[My blog has been on semi-hiatus the last few months as I finish up on one novel and begin another. This Fourth of July weekend I saw Transformers: Age of Extinction, which prompted me to reopen my blog for this letter.]
Dear Mr. Bay,
First off, let me congratulate you on an incredible opening weekend for your recent film, Transformers: Age of Extinction. In less than a week, the movie has made over $128 million dollars. I’d say you’re on target to shatter all manner of box office records and sit astride the top-earning slot of this year’s summer blockbuster season.
Which is why we’ve really got to talk.
Now, this isn’t an angry letter. No, sir. Anger implies a burning rage, and a fiery lack of rational understanding. No, after watching TF:AOE, I’m cold. Oh so cold.
Before I get into the nuts and bolts of this letter, I must first make an admission: Your movies are my guilty pleasure. Say what you will about their plot, story, and intrinsic artistic value – your visuals are spectacular. You constantly push the envelope of movie-making technology to produce films that are breathtaking. No one can make explosions looks as beautiful as you on screen. I mean that. Truly.
I can say without hesitation, and greatest conviction, that TF:AOE is your worst film to date. Perhaps my criticisms (to follow) are better suited to one of the other Executive Producers of the film, or perhaps the screenwriter, or indeed anyone involved with the movie’s creative direction, but seeing as how you are the Director, the proverbial Captain of this ship, the responsibility is ultimately yours.
Simply put, I’m a fan of Transformers, and have been since my childhood. I could elaborate on the various expressions of this fandom, but in the interests of brevity let me say that it will be hard for you to find a person who loves this property more than I do. When I heard back in 2006 that you were helming the first Transformers film, I was cautiously optimistic about it. You are, after all, on the short-list of action directors capable of turning out a blockbuster of this magnitude. Since my first brush with your take on the franchise, however, there have been some trouble spots.
I suffered through Bumblebee urinating on John Turturro in the first installment. I gritted my teeth in the second movie as we saw that Devastator was anatomically correct. I even kept my composure during the barren cinematic landscape of Dark of the Moon. And yet, call me sentimental, but there were shining moments in that trilogy that gave me hope, that kept bringing me back into the theatre in 2009 and 2011, like an abusive relationship that hurts you again and again, but that you cannot quite bring yourself to break off.
After seeing TF:AOE, I’m afraid my little fanboy heart cannot stand it anymore. It’s just been broken too many times, and most recently by you. (Spoilers Ahead! You have been warned.) I do not enjoy seeing characters from previous movies, even CGI ones, brutally murdered while on their knees, begging for their lives, and decrying, “Wait! What are you doing — I’m one of your friends!” Nor do I appreciate characters who have proven themselves competent in the past suddenly losing their temper, acting like spoiled children, and endangering themselves and the lives of others in the process. The same goes for the amount of collateral damage and indiscriminate destruction that so-called “Autobots” wreaked in Bejing. But the butcher’s bill of misfires made here, every plothole covered with glorious, glorious special effects, the casual and unending objectification of women, the uncomfortable racial and cultural stereotypes, the tissue-thin depth of the characters – all of it – pales before the final straw that broke the back of my fandom. (I mean, all those tropes are at least part of your regular schtick, right?)
The final sin, the place this movie went that the others at their worst avoided, is Optimus Prime. You turned him into an angry, embittered maniac who is as ineffectual as a warrior as he is a leader. He kills people, humans, in this movie. It’s bad enough that I had to see Superman snap General Zod’s neck in Man of Steel, but now Optimus Prime, paragon of wisdom and virtue, just executes a guy. No attempt to have him answer for his crimes, or see that justice is done, just point and fire with as much emotional response to the killing as a mafia hitman (meaning no disrespect to any mafia hitmen who might read this). After that, it came as no surprise that his final coup d’grace was stabbing the bad guy in the back.
But it’s worse than even that. What really drives white-hot pokers into my soul is that Optimus gives up on us. Despite all his talk in the original trilogy that “freedom is the right of all sentient beings” and that “they are a young race, capable of great compassion” he is more than willing to turn his back on us when we are, as the name of the movie implies, facing extinction, and Mark Wahlberg has to give Optimus the pep talk about why he should continue to fight, not the other way around. There is a direct quote from the end of Dark of the Moon, spoken by Prime: “There will be days when we lose faith, days when our allies turn against us, but the day will never come when we forsake the planet and its peoples.” What happened to that Prime? Can we get him back in the next movie?
In casting him in this light, this movie did what I thought was an impossibility…it made me hate Optimus Prime. Me. I realize that you don’t know me, or the deep significance that this character holds for me, but let us just say that I still tear up a bit when I see Optimus die in the 1986 animated movie. Scarred for life, I was. Prime may very well be my favorite character in all of fiction, and I despised him by the end of this movie. That, Mr. Bay, I can never forgive.
Let me take a step back at this point, breathe and count to ten. There, better now. Allow me to throw a few facts your way. At the time of this writing, TF:AOE has earned itself 17% on Rotten Tomatoes. That is on par with Showgirls (also at 17%), which is widely regarded as one of the worst movies ever made. This movie ranks lower than the huge disaster Battleship, which was a blatant rip-off of the Transformers movie franchise, as well as your own distinctive visual style. By comparison, it sits at 34%. Battleship! You’ve been outdone by one of your weakest imitators.
Good God, man…Battleship!
The disconnect between the quality of the story and its undeniable commercial success worldwide tells me that you have labored to produce the cinematic equivalent of Twilight, the book not the movie. Perhaps that doesn’t matter to you. Perhaps you’re content, even satisfied, with how TF:AOE came out. Or perhaps it was just a job and/or an enormous payday to you. I can’t speak for your reasoning, but I can tell you that I’m embarrassed for you. There is more heart and soul in the merest fraction of your Lionel Richie video documentary (a fine musician and artist, I hasten to add) than can be found in the entirety of this soulless (sparkless?), joyless movie.
Now, I write these words in the knowledge that you will likely never read them. In truth, this is more a catharsis for me than a critique for you. But assuming you do read this, and you’ve made it this far, I might as well go the whole nine yards. To that end, allow me to illustrate for you what it was like to sit through all three hours of this movie, in a convenient bullet-point format:
- This movie was akin to sitting in the basement of a Porta Potty, looking up, while it is being used on an unseasonably warm State Fair Day
- Watching this movie weakened my faith in humanity, when it had previously survived the onslaughts of Jersey Shore, Toddlers and Tiaras, and Honey Boo Boo
- Seeing this movie made me feel like how a trash dump full of zombies and old socks smells
- It was tantamount to seeing a school bus full of puppies fall into a volcano, when the volcano also eats souls
- Exactly like watching the worst movie I’ve ever seen, where cherished characters from my childhood are criminally misunderstood, with staggering amounts of unnecessary scenes, plot holes Optimus himself could drive through, worn-out clichés, placeholder dialogue, and amateur-hour characterization, making me wonder how something so singularly god-awful was ever released in the first place
And while we are on the subject, allow me to elaborate the things I would rather do than watch this movie ever again:
- Watch Star Wars: Attack of Clones twelve straight times, back-to-back, including all the footage of Jar-Jar from the entire prequel trilogy
- Take college algebra again.
- Throw a punch at Mike Tyson, before or after insulting his significant other
- Die. Just die
- Awaken Great Cthulhu from his dark and terrible slumber. (Though, to be honest, any of the Great Old Ones would suffice in His place)
Okay, so I’m taking a few liberties here, but again – catharsis, remember? Despite the fact that I must part ways with you for the crimes of this movie, let me leave you with this thought.
I want to help you.
While I understand that these movies are most definitely not made with the fans of Transformers in mind, perhaps I can save you some whining from heartbroken souls such as myself in the future. Story is cheap. It’s words on a page. With a $210 million dollar budget, the story of a movie like this has to be the cheapest part of your production costs, and the easiest to change. Again, your special effects are incredible, to the point that I can see the minute details of Hound’s bushy beard. Why can’t that level of detail, thought, and attention go into the base story itself? Honestly, as a fan, is that too much to ask?
So, I am offering my services to you, Mr. Bay. Next time you go to visit the Transformers universe, call me. You need someone on your team who loves this franchise, since it is clear from this offering you are lacking such a someone. I will be stupidly happy (like a live-action role-player at a renaissance festival) to help you avoid making another movie like this one, and you will find that my fee will be a paltry, practically insignificant sum next to whatever you’re paying your screenwriter.
Just food for thought.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
P.S. – Despite all of this, I enjoyed your cameo in Mystery Men.