Took my eleven-year-old and his ten-year-old nephew to see this the other night in Millerton in New York State, the only place it was playing within an hour's drive from where we're staying in the Berkshires.
The theater was full of teenage boys, maybe forty or fifty of them, with another bunch of younger boys, and two females: one mom and one teenage girlfriend. Which made sense. The movie is made for young males, obviously.
It depicts college (those scenes shot at Princeton, where the three of us along with my older son had spent a day on the set last summer thanks to the movie's still photographer Robert Zuckerman and the boys had met several of the cast members including a brief exchange with Shia LaBeof) as populated by nothing but the foxiest young women in the world, as though it was college for models, and all seemingly horny for not only the nerdy and childish but nowhere near as attractive young men but also for the only professor, played by the actor from the office who plays "Dwight"!
The one actor who I felt when I met him in person last summer has the kind of old fashioned good looks and star quality needed to carry a movie—Ramon Rodriquez—ends up playing the whiny nerdy ridiculously over the top sidekick. LaBeouf, who is a good actor but just doesn't have the star charisma for my taste, is of course the action hero of the flick whom the foxy Megan Fox (hmmmm) as her co-star-with-LaBeouf character is adoringly in love with (how come these nerdy looking guys, sorry Shia, in contemporary flicks always have these impossibly beautiful women head-over-heels for them?).
I saw the way the young girls in Princeton lined up for days just to get a glimpse of LaBeouf, so they obviously see something I don't, but what I did see in this flick, besides a way-too-long (almost three hours but it felt like seven) hodge pogdge of non sequitors, was a rightwing perspective that gives the lie to the rightwing myth of Hollywood being controlled by "liberals" and "leftists."
I've been trying to puncture that myth for years, if not decades, but the myth continues. My experience of working almost twenty years in Hollywood and another decade or so in the movie and TV business outside of Hollywood is that there are way more rightwingers in positions of power in that industry than moderates, let alone lefties.
The right always trots out the same handful of Hollywood "stars" as proof of "liberal" control of "Hollywood" like Barbra Streisand (as if she's even a controlling figure in Hollywood anymore) and Alec Baldwin, etc. Never mentioning all the rightwingers among the producers and directors and writers and stars there.
But this movie couldn't be more rightwing. Unlike most of these action flicks which normally have a stand-in for the president, a generic white guy, and almost never mention a real president by name (did the first TRANSFORMERS movie—which actually wasn't that bad, had some humor and a consistent plot and acting in it—name W. in it? I don't remember that happening).
But in this sequel, not only is Obama mentioned by name, but his representative (a bespectacled arrogant but ultimately cowardly young Robert MacNamara looking white guy) insists that diplomacy should be tried over force in the fight against the horribly powerful (until the ultimate showdown of course) bad robots (um I mean "Decepticons") and is therefore not only proving himself and Obama to be wimps but idiots as well.
The military, meanwhile, especially this special outfit that doesn't usually answer to anybody but their own sense of duty and comradeship, is always right and has to actually ignore the president's orders to save the world. Dangerous ideas to plant in the minds of teenage boys, I'd say, but planted they were.
How could the boys resist the mix of action (giant robots portraying a kind of armed conflict that is actually the arms themselves battling each other, and doing it with so little delineation it was difficult to tell not only what was happening but to whom or what) and simplistic representations of honor and duty and good (the military) and cowardliness and deception and evil (the Decepticons and Obama and his administration).
Especially when the plot makes it clear that nothing but foxes attend college and all they want is nerdy boys who play with computers and/or drive hot cars (the foxiest actually being on the side of the bad guys as played by Isabel Lucas, who even made Megan Fox look, uh, well, not quite as foxy).
This is one of the top grossing movies of all time already as I understand it, and the message is clear. Obama and those who work for him are misled wimps incapable of defending not only the USA but the entire jeopardized world so it's necessary for the military to act on its own and ignore him and his presidency and the democratic will of the voters [ala the recent military coup in Honduras or the use of the military, especially special units not beholden to the people, to defend the Mullah dictator and his puppet in Iran]!
And the even longer lasting message that only the military is capable of stopping the bad guys and defending all that is good against evil (the exact opposite of the lessons learned in Viet Nam and Iraq, i.e. the military alone cannot accomplish this but in fact only make matters worse, it takes diplomacy and infrastructure investment and the creation and/or shoring up of an independent judicial system and democratic institutions etc. to have any lasting impact, let alone even short term positive results.
I left the movie feeling down about all this, as even the teenage boys who were mocking it for being "cheesy" admitted (as one boy put it) "I'm not saying I don't like cheese."
[Forgot to mention that it's kind of racist as well, he military leaders all being white officers, their NCO loyal sidekicks black and the two comic-relief robots sound like stereotypical not-too-bright "black" buffoons.]