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Transformers: The Joke is on Michael Bay

[[Warning: The only important part of a Transformers movie is that giant robots will be fighting one another. You know that going in. Spoilers are thus impossible. To the extent that a spoiler might be possible for this film, I will spoil it. If that keeps you from seeing this movie, say “thank you”.]]

This movie is bad. All it really needs to do is give a half-decent excuse for robots to beat one another up, and it fails. It does, however, do one extraordinarily thing right: It calls Michael Bay- the movie’s director/producer!- a giant douchebag. I’m not sure he noticed.

Hollywood formulates dictates that there is a girl (Carly Spencer) in this sort of movie. She isn’t there to be an independent actor, but rather to be a Princess Peach– a motivating force for someone else to act on behalf of. Some of the minor characters in the movie actually seem to balk at putting themselves in danger so that the hero (Sam Witwicky) can rescue his girl, but they go along with the plan once they figure out that the world is also at stake.

I’m not kidding about that.

In a triumph for the say-don’t-show school of storytelling, Carly’s is presented as a intelligent, capable individual. We see her working for the White House, running logistics for a global corporation, and are told that she’s worked for the British Embassy in Washington DC. She is in every way more fit to be the story’s lead than the actual dude performing that role.

Perhaps Sam is meant to be an audience stand in. A sort of everyperson hero that we can empathize with. That would help explain his constant inability to quite nail the suave behavior that he seems to be aiming for. After all: who among us hasn’t done some really dumb things that we’d rather everyone forget about? This doesn’t seem quite right, however. Sam’s buffoonery is rewarded. It is as if Director Michael Bay doesn’t know the difference between actually awesome behavior and a parody of such. Could it be that he has mistaken Duke Nukem for something other than a cautionary tale?

In a classic display of the male gaze, through the first half of the movie, the camera reduces Carly to a sex object. When she’s in a shot, her secondary sex characteristics are on full display.

Michael Bay has had this problem with women before. Indeed, in the words of one Bay defender “Mike films women in a way that appeals to a 16-year-old sexuality.” Presumably he means “16-year-old [boy]”.

So for the first half or so of the movie, the camera is perving on the female lead. And at one point one of the characters- Bruce Brazos- actually does a double take at her. And everyone in the room reacts badly. Like he’d ruined their fun game by calling attention to it. From that moment on, the camera treats Carly as a human being. I think we can thank the editorial staff for that beautiful and wicked commentary on Transformers and sexism.

Now, if only the writers had come up with something interesting for her to say.