I’ve been trying all day to come up with a funny way to write about how transcendently angry this movie made me. Something hopefully a bit more highbrow than the entire concept of “rage pee.” And then I realized I can’t do it, and it was going to stop me from meeting my obligation to you lovely people, who gave $400 to charity to make me watch this insult to common decency on film. So I’ll just lay it out for you.
I had this one moment, midway through my second beer (bless you, Alamo Drafthouse, without your alcohol I would not have survived) where I almost, almost convinced myself that no actually, Michael Bay is totally a genius, and this is his never-ending art project to hold a mirror up to movie-goers across the globe and prove that no matter how low you think the lowest common denominator is, actually you need to pick your shovel back up and keep digging. It was like he was laughing, Bella Lugosi-style, deep and evil and amused, at the incontrovertible proof that we are a culture in only the most bacterial of senses, unquestioningly throwing money at anything rancid so long as it came coated with the appropriate amount of bright orange glitter. And I almost laughed with him for a moment as my sanity cracked and bent.
None of us deserve the smirking comfort of thinking there’s some kind of meta-point to all of this.
There is no plot. There is no character. If I was feeling charitable I would say that Michael Bay and his screen writer, Ehren Kruger, have transcended the concept of plot, but that would imply some kind of higher purpose beyond stuffing in a little more creepy ogling and another unsubtle product placement. This movie is effectively a well-shot, two hour and forty fucking minute long, ugly, ravenous kaiju baby of a music video for the Imagine Dragons song Battle Cry, Hasbro’s newest line of merchandise, and centuries of ingrained misogyny and racism.
This is Michael Bay, with the executives of Hasbro and Paramount arrayed around him and applauding, taking a giant shit on a platter and offering it to the world. Except instead of a regular silver platter, this one’s shaped like a woman has been painted down with a spray tan. This is a two hour and forty fucking minute long movie in which the only actual plot thread is a man deciding if he will retain ownership of his daughter, peppered with slow motion explosions, incoherent car chase scenes, and battle after battle of CGI robots fighting other CGI robots in such a way that it really just kind of looks like a trash compactor fucking a junked car in the tailpipe, but less visually discernible.
And I never thought I’d say this, but considering the length of the movie it could have used more explosions, and giant robots rolling around in indecipherable masses of computer-generated metal. There is proportionally less Transformer action in this movie than in those previous in order to make room for men being super creepy at a seventeen-year-old girl.
The constant misogyny throughout the very fabric of this film is inescapably vile and toxic. Every major male character, when introduced, within his first few lines of dialog explicitly objectifies the nearest female character. At the very beginning of the movie, in one scene we quite literally go from Lucas (TJ Miller) creepily eyeing a couple of women walking by and calling them ‘junebugs’ to in the next scene, the theater landlord talking effusively about ‘dancin’ girls with big chachas.’ The only male character who doesn’t get a major moment of creepy objectification is Cade (Mark Wahlberg) but that’s apparently because he’s too busy obsessing about the state of his daughter’s purity.
Which doesn’t get creepy at all.
If you’ve read anything about this movie, you’ve probably heard about the rightfully infamous “Romeo and Juliet law” scene. Nothing I have read as of yet does actual justice to how absolutely fucking creepy this scene is. Cade and Shane (Tessa’s boyfriend, played by Jack Reynor) have been pissing on each other’s legs since the moment they met about, frankly, just to whom Tessa belongs. Then Cade finds out that Shane is 20; well, Tessa is a minor. Without so much as blinking, Shane launches into a lecture about the Romeo and Juliet law of Texas, and has the text of the law on a laminated card in his wallet. He is carrying it the way one might expect a young man to carry a freaking condom. And it’s honestly impossible to state which is creepier in this scene; the constant emphasis on how young Tessa is when she is consistently objectified throughout the film, the fact that her creepy-ass boyfriend has memorized a legal defense of his right to fuck a minor, the complete and disturbing possessiveness of her father, or the fact that Michael Bay purposefully made the creative choice to include all of this and then made a point of it.
Double bonus ick points for this all occurring just a few scenes after one of the movie’s many incoherent car chases, during which time Shane tells Tessa to ‘grab his stick’ to do a driving maneuver, then informs Cade she ‘has the best hands in the business’ in the most innuendo-laden way possible.
I’m not a prude. The thought of teenagers having sex does not make me clutch at my pearls, have the vapors, or despair about the morality of America. But the way Tessa is basically treated as a non-person throughout the movie who has no say in her own life, and is explicitly objectified as underage by basically every male non-robot, and it’s the central human conflict of the movie? Yeah, you bet your ass that grosses me out.
Honestly, if it weren’t for the way Tessa had less agency than a toaster, I could have even found some of this funny. Cade and Shane spend every scene they have bickering about Tessa, no matter how the conversation starts. If there were some sort of reverse Bechdel test, where they had to have a conversation that wasn’t about a woman, they would fail it miserably. But considering Tessa spends her entire time on screen screaming, being rescued, and biting her perfectly made-up lower lip in a way that’s presumably supposed to convey the sexiest possible kind of terror? No. No, no, no.
There are other female characters in this movie. The geologist, Darcy (Sophia Myles) basically spends all of her time wearing white, making her unlike every female geologist I’ve ever met. I’m still puzzled about her presence in the movie, since she seems to almost have a reason to be around (something something Transformium something) but then that is subsumed with the need for her to be manchild inventor Joshua Joyce’s (Stanley Tucci) emotional validation and tell him for no apparent reason that she is proud of him (HOW? WHY? FOR WHAT?) before vanishing without a trace for the rest of the movie. Su Yueming (Bingbing Li) has the makings of a very interesting character, actually, obviously high-powered and career driven, who saves Joyce’s ass several times. Which then plays into him going on and on about how he has the hots for her. He calls her a “my delicate flower” at one point. The only thing that saved me from flipping the goddamn table was that she looked just as done with it as I felt, and then later when he asked if she missed him she flatly said, “No.”
Between the way Su Yueming is treated and the offensively stereotyped samurai transformer (voiced by Ken Watanabe), there is rich evidence that few lessons have been learned after the complaints of racism that followed the previous movies. (Bonus: the only black characters were either effectively non-speaking parts of the evil CIA team/KSI scientists or the real estate agent at the beginning of the movie, who is run off the property by a baseball-bat-wielding Cade yelling insults about how fat she and her brother are. So that’s awesome.)
After over 1000 words, there is probably something I should say about the actual plot. But after mulling it over for nearly 24 hours, I am still unconvinced that the movie even had one. This thing was so badly paced that time dilated, as if I was falling across the event horizon of a black hole; when I went out of the theater for my first bathroom break, I checked my phone and discovered there was still an hour and fifteen minutes left, which left me longing for the simple pain of eternal spaghettification. It was an incoherent mass of purposefully knotted loose ends to set up two more movies because, as proof that we live in a godless universe of pain, this one is the start of a new trilogy. Characters fall in and out of the narrative without rhyme or reason, apparently tucked away in a closet unless needed to blow things up, leer, or be leered at.
Megatron is brought back to life because of a MacGuffin, and new Decepticons have kind of(?) been made by the humans but that’s not important right now apparently. What characterization once existed for Optimus Prime has now been completely thrown at the window after he spent most of the movie threatening to kill humans (and did kill one but he was the CIA bad guy so I suppose that’s then all right?) and saying humans weren’t worth protecting until Cade tells him to calm his shit down and soothes him with an incredibly awkward unintended pregnancy metaphor. No, really. Optimus Prime and his random collection of conflicting and incoherent motivations made me long for the nuanced and well-handled manpain of Man of Steel. Another alien race is introduced so that Optimus can rocket away at the end of the film after telling Cade, “When you look at the stars, think of one of them as my soul.”
Literally the only plot thread that did tie up was the conflict between Cade and Shane, when Cade symbolically transferred ownership of Tessa to her super creepy, twenty-year-old boyfriend.
And the dinobots? In less than 6% of the movie by my recollection. Grimlock at no point speaks, let alone declares that he is Grimlock, no bozo, or king. The existence of the dinobots is weak at best and not even visually that arresting unless you have a giant boner for seeing a Transformer on a T-rex wielding a sword. In which case, buy the movie poster and save nearly three hours of your life you can use for masturbating to your bizarre fetish instead.
Perhaps the worst, most personal insult of this movie is the fact that the soundtrack is literally only twenty minutes long. For a two hour and forty fucking minute movie. I haven’t liked any of the Transformers movies since the first one, which I thought was…okayish. But I have always loved the soundtracks. All of which have clocked in around an hour long, like most theatrical scores. They’re good writing music. So this? It’s an outrage. That sure explains why about a third of the way into the film, I felt like I was stuck in an endless loop of the background track from Tron: Legacy and couldn’t escape. I get that these movies aren’t even trying any more, but goddammit.
Seriously. Fuck this movie. It’s not even good enough for my rage pee.
(If you would like to read my progressively more badly written and incoherent notes, taken during the film, find them here. Be warned, it was dark in the theater, and I was pretty drunk by the end.)
(Also, the FAQ at io9 for this movie is quite funny. Much funnier than my enraged ranting.)