Director: Michael Bay
Screenwriter: Ehren Kruger
Length: 2 hours, 37 minutes
Synopsis: Despite saving the world twice, Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) finds himself jobless after college. Not helping his self-esteem, his girlfriend, Carly (Huntington-Whiteley), is a successful museum curator with a troublesome relationship with her handsome boss, Dylan (Dempsey). Worst of all, Sam’s Autobot friends are off traveling the world on government missions while Sam is left behind wishing he could join them. However, Sam is pulled back into the Transformers’ world when the evil Decepticons hatch a plan that could destroy Earth.
Analysis: As a director, Michael Bay’s films can be characterized by a number of recurring preoccupations, the most notable of which is an almost fetishistic focus on beauty. Lingering shots of tan, voluptuous women and over-saturated color palates that make even the most mundane spaces look luxurious are staples of his visual style. Then there are the extravagant action sequences with big explosions and fancy cars. Most important are the courageous heroes who struggle against seemingly insurmountable odds to eventually defeat their enemies. Transformers: Dark of the Moon has all of these elements, but it also makes more explicit a preoccupation only slightly felt in his previous films: pure American patriotism. Dark of the Moon is meant to appeal to the hot-blooded American male who believes courage and determination will lead to victory —and it succeeds at that goal.
Though Bay’s previous Transformers installments and films like The Island and Bad Boys franchise displayed his borderline fetishistic appreciation of women and machinery alike, Dark of the Moon is perhaps foremost in its admiration of those subjects. While both woman and machine are sentient in the Transformers world, their importance isn’t as independent beings. Instead, it is their relation to the central character, a young American male.
In the previous films, Megan Fox played the desirable female object, but after some scandal with the director, Huntington-Whiteley takes her place. The degree of Huntington-Whiteley’s objectification is most apparent in two key scenes. The first is her onscreen introduction: an uncut, low angle shot of her backside as she walks toward Sam. The shot unequivocally indicates that this woman is a thing of beauty that the audience should admire. And excepting a few scenes where she emotes, this is her primary function. Yet Carly’s status as object of desire rather than character becomes clearest through her job. She curates vintage cars in Dylan’s museum, but it is essentially Bay who has curated both Huntington-Whiteley and the cars for our viewing pleasure. As Dylan describes a car designed to mimic the sensual curves of a woman’s body, Bay focuses the camera not on the car, but on Huntington-Whiteley. The scene presents both women and machines as something for men to own and admire, important mainly in their functions for men rather than their own existence.
Though the machines possess more narrative control than Carly, they are similarly important mainly because of their connection to Sam. Though the work the Autobots do to help the government is important, the audience is directed to sympathize with Sam’s loneliness and desire to take part in that fulfilling work over the fact that his involvement may actually endanger him. He found the Autobots, and we have watched him help save the world with the them, so his claim to them seems legitimate to the audience. However, Frances McDormand’s tough government agent character, Mearing, blocks Sam from joining the fight; she is a bureaucrat and is thus painted as a villain who keeps the hero from his destiny. This is where the film’s patriotism starts to become clear. Sam is a lone citizen who wants to do his part to save the world, yet shady government officials hold him back. He is essentially a citizen wishing to become a soldier and make a difference. In addition, it is eventually Sam and a group of soldiers who save the day, not the government. In fact, the government’s involvement not only fails but arguably creates the danger in the first place. The film implies that government planning does not win wars – the courage and determination of the troops who do the fighting does.
However, this does not suggest that the film is anti-government. Rather it focuses on the essential American idea of individuals’ brave actions protecting liberty. Throughout the film the characters basically fight for the freedom to live peaceful, meaningful lives. Their enemies – who are associated with various threats to American individualism including big business and the Soviets – threaten their freedom and right to live, and they cannot stand for such a threat. At one point Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots, says that good will win out over evil because they fight for liberty and good, a moment which caused one patron in my screening to start chanting “U.S.A.” Indeed when the characters speak of justice, liberty and defeating enemies, it’s little wonder Dark of the Moon was released as a big draw for Independence Day audiences. They will be hard pressed to find a more patriotic film.