In a few hours, it won’t matter anymore. At least that’s the hope. In a few days, the world of movie punditry will have moved on to Shield-wielding Americans and broody kids with wands. We won’t even remember why we were so worked up in the first place. But for the moment, the noise around Michael Bay and the Transformers franchise is at an all-time high. You’d think that we’d be talking about the merits (or lack thereof) of the latest entry, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, or the legacy-to-be of one of the most successful film franchises of the modern era. No, there’s little talk about the trilogy’s place. We still can’t get over the fact that Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen broke our critical hearts. After 2007’s Transformers earned Michael Bay his second most critically acclaimed film (57% on Rotten Tomatoes), the second film was trounced by the media. 20% Rotten, a big sweaty mess of excess. You know the story. We’ve been talking about it ever since. And I’m here today to tell you, dear friends, that it’s time to let it go.
An emotional breakthrough of this scale is going to take some perspective. It’s disheartening to see so much lingering concern in the media, despite the publicity blitzkrieg put on by the film’s stars and director. Even before a third film went into production, the likes of Bay and Shia LaBeouf were admitting that Transformers 2 was not their finest moment. Recently, at the junket for Dark of the Moon, a smarmy journalist asked Bay “if he was afraid the new film would be another poorly reviewed mess.”
“Your comment is a little insulting to the artists who worked on this,” Bay fired back. “The movie did make a lot of money. I admit it’s not one of my better films. It’s by far not the worst film ever made; that’s just false.” And he’s right. Even though Revenge of the Fallen earned a 20% rating from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s not the worst film ever. It’s not even Bay’s worst film by any means, if we’re counting the horror that was Pearl Harbor. If we pause for a moment, lets acknowledge something special that’s happening — a big time, ego-maniacal director like Michael Bay admiting that his movie wasn’t that good. The rules of overblown ego don’t allow for such things. It shows a level of self-awareness and maturity not associated previously with Bay.
“We made some mistakes,” he told Empire Magazine earlier this year. And he’s right, mistakes were made. While Revenge of the Fallen didn’t lose any of the visual spectacle established in the first film, it lost almost all of the charm. From racist stereotype-bots to giant robot testicles, Revenge got a lot of things wrong. And while critics (including the ones on this very site) were quick to point out every single one of the mistakes, the other reason we’re going to let this one go is because all of those mistakes seem to have fallen on deaf ears with actual moviegoers. Next to the 20% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, we find another interesting statistic: 3.8 million users of the Flixter service rated Revenge, 76% of them giving it a positive rating. They also collectively gave Paramount and Dreamworks $836 million dollars in worldwide box office receipts. As Bay explains, a “movie doesn’t make $835 million being the worst film.” Sure, bad movies can make money. But you don’t get that much money without getting a few repeat customers.
The final reason to simply let it go: because we can’t allow Revenge of the Fallen to soil the experience we might be about to have with Dark of the Moon. Having not seen the film yet, I’m going out on a limb here. But what if Dark of the Moon is as good as some are saying? What if Michael Bay has done as he said and fixed the mistakes that were made the last time around? What if he’s harnessed the power of 3D and delivered the next level of Bayhem? Will we truly be able to enjoy it if we’re still sore from the second film?
Personally, I will be sitting down to see, then subsequently review Transformers: Dark of the Moon this evening. As an unapologetic fan of Bay’s commitment to excess, I’m excited. I’m excited about the hope presented in a situation where a director is listening to fans and critics. He’s a man with something to prove to us, that Revenge of the Fallen was a mistake, but a mistake that can be corrected with this latest film. For two years, Bay has seemed like a man on a mission to show us that he’s better than his last film. And I find that to be a fascinating proposition, the result of which is far more interesting than “just another movie about giant robots.” But it shouldn’t be the entire equation. Because while mistakes have been made, the magical element of this entire situation is that mistakes were acknowledged. And for that, the team behind Transformers deserves some credit. And in the least, they deserve us to walk in to Dark of the Moon hopeful that we’re about to have a good time, not overwhelmed by the cynicism left over from a film released two years ago. For me, there’s reason only for optimism at this point. Perhaps finally Michael Bay will prove to us that his Transformers franchise can deliver an experience consistent with the ever-escalating expectations of its fans. Or maybe it will be just be a good time, with some “wow” moments. I’d enjoy that, as well.