Friday, June 27, 2014

Transformers 4: Or, Why Michael Bay Should Be Ashamed Of Himself

I've been in the habit lately of avoiding movie trailers and spoilers. This is easier than it sounds, because I don't have a TV, so the only thing I knew about the new Transformers movie was that it had Mark Wahlberg and Dino-bots in it. Now, Wahlberg is a very talented actor and what could possibly go wrong with giant robot dinosaurs? So, you know, last night when I was bored and wanted to get out of the house, I figured let's give it a whirl.

The parts of this movie that are not boring or trite are actually downright offensive. Not only should you not see this movie, this movie is Truly Bad, by which I mean it's bad for society. It reinforces some of the worst habits of our culture, and we would all have been better off if Transformers 4 had just never been made.

A lot of the Truly Bad I'm speaking of has to do with the film's treatment of women. While there are a couple of token women in this movie, the woman with the most screen time and plot significance (such as it is) is Nicola Peltz as Tessa Yaeger, Wahlberg's daughter. Peltz is an object in this movie: an object to be rescued and fought over, and in the worst of the film's Truly Bad scenes, she is a commodity which is exchanged when her protective father hands her off to the boyfriend whom he has disliked until now but, through the process of exchange, now can relate to. I've had to sometimes explain to my students the worst aspects of "courtly love," the way in which it sometimes functions not as a way for a man and woman to love one another, but instead as a way for two men -- one of whom is higher in status than the other -- to forge a power relationship through the use of the wife/lover as object of currency. In this reading, Guinevere and Lancelot's story isn't about them at all. It's the story of Arthur, who needs Lancelot as an ally, and gives Lance his wife to secure that alliance. In other words, it's once again All About Men. And when Whalberg's father hands his daughter off to her boyfriend after making him promise to take care of her for the rest of her life, it's just another version of this terrible exchange.

Compare X-Men: Days of Future Past, when Raven is placed in a position to choose her own fate. Peltz never chooses anything in this movie. She is entirely without agency.

The other Truly Bad aspect of this film is its blatant marketing. Now, I understand that a movie based on toys who turn into cars is going to have a certain amount of product placement, but with Transformers: Age of Extinction we have officially reached the tipping point. This is not a movie which happens to have some product placement in it. This is a 2 1/2 hour commercial break strung together with a plot. It's not just the cars and the toys. I listened as characters name-dropped Red Bull, as Wahlberg conspicuously guzzled a Bud Lite, as a rampaging robot somersaulted over a Victoria's Secret bus stop. The entire last reel is set in China, not for any particular reason except that China is a huge market with millions of paying viewers.

The rest of this movie is just boring, not Truly Bad. I did not know Stanley Tucci was in it, and I always enjoy watching him, though in this movie he's playing Evil Steve Jobs and has been kept on a very short leash. Two things surprised me about this movie: first, it is conspicuously "more serious," and you can tell because they kill off the comic relief character in the first hour. And second, this film was free of the fetishization of the American military which is so prevalent in action movies, most recently in the otherwise-laudable Godzilla.

Speaking of which, the Dino-bots were cool.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for re-enforcing my suspicions. I can now save my money, and watch something enjoyable.
    Apparently the all mighty dollar dictates lots of special effects, and a name brand actor/actress to draw a crowd.
    I think it's time to watch "Schindler's List." I have not watched it to date.