wouldn't really matter if the audience didn't care about the people in the movie.   So why can't a Transformers film be like Aliens exactly?  If another can come up with a decent answer to that question, I'd really like to know.




Date Joined: March 6, 2011