It has come to this.
I didn’t want this, didn’t ask for it, but I’ve been backed into a corner.
I must come to the defense of Michael Bay.
That’s right, Michael Bay, the director fanboys love to hate. A guy who inspires such venom among film fans, you’d think he made Greedo shoot first.
Bay’s newest movie, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” is doing exactly what nearly every other film the 47-year-old director has made has done: Selling out theaters everywhere during its opening weekend and earning scorn from critics everywhere.
One well-regarded film critic wrote that watching the latest "Transformers" movie “makes you die a little inside.” “Monte Carlo” currently has a higher ‘fresh’ rating at Rotten Tomatoes than “Dark of the Moon.” This truly astounds me, because as far as I can tell, that teen trifle didn’t set a new standard for romantic comedies the way this new "Transformers" picture blazes a new trail for action adventure filmmaking.
I defy you to watch “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” and not be left slack-jawed by the final 75 minutes of the movie. It does for action pictures what “Terminator 2: Judgment Day” did in 1991, what “The Matrix” did in 1999. It’s a game-changer, one that elevates the genre to new heights.
'Dark of the Moon" is an audio/visual orgy of apocalyptic destruction, a sonic bombardment of Biblical proportions. The cratering of Chicago in this movie may be the single greatest thrashing an American city has ever received onscreen. By comparison, the action sequences in “Thor,” “Green Lantern” or any of the other so-called blockbusters this summer, look like something from a Sid & Marty Krofft production.
The use of 3-D in the film is simply spectacular. The way Bay uses it and a pulsing sound mix to put viewers right in the middle of the battles is nearly overwhelming. “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” may actually turn out to be the 3-D format’s saving grace. After seeing how it was utilized here, studios would be nuts to think audiences are going to put up with any more of these half-baked 3-D conversions they’ve been cramming into multiplexes.
There’s a reason “Dark of the Moon” filled theaters to capacity over the holiday weekend, and will continue to do so. And no, it’s not because audiences are stupid. That’s a silly argument that doesn’t hold up. Moviegoing America isn’t dumb at all; they know exactly what they want to buy this time of year, and it’s what Michael Bay is selling.
Seeing things go KA-BOOM! is as much a part of the season as sunshine, snow cones and bouncy radio anthems. People want sensation, they want bombast, they want to be rocked out of the doldrums of their 9-to-5 routines, and their theater seats. They want a reason to stop chewing their popcorn and say ‘WOW.’
Transforming robots, insanely complex and layered action scenes, exploding runaway asteroids, historic war battle recreations — majestic mayhem is what Bay does best. It’s why he has a half-dozen smash hits on his resume. No doubt, "Dark of the Moon" will make it seven.
You want to quibble about character development in “Dark of the Moon?” It’s a movie about ROBOTS IN DISGUISE! Save those debates for the holiday season, when Hollywood shamelessly panders for acclaim and awards with costumed dramas and weepy ensembles where some sickly person stares up at the skies with outstretched arms and rain on his face. Summer is for spectacular excess that challenges our eyes and ears to keep up with what’s being projected on the screen.
Don’t get me wrong; I wish Bay paid as much attention to storytelling and characterization as he did planning his destructo porn. "Dark of the Moon" has a genius conceit that the Cold War space race was spurred on by the discovery of a lost Autobot who crash-landed on the Moon. But the director’s fondness for ill-placed humor derails it.
You know what, though? We can play "spot the plot hole" with every film this summer, from “Fast Five” to “Super 8,” even Woody Allen’s “Midnight in Paris.” What’s wrong with taking a leap of faith, suspending your disbelief, and enjoying the ride?
Incidentally, “Fast Five” is the biggest hit so far this year. It’s a preposterously entertaining movie. Somehow, that film earned a pass from critics. Perhaps Vin Diesel and Paul Walker’s wooden acting is easier to accept than robot heroes. Or maybe critics like cars better than the Autobots.
“Dark of the Moon” isn’t a perfect movie, by any means. What it is is an incredible theatrical experience. Something that can’t be replicated with Blu-ray and a home theater system.
Better than any other director out there today, Bay understands that you have to roll the dice and try to deliver, to quote that 2000 summer hit “Gladiator,” ‘something they have never seen before.’ To raise the bar, and dare everyone else to elevate their game.
I wish more filmmakers had Bay’s audacity; he attempts to do things we haven’t seen onscreen. Does he always succeed? No, but when he does, minds get blown.
Isn’t that one of the reasons we go to the movies?
Michael Avila is a writer based in New York. Follow his random pop culture musings on Twitter