Whatever else one might think about Michael Bay, he’s one of the most entertaining filmmakers to write about, with critics alternately sharpening their knives or preparing blushing defenses. The Chicago-shot Transformers: Dark of the Moon hits VOD, DVD and Blu-ray Friday 30, so we figured it was time to look back at some of our colleagues’ best quips.
Best put-down “In the opening 75 of [Transformers’] 151 minutes, this happens: Apollo 11, Walter Cronkite, Neil Armstrong, Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, and Obama, Buzz Aldrin (in the flesh), the Middle East, Chernobyl, African Savanna, Shia LaBeouf, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Patrick Dempsey, Autobots, Decepticons, Bill O’Reilly, John Turturro, Hermes Birkin bags, the Department of Health and Human Services, and something called the Ark. The only restraint Bay exercises is not playing ‘We Didn’t Start the Fire.’ ”—Wesley Morris, The Boston Globe
Reasoning There is a lot of competition in this category, and Morris cheats a bit by shoehorning the movie’s content into the pattern of Billy Joel’s song, but he wins points for summarizing the entire plot and then dismissing it in two fleet sentences.
Most convincing defense “With Dark of the Moon, [Bay] pushes the dumbass summer popcorn-movie formula to the max, and then pushes beyond that into an incoherent, purely symbolic realm that’s closer to experimental cinema than to Hollywood: sunsets and helicopters and vertical plunges through space and aircraft crashing to the ground and images of apocalyptic destruction and male bodies in motion and female bodies at rest (always as observers and objects, but never as subjects), all of it set to a throbbing score that never quite reaches the moment when it tries to sell you a beer or a pickup truck or pills to make your dick bigger.”—Andrew O’Hehir, Salon
Reasoning The notion that Michael Bay is a stealth experimental filmmaker is nothing new, having been proffered even by Wesleyan’s Jeanine Basinger, his old film-school professor. Over the course of a long piece, O’Hehir makes a persuasive case for Transformers: Dark of the Moon as the reductio ad absurdum of the modern blockbuster, although that devil’s-advocate argument applies just as readily to the widely loathed second film, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.
Most out-there claim “By avoiding contemplation about the emotional nature of its clanging, morphing, warring creatures—or even why the combat is never, ever decisive—Bay and executive producer Steven Spielberg accommodate the insensitivity that characterizes post-9/11 culture.”—Armond White, The New York Press
Reasoning The noted contrarian critic actually offered praise for the second installment, writing that “in the history of motion pictures, Bay has created the best canted angles—ever.” But of all the things to criticize in the third—the sloppy editing, the nonsensical plot—the robots’ lack of humanity seems a strange choice.
Best line applicable to other movies “It is a plot that cannot be described in terms of structure, more in terms of duration. When it stops, it’s over.” —Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
Reasoning There’s no one better than Ebert when it comes to coining simple but useful snaps, and Michael Bay brings out the best in him. His 1998 dismissal of Armageddon—a movie “cut together like its own highlights”—seems eerily prescient.
Best hedge “I can’t decide if this movie is so spectacularly, breathtakingly dumb as to induce stupidity in anyone who watches, or so brutally brilliant that it disarms all reason. What’s the difference?”—A.O. Scott, The New York Times
Reasoning Who could disagree?