I had long wondered why critics loathe the Transformers movies about giant alien robots more than they hate any other summer blockbuster series.
On the other hand, I’d never wondered enough to see one. Unlike reviewers who have to watch every movie that comes out, my policy is: If it sounds stupid, don’t go.
The Transformers were a 1980s Hasbro line of toys for little boys: robots that convert into cars. That a lot of big boys are excited to see these films says more about 21st-century audiences than about the series. If the audience for childish subjects has grown, which it has, how much of that is the fault of director Michael Bay and how much of elites encouraging mass uneducated immigration?
Last weekend, however, there wasn’t anything better opening, and I was looking forward to the robots demolishing Chicago, a city of which I’m quite fond.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the third in Bay’s franchise, turns out to be fine. It’s quite a bit better than it had to be. I yawned once about 55 minutes into the concluding battle, but the previous two hours were fun.
The budget was large enough that Bay was able to siphon a few percent into punching up the screenplay with jokes and filling the supporting roles with Coen Brothers regulars John Turturro, Frances McDormand, and John Malkovich. While Turturro can stand out in almost any character role, Malkovich, a sort of neo-Vincent Price, is only good at being John Malkovich. Here, fortunately, screenwriter Ehren Kruger molded a hilarious part for him as Shia LaBeouf’s creepy control-freak corporate boss.
Why the hate for the three Transformers movies? For one thing, most critics are frustrated fiction writers, so they normally love writing plot summaries. But recounting a Transformers storyline, which has been molded to make perfect sense to a small boy, seems demeaning. “Did I read all those Raymond Carver stories to get my MFA just to transcribe complicated gibberish about Deceptibots and Autocons?”
In a refreshing change from most recent sci-fi movies (with 2009’s District 9 standing out as the reductio ad absurdum of this trend toward human heroes teaming up with alien invaders), the good robots are on our side.
What’s our side? Humanity, America, the US military…they’re all pretty much the same thing in a little kid’s mind (as they would be, functionally, during an actual alien invasion).
The Transformers movies celebrate American imperial muscle. As teenagers grow more diverse, their longings for order have grown more militaristic, more authoritarian. The attitude of today’s youth toward 1960s liberals is more or less: “Your revolution is over, Mr. Lebowski. Condolences. The bums lost.” They are impressed instead by extremely well-organized institutions such as SEAL Team Six and Michael Bay movie sets.
Transformers extols the military-movie complex. Thus, the US commandos trying to retake Chicago (don’t ask) fly in over Navy Pier on those V-22 Ospreys that are the Pentagon’s own version of Transformers. Since the helicopter failures during Jimmy Carter’s Iran hostage rescue attempt, the military has spent $27 billion trying to get these tilt-rotor hybrid aircraft that take off vertically like a helicopter but then morph into airplanes to finally work right.
Not surprisingly, the bad robots shoot down the fragile Ospreys. But in what might be the most insane stunt I’ve ever seen, the paratroopers leap out of the doomed Ospreys over downtown Chicago wearing wingsuits—a European-invented form of mental illness in which fabric between the limbs provides a three-to-one glide ratio—and skim like flying squirrels at 85MPH between the skyscrapers. Retiring mayor Richie Daley must have been totally gaga by last summer to let five stuntmen jump off the 1450-foot Willis Tower and plummet around his Loop. Too bad that they can’t flash on the screen: “This is not CGI. These lunatics really did this.”
From my reductionist standpoint, Transformers: Dark of the Moon has the perfect plot to sum up: Good robots fight bad robots.
You may wonder why the robots fight. I don’t. They fight for reasons that no doubt were explained at great length in the first two movies and need not concern us here.
Look, if you were ever a six-year-old boy, you would understand that the good robots fight the bad robots because the good robots are good.
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