Movie Blog: ‘Transformers’ Big, Dumb, Stupid, Critic-Proof

Must we do this?

Every time Michael Bay releases a movie, critics almost everywhere spin cartwheels of bilious joy that they have the film equivalent of a free space on their Bingo card of malcontent.

Seriously, critics? It’s this sort of understandable disengagement that leads to the mass overrating of movies that aren’t any better than Bay’s oafish Powerade cocktails, just quieter. In other words, gangpile on the latest Transformers movie if you will. But if I find out you used it as scapegoat by which to praise Larry Crowne (this weekend’s respectable but hardly innovative easy listening counterprogramming), may your pen turn out to be a Decepticon.

Oh, but how badly I understand the impulse. I’ve been no great fan of Michael Bay’s movies since, um, ever. I was the only 16-year-old boy who didn’t worship The Rock. Bad Boys actively irritated me. Armageddon gave me something I’m still on booster shots to get rid of. Uncharacteristically, his career has gone downhill from there, with such gems as Pearl Harbor, The Island and Bad Boys 2 probably assuring he will never get into heaven, if such place exists. Having been subjected to Michael Bay movies, I tend to believe it doesn’t.

Oh, and then there was the second installment of the Transformers now-trilogy, which even the famously egomaniacal director himself admitted was a big, rusty pile of crap. And yet he came back to make another sequel. Say what you will, but this is clearly a man-boy who follows his puerile instincts.

And for once, I almost want to say I’m glad he did. Transformers: Dark of the Moon is a tranquilizer dart to the ciliary ganglion that, for 155 hours or minutes (I lost track), burns 3-D rubber in one spot until you can smell the masculinity in the air.

In the new installment, Optimus Prime is mostly down in the dumps because his Autobots are whipped and the Decepticons know it. Sentinal Prime (Optimus’ Mack-chassis’d mentor) is revived and tells both the Autobots and the U.S. Government they work in alliance with that there’s a dispersed collection of galactic Pick Up Stix that, if fully accrued, could set up a transport force field to bring an army of Decepticons from Cybertron.

Apparently only Sam Witwicky (played, again, by the alternately shouty and pouty Shia LaBeouf like a Boston Terrier on Red Bull attacking a throwpillow) is capable of saving the world from all these ‘bots. Again. For a second time. If only he can get over his massive insecurities that apparently come from dating Victoria’s Secret models whose bosses give them $200,000 sport cars.

Make no mistake. Moon insults your intelligence, but also presumes you have some in the first place. It’s a lose-lose bargain, but from that level playing field comes some of the summer’s most potent and self-contradictory vulgarities, starting with model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s eye-popping entrance, shot from the back as she scales steps wearing nothing but underwear and a dress shirt. The guy sitting next to or behind you will no doubt chortle, “Now this is why they invented 3-D!”

The biggest vulgarity and the big red-white-and-blue elephant in the room? Bay’s love affair with tactical military maneuvers, which would already be pathological even if he didn’t also have so little regard for every other facet of the United States’ historical legacy. No moment in his career up to this point has quite suggested that everything in society is officially for sale quite as crassly as having Buzz Aldrin walk on set, tell everyone that the 1969 moon landing was really nothing more than a smokescreen to uncover a Hasbro-funded summer movie franchise, and then exit, presumably to cash the check while it’s still piping hot.

Bay is an idiot, but he may also be a little savant. I can’t deny this is the first (purportedly) live-action 3-D movie I’ve seen since Avatar that actually uses the format to clarifying effect, and the set-piece in which our heroes (the human ones, not the ones requiring oil changes) try to escape from a Chicago high-rise that lists like the Titanic as a giant mechanized sandworm gnaws away at the building’s foundations is, well, visionary. (Bay’s also canny or ironic enough to make the single coolest gadget in the whole movie 100 percent analog: those flying squirrel suits Josh Duhamel and his special ops buds use to fly through the falling skyscrapers.)

But do audiences really want to be slapped repeatedly by movies these days? I appreciate a nice roundhouse to the face as much as the next movie masochist, but as anyone can tell you, get backhanded enough times in the face and you’re gonna raise some welts.

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