'Transformers isn't 'rapey' - it's just a colossally dim sci-fi flick' - Ed Power reviews the reviews
Ed Power takes umbrage at reviewers who think Michael Bay's Transformers: Age of Extinction promotes rape culture...
Transformers director Michael Bay has a gift for whipping film critics of a certain stripe into sinew-popping incandescence. His crime is to splice fanboy schlockiness with old school, with-us-since-the-dawn-of-cinema Hollywood sexism (the sort you find in Bond movies, fratboy yuck-fests, romantic comedies before they pretended to have discovered self-awareness).
If, as is often the case with movie critics, you are inclined to disdain devotees of genre cinema as tragic 40-year-old virgin types and like to cherry pick your outrage over the wider industry's objectification of women (which Bay didn't invent and doesn't proselytize particularly) he's an irresistible punching bag: a nerd AND a cigar-chomping boor. Might as well paint cross-hairs on his forehead
His latest, Transformers: Age of Extinction, has, especially, sparked an impassioned conversation about…well, it's hard to tell exactly, though words like 'rapey' have been bandied. More accurately, the debate has flared in this part of the world – elsewhere reviewers seem happy to love or hate Age of Extinction for what it is: two and a half gloriously stupid hours of outsize robots knocking lumps out of each other as a storyline tries, fails, to impose itself on the chaos.
Is the film distasteful in its depiction of women? In fleeting instances… well sorta, though if we are to condemn Bay for allowing his camera linger, creepy-uncle style over 19-year-old leading lady Nicola Peltz, we are also going to have to work ourselves into considerable dudgeon over pop music videos, soft drink commercials, those endless World Cup 'honey shots' of photogenic soccer fans (fine if you feel that way but please, a little consistency as you froth at the chops).
The key piece of evidence against Bay is a scene in which Peltz's onscreen father, played grumpily by Mark Wahlberg, and her boyfriend, Irish actor Jack Reynor, debate whether she has reached the age of consent. Yeah it's….weird. Wahlberg, suffocatingly protective of his 'little girl', warns Reynor not to break the law (Peltz is supposedly underage in the movie), in response to which Reynor cites Texas' 'Romeo and Juliet' loophole (he has the details on a card for good measure).
You can see – well I can anyway – what Bay is striving for here: light relief from all the groaning, contorting robots, a chance to flesh out the characters as human beings rather than mere detailing for his gleaming sci-fi tableaux. However, the humour is off-whack and clearly exceedingly sleazy: Bay is the dude at a party telling the inappropriately blue joke that plunges the room into silence (woah, you think, won't be inviting this guy around again).
But he doesn't wallow in the moment, does not breath deeply of your discomfort the way someone like Lars Von Trier might. Soon we're off amongst the warring robots again. From then on, Peltz, Wahlberg, Reynor (him especially) are reduced to squeaking, squawking maguffins - they run, yelp, lock and load their guns but, really, the movie is about the Transformers and the Decepticons, as ever brought to the screen in luscious, obsessive detail. This is the crucial point: the curves Bay is truly interested in don't belong to Peltz – they are those of Optimus Prime, Galvatron, Grimlock etc. What lust the movie displays is reserved for the mega-droids – Peltz, like the rest of the cast, is just so much fragrant window dressing.
Look, it's fine not to enjoy colossally dim science fiction films: they aren't for everyone, no more than deathly dreary art-house or the Irish 'misery-flick' are. But if you are going to review the movie, review the movie – and kindly get your placard out of our faces.