Transformers: Age of Extinction – Textbook Machismo
Transformers 4 drips with misogyny – it practically oozes from the movie’s every pore. It is an utterly overpowering presence in this film, swamping even the titular transforming robots who serve as the canvas upon which direct Michael Bay paints his deeply, deeply sexist colours. To be clear, the issue isn’t the raw objectification that normally infuses this franchise, though, rest assured, that is certainly present. It’s the way Bay reduces women to objects who need to be looked after by the men in their lives. There is a scene in which the female lead, Tessa, is discussed by her father and boyfriend, who, up to that point in the film, have been competing for primacy in her life. The father, Mark Walberg’s Cade Yeager, tells the younger man, Shane, that it is now his job to protect his daughter – he must carry the patriarchal torch. At no point in the film is Tessa redeemed as a complete, functioning human being in her own right. She is never anything more than a pretty girl, utterly dependent upon her father or boyfriend to protect her. She isn’t even an active contributor in the conversation about her own future. She’s fast asleep, literally as passive as she figuratively is in the rest of the film. It is a reprehensible creative from a choice from a film that openly and repeatedly declares its love of ‘textbook machismo’. In this film the men ‘man up’ and the weak are, to use the words of the Autobots, the heroes of the film, ‘bitches’. All remarks in quotations come directly from this film. Its attitude is risible. Michael Bay’s views about gender, at least as they are expressed in this film, are shocking.
It’s tragic because, buried beneath its archaic and condescending attitude is an action movie which, like this year’s earlier Robocop reboot, actually has something critical to say about America’s drone policy. Setting aside the deep and fundamental sexism present –no easy task– the soul of this film can be summed up with one line from Optimus Prime. Fighting a transformer built and, ostensibly, controlled by the American military he tells it, ‘you have no soul’. Not exactly poetry but at least the inhumanity of drone tech is addressed – over the course of the whole film, that issue is handled with some degree of honest relevance and competency. I do not believe that Bay is coming at the issue from a particularly enlightened angle (the film is practically masturbatory when it comes to its depiction of guns, traditional military technology, and old fashioned masculinity) but there is something in this film that is meaningful. It is critical of states overreaching in the face of tragedy, recognising that military overuse can sew the seeds of future catastrophe. That might not be the most revolutionary message but, considering what is happening in the world right now, it is a surprisingly insightful one.
Bay accomplishes something worthwhile; and Bay fails utterly – this is magnificent philosophical incompetence, utterly mesmerising in its catastrophic dichotomy. Watching this film, particularly when seen in the same light as Man of Steel and Star Trek Into Darkness, it becomes abundantly clear that the generation who are growing up in the midst of today’s media landscape will be utterly unable to escape the shadow of falling skyscrapers and decimated cities. That is almost certainly an inescapable consequence of the world in which we now live, and Bay explores the implications of that, but the deeply misogynistic attitude laced into this film is much more difficult to deal with. It is a conscious and sexist choice, one which demeans and cheapens. It has no place on today’s silver screen. It is stupid, immature, and pathetic. Considering how many people flock to see these movies, Michael Bay needs to grow up. People aren’t paying for sexism, they’re paying to see giant robots, good and evil, do battle. Cut the former, keep the latter. There is, after all, evidence here of thoughtfulness, perhaps even some sophistication, but little in the way of maturity. ‘Textbook machismo’ is nothing to be proud of.