Michael Bay has lost his mind.
This is not news. He lost his mind a while ago. When he started out directing features in the mid-90’s he made one efficient, amusing buddy-cop movie (Bad Boys) and one genuinely good action movie which permanently ratcheted up Hollywood’s definition of ‘over-the-top’ (The Rock). These films were ludicrous (but enjoyably so, in a Sarah Palin-kind of way) and soulless (but you were distracted, so you didn’t mind) but they were generally coherent, and Bay seemed to be taking his work seriously. It has been a tumultuous, strange, obscenely profitable slide since then into the cinematic wasteland that is the Transformers franchise. If you go back and watch The Rock you can probably spot numerous places where the unraveling might have begun, the way you can spot clues in serial killers’ childhoods—the almost-pornographic obsession with the Special Operations branches of the U.S. military, the arbitrary insertions of human drama (just because, you know, you should have that kind of stuff), the scrambling of temporal, visual, and spatial order into one big Michael Bay Movie Omelet. But if he could keep it together then, why can’t he anymore? What completed his madness? Does he just not care, because he’ll end up grossing $1 billion regardless? My guess is syphilis.
Some of the thoughts I was having while sitting through this movie for two and a half hours:
- Why is Megan Fox not in this? She was too difficult? Seriously? She didn’t have the kind of dedication to her craft Michael Bay demands? And why not replace her with an actual actress? Only Victoria’s Secret models are hot enough for Transformers? Because it’s so hard to find attractive Hollywood actresses? I think Ellen Page would have been amusing—‘Giant killer robots?! What other kinds of shenanigans can we get into?’
- By this point, I equate Shia LaBeouf’s acting to that boyfriend you thought was really cool and funny on your first date, but as the dates wore on you realized he acts the exact same way every time you see him, and possibly every waking moment of his life, and it starts to get old really fast. And here’s the kicker for me—wasn’t really blown away on the first date, either.
- What is John Malkovitch doing? Why did he agree to play a man who interviews LaBeouf for a mail-room job, then disappears? Did he laugh it off at first, only to have Michael Bay keep offering him more money?
- Ken Jeong? Why’s he in this? Why did the audience start to laugh immediately when they saw him? I mean–that’s pretty rarefied treatment. Who else can claim that they get a laugh immediately, the moment the camera shows their face? Um….Will Ferrell, I think. Does he deserve it? The fact that white people seem to think Ken Jeong is hilarious bothers me for some reason.
- Asian celeb sighting #2: Frances McDormand’s assistant is the same girl who played Lane Kim, Rory’s best friend in Gilmore Girls. And she’s frickin’ 37 years old! She looks like she’s in college now, and she played a high-schooler in Gilmore Girls, when she was in her mid-thirties, a la Gabrielle Carteris. Is it a gift or a curse, that most Asian people look so young for so long? ‘Cause when people get used to you looking like you’re 25, when that shit goes away you probably look really old all of a sudden. Oh hell, none of us will care by that point anyways. Let’s enjoy it!
- Frances McDormand. Why is she in Transformers 3, playing the head of the NSA, or something like that? Is that an intuitive choice? But I’ve never understood any of the casting, really, besides Megan Fox—if ever a girl was made to stand next to giant robots in Daisy Dukes and a halter top, it is Fox. She really should’ve been in this. I think McDormand is married to one of the Coen brothers. I imagine him giving her endless grief the moment she comes home from filming—‘Man, I hope the movies we’re each making right now don’t end up contending for a bunch of the same Oscars. That’d be awkward.’ To which she would respond with a catty remark about Intolerable Cruelty.
- Is that McDreamy? They cast Patrick Dempsey as 1) initially, LaBeouf’s rival for the affections of that girl no one cares about, including, obviously, LaBeouf himself. That sort of makes sense. But Dempsey is also 2) a villainous double-dealer who betrays humanity to the Decepticons. Yikes, doesn’t that defeat the purpose of having McDreamy there to lure in those female fans? Patrick Dempsey has looked like he belongs in movies exactly twice: 1987’s Can’t Buy Me Love and 2007’s Enchanted. Otherwise he should exist only to drive the women of Grey’s Anatomy crazy and to guest-star as a possible romantic interest in gay sitcoms.
- The Autobots all have different accents. One sounds Scottish, one’s Italian or Spanish, a few speak Cockney, one talks like it’s from Brooklyn. There is also a bodyguard/computer hacker/personal assistant for John Turturro who speaks with a German accent, even though the actor (Alan Tudyk) is not German (I wonder if Bay just told the poor guy to do a bunch of accents, and he settled on that one)…but really, all of this feels rather forced on Bay’s part. If he had his way he’d probably have every secondary character be a loud, obnoxious black person. But he probably decided he couldn’t scratch that particular itch after the flack he took for the ghetto ‘bots in Transformers 2.
- I was trying to figure out who Sentinel Prime’s voice was for thirty minutes. At first I thought it was Ed Asner. Nope—Leonard Nimoy.
- Did they really have to resurrect poor JFK just to indulge a dumb alternate-history plot about the moon landing? And why drag Buzz Aldrin in to declare that he was ‘honored’ to talk to green-screen CGI robots based on children’s toys?
- I’m pretty sure they explicitly showed a Decepticon blasting a group of eight-year old children to bits.
- At one point in the proceedings Megatron decides to blow off the head of the Lincoln Memorial with his gun. Stay classy, Mr. Bay.
So, what else is there to say? Michael Bay has become the Caligula of Hollywood. If an idea pops into his head, any time of day or night—in a dream, while taking a crap, while on a cocaine-and-alcohol binge in Vegas*–it goes straight into one of his movies, no questions asked. We just have to fork over our hard-earned money and watch.
(*–I have no evidence Bay drinks or does cocaine—in fact, I highly doubt he could have produced three Transformers movies in five years if he did any of those things)
At exactly one moment in the film, when the plot of Sentinel Prime and Megatron to enslave humanity is revealed, I actually felt some stirring of interest…and instantly regretted it. One must be careful to keep hold of one’s wits when enduring a Michael Bay production. The man is not simply insane. He definitely has at least watched E.T. and Star Wars and Jaws, and possibly even Lawrence of Arabia, and from these experiences he has plucked tiny bits of knowledge about pacing and setup and payoff, and when he puts together his Transform-aggedon stews those bits do get thrown in, and occasionally you can taste them. But then some Navy SEALS come crashing through the ceiling on fast-ropes and you forget everything immediately.