Monday, 11 July 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

The mistake I keep making with Michael Bay's Transformers films - besides actually paying to see them - is an assumption that anyone involved considers the titular robots with any level of interest outside of a CG prop designed to shill toys. Blocky 1980s favourites are recalibrated into sexualised insects complete with writhing mechanical muscles, then pimped like they matter in gasping, eye-catch teaser trailers.

I am tempted to imagine the Transformers portrayed as characters, with agendas and interests, rather than the dull tech-demo mish-mashes they end up being. There's a brief brief joy in hearing Leonard Nimoy cast as yet another renegade Transformer, but that nostalgia bubble is quickly popped by a paucity of screentime and tone deaf Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan quotes. Unfortunately, in Transformers: Dark of the Moon it's not just the robots that operate solely as unthinking popcorn prods, the humans are unspeakable voids too.

Everytwat hero Sam Witwicky is a screaming, shaking mess. Every interaction is an impatient twitch masking his repressed, impotent violence. When not the direct target for his total abuse, girlfriend Carly Spencer haunts frame fringes, avoiding eye-contact and smiling passively. Instead of any recognisable strain of comedy we get Witwicky convulsing and capering, flinging himself around in an agitated frenzy while statue still straight men patiently wait to say something stupid. In fiction, his constant ego vomiting must be endured - he's special.

Who the fuck is Sam designed to appeal to? Sociopathic date rapists? Shut-in loners with a heaving sense of entitlement? Sam plays like a prank character. It's impossible to even imagine a moment were he was considered a likeable lead. There's a vague sense of fun trying to puzzle out who he's meant to represent. Maybe he's an unconscious collaboration between writer and actor to thrust their fuhrer think director into the limelight? Like Bay, Sam's all hissyfits and gimme misogyny.

The character's withering expectation and total entitlement could just as easily be read as a reflection of the perceived audience - an Ain't It Cool News commentator dumped front and centre in a Summer blow-out feature. His only talent is to bitch and hate his way through proceedings, stressed that his superior narrative knowledge isn't shared by the peons bumbling around beside him.

Either way, it's a vile performance, a concise demonstration of the emotional incompetence endemic to Michael Bay. As a director, and perhaps even as a man, he is utterly incapable of subtlety. Everything is pointlessly aggressive and hysterical, thus barely anything registers. You're beaten into submission. Civilians are vapourised, buildings topple, and my favourite childhood toy zips around like an angry wasp, but nothing lands. Nothing is exciting. It's all mulch. The film never sits still. No-one thinks. It's just more, more, more, more. Total excess, punched into your mind for nearly three hours. £15 for an IMAX 3D headache.


Anonymous said...

Eloquent bastard as you are, I raise the following point(n.b point based on total ignorance having not seeing any of the 'new' films)

You say you can't understand enjoyment on a level other than transformers being "prop[s] designed to shill toys".

Isn't that what critics (including Orson FUCKING HERO Welles) were saying about our beloved 'Transformers The Movie'?

Is the main problem that you have got old?

Yours thoughtfully

J Siddell
BA (Politics)
VHS (Transformer studies)

Reds said...

Hiya John!

The beloved Transformers: The Movie is undoubtedly designed to shift toys, and does so in quite a cynical way, what with terminating the majority of the Season 1 cast, but!


That film does definitely consider the Transformers as characters. They have objectives and agendas, even quite outstanding ones, particularly in the case of Galvatron - who could fail to love a robot that makes a pact with a gigantic robotic Satan, then immediately tries to betray his new God?

The way the two factions respond to the deaths of their leaders is quite interesting too. The Autobots mourn a fallen hero, and honour some semi-religious hereditary succession. The Decepticons set to smashing each other's heads in to see who's the strongest, and therefore most able to lead them in the future.

These new films are not interested in the Transformers at all. They're just gee-whizz ILM tech demos unfortunately. Individulas pop up, grimace at the camera then disappear.

The most interesting thing you can do with the new films is perhaps chart the character of Michael Bay's Optimus Prime. In the first film he's a bumbling oath with some dodgy ways of contextualising Transformer-human relations, in the sequel he's a motivated badass with a deathwish, in 3 he's a servile chump, with a taste for cold execution.

I have also gotten old.

Hope you are well!