Part one is here, where I noted the film’s extraordinarily brutality, including battlefield executions by its American-allied protagonists.
The obvious, if unwanted, parallel to such battlefield cruelty is all those conservatives who complained for years that America’s rules of engagement in the GWoT were too strict, or Limbaugh’s flippant defense of Abu Ghraib brutality as ‘hazing on the nightshift.’ Bay’s childish defense, I’m sure, is the throw-away fig-leaf that the Decepticons are ‘evil,’ so it’s ok to just blow them away, decapitate them when they’re defenseless, or draw-and-quarter them. But I can’t imagine such levels of brutality, including multiple executions (!), making their way into a mainstream blockbuster for tweens, produced by family-friendly Spielberg (!!) no less, before the GWoT. We’ve become a harsher people when liberal restraints on force give way to bloodlust.
To see Bay’s regression more clearly, note that first film had no executions-as-entertainment, the second ‘only’ had one (in the first China sequence), but there are four in this one. If this seems unfair, recall that this isn’t an R-rated horror movie, with different standards and genre tropes. Also, Bay has always reached for a certain national security credibility; he’s like the Hollywood version of Tom Clancy. He reverentially celebrates the US military. Bay gets uniquely deep access to actual US hardware from the Pentagon. Armageddon lionized NASA. Pearl Harbor told everyone that America is awesome. In this Transformers film, the Autobots even help derail Iran’s nuclear program. In same way that uber-popular, ultra-violent video game franchises like Modern Warfare obviously channel American attitudes about force, the military, and terrorism, so does Bay. So I don’t think it’s too much to notice how Bay turned Transformers from a toy-movie for tweens into Black Hawk Down meets Saw with robots.
I wrote a review of the Transformers 2, where I argued that Bay fetishizes (US) military hardware and glorifies the US military so much, that he is given unparalleled access to display US weaponry. His simplistic good vs. evil storylines and adultatory portrayal of the US military give his films an ‘establishment,’ rah-rah feel that vastly more interesting but subversive war-films like Apocalypse Now or Platoon could never have. The most sycophantic line of the film is when the ridiculously improbable new ‘Bay girl’ is legitimized before no less than the Director of National Intelligence, because ‘she comes from a good military family.’ There is so much elitism and militarism wrapped up in that statement, that it could have been written by Robert Heinlein.
This is entertainment for WR Mead’s Jacksonians, mixing American exceptionalism, self-righteous violent vengeance, and alpha male strut into the modern Republican party. Pandering to these reactionary sentiments is easy: America battles for good, deploys flashy, high-tech hardware, and, most importantly, wins. In the background are waving flags, boyishly shallow speeches about ‘freedom,’ and Pentagon guys barking dialogue like, ‘failure is not an option,’ or ‘roll out strike package dark star whiskey tango foxtrot…’ If you’re not in the military, you’re probably a wimp or a liberal. And if you can throw in a hot babe wandering around in a bikini or something, so much the better to capture the mix of sexual titillation and self-righteous, militaristic posturing that has made Fox News such success. Indeed, I’ve often thought that Fox News models itself on Bay’s flashy, militaristic, sexualized style.
Hollywood is far more nationalistic than American conservatives, wedded to the trope of ‘liberal Hollywood,’ will admit. And Bay is the leading edge of this. He is bombastic, reactionary, and jingoistic, and people love him for it. His films make ridiculous amounts of money, suggesting a far deeper reservoir for a conservative, pro-military Hollywood than the standard Republican interpretation of Hollywood admits. This is entertainment for men of course, but for the sort of anti-feminist, semi-authoritarian Tea Partier who thought W’s landing on the Abraham Lincoln was a milestone in America’s foreign policy history of ‘kicking a—,’ pines for Sarah Palin (a housewife hottie who wants to bomb foreigners and loves America), and doesn’t understand why the greatest country on earth is losing the GWoT and ceding place to China. As no less than Optimus Prime, the leader of the Autobots says in the clip above, ‘In the name of freedom…we will kill them all.’ That is pretty much all that’s left of the Bush Doctrine for the angry, frustrated, ‘I-don’t-give-a-damn-anymore-about-the-rules-of-engagement,’ tea-partier.
This is where the third Transformers film is revelatory. It is one of the most purposefully, gleefully cruel mainstream geopolitical films I can think of since the Rambo-80s. It displays better than any GWoT-era film the growing American acceptance of war cruelty resultant from ten years of frustrating, inconclusive combat. That normally tempered Spielberg produced the film too shows just how far the bar has fallen. Indeed, Spielberg should be embarrassed after producing morally-nuanced war-films like Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers. This is entertainment for an angry, confused, militarily exhausted electorate looking for decisive outcomes and now willing to tolerate cruelty to get them. When people say that 9/11 and the GWoT have made Americans a nastier, angrier, less pleasant people, this is exactly what they mean.