No one blows shit up quite like Michael Bay. Roland Emmerich may flatten entire cities with tsunamis, and turn the earth’s crust into strips of taffy, but only Michael Bay has the gleeful abandon of a boy crashing his Matchboxes together.
For a movie about robots who transform into different objects, each moving part inseparable from the whole, Bay loves blasting things apart in an orgy of destruction, the separate components rendered in exquisite CGI detail: steel girders twisted, wood splintered, oil spilled, scaffolding, plaster, wheels, metal, glass, concrete, the building blocks of capital since the Industrial Revolution.
And in the most thrilling sequence in Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon — seriously, it’s quite amazing — the upper third of a skyscraper collapses diagonally as our heroes slide across an office floor, then outside the windows, and back in again, hanging for dear life, and then you say to yourself: He’s not going there.
But Michael Bay does: spilling out of the offices are coffee mugs, photocopiers, desks, family photographs, chairs, cabinets and all those pieces of paper — memos, fax cover sheets, prospectuses, invitations, bank statements, annual reports, meeting agenda, personnel files — fluttering like useless confetti from the ruined rooftops, the collateral ephemera of Western capital plummeting in celebration from the heavens, like New York that day in September.
And then the entire building is tunneled into like clods of dirt, and squeezed into glorious fiery rubble by a Decepticon. Oh the humanity. What a way to go. What a beautiful death.
When the dust settles, there‘s little else in this movie to mine. (I rather liked the moon landing / fake news footage prologue, though; it’s an interesting premise — that the space race was to retrieve a Cybertron ship that had crashed on the moon.) There’s a bunch of veteran stage and film actors grinning and bearing it — Frances McDormand as the butt of jokes that went out with Janet Reno, a slimy John Turturro, a slimier John Malkovich — all of them laughing all the way to the bank, I’m sure.
The film basically stops dead whenever Shia LeBoeuf and his new girlfriend talk to each other. (Rose Huntington-Whiteley is even more vapid than Megan Fox. I know that’s difficult to imagine, but just try.) It’s not a good sign when the audience is meant to care far more about Bumblebee, about to be executed gangster-style, or the feelings of a betrayed Optimus Prime, than the assorted human characters. That perhaps is the point. The film is, in a sense, anti-human, seen in the way Chicagoans are pulverized with one shot, reduced to dust, as if they never lived or breathed.
Michael Bay hearts the U.S. military, and I imagine, with all those long acknowledgments, that the military bearhugs him back. But I‘m not necessarily seeing any American jingoism in Transformers 3, its July 4th weekend release notwithstanding (or his usual retrogressive portrayal of odd furriners). Bay’s allegiance, it seems to me, is to both destroying and being destroyed. When was the last time you saw a film where its creator took such orgiastic pleasure at the annihilation of, well, everything? (I did; it was Transformers 2: Rise or the Fallen.) Even the devastation is aural: the film is an almost constant din of scrape and rumble, of metal shrieks and shattering glass.
According to the not always reliable IMDB, Transformers 3 is actually three minutes longer than Apocalypse Now. That may have been a more fitting subtitle than the grammatical weirdness of “Dark of the Moon:” Armageddon is here and now, with no cities, no life, no people, just Michael Bay, the destroyer of worlds. The world ends not just with a bang, but also with a wheet-whoot-whoot-whoot.