The news surrounding Transformers: Dark of the Moon has focused as much on the dispute between former leading lady Megan Fox and director Michael Bay as it has on the actual film. Even though Fox’s expressions were less than eloquent, and the terms she decided to use were reprehensible, Transformers 3 demonstrates that there is validity to her point about Bay portraying women in a negative light. While I wouldn’t go as far as to call him misogynistic, here are some observations on the film that outline his one-dimensional portrayal of women. (warning: this will obviously entail a few details on the plot, so don’t read on if you don’t want to be spoilered).
The film starts off with a long tracking shot of Rosie Huntington-Whitely’s tanned and toned derriere walking up a flight of stairs. She is Sam’s new girlfriend—the only explanation for the complete absence of Fox’s Michaela is that Michaela “couldn’t deal with it” and left. The first scene also shows that Sam is annoyed that Carly has to provide for him, her “American boy-toy.” He is desperately looking for a job to cover his half of the rent, and the role-reversal is making him so grumpy that Carly readily offers to reward his job of keeping an eye on the house with non-monetary pleasures.
Carly—who despite her obviously mediocre intellectual capacities allegedly worked for the British embassy—now works for Dylan Gould (Patrick Dempsey) at his expensive car collection gallery. It is obvious from the start that she is her boss’ object of desire. All of the pictures in his gallery are of him with Carly, she makes an insane amount of money for what seems to be little work, and he lovingly calls her “Duchess.” Sam immediately feels threatened by Gould, and throws a tantrum because he feels emasculated by Gould’s looks, car, and wealth. Gould later physically takes possession of Carly as well—the connotations of rape are hard to miss when she sits pinned-down in a car with the tentacles of a small Decepticon, commanded by Gould, touching her all over her body, stroking her hair and caressing her cheek.
Once the Decepticons commence their attack on the US, she falls into the role of damsel in distress. Sam rescues her from a building, rescues her from falling off a building, rescues her from a Decepticon or two, and tells her to sit and wait. Amidst the total destruction in Chicago, there she stands on a pile of concrete and metal: Carly, still dressed in an impeccably white ensemble, with flawless makeup, and her heels firmly on her feet. She is pouting her lips, the camera zooms in on her for a good ten seconds, and then she says: nothing. There are a lot of completely unnecessary shots in the film, most of them of Carly giving her already infamous pout. In the end, Carly has a good heart-to-heart with Megatron, but that is the only time we see her embarking upon an action of her own.
The second female character with considerable screen time is Charlotte Mearing, Chief of Intelligence (Frances McDormand). Sure enough, this is a high function for a woman, but Bay manages to quickly reduce her from authoritative commander to clueless commodity. Not only does her decision to assert her authority against Sam and other civilians trying to mingle in classified state-business leads to a near destruction of the world, her authority is further undermined by the hint of a rendez-vous with agent Seymour Simmons. “Your butt is looking excellente,” Agent Simmons tells her when they meet on the base as she is discussing important strategic intelligence. During the credits, Simmons pulls Mearing on his lap and kisses her. Her smile is broad, her hair is down rather than up as in the rest of the film, and everything about the scene suggests that this is exactly what uptight and professional Mearing needed.
Of course there’s still Sam’s mom, as overprotective as ever. Her advice to Sam that a “woman comes first” (on a sexual level)is framed to draw laughs from the audience, and the character never transcends the ’embarrassing mother’-stereotype.
Another indicator concerns Bay’s selection of leading ladies as such. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is not the best actress (and that’s putting it mildly). Her facial expressions range from pouted lips to, well, insanely pouted lips, and she is savaged in nearly every review. Megan Fox wasn’t the best actress either, yet this is exactly what three crew members called her out on when they defended Bay against her accusations in an anonymous letter: “Yes we’ve had the unbearable time of watching her try to act on set, and yes, it’s very cringe-able,” they wrote. But that actually does nothing to defend Bay. It only suggests that he hired Fox for other reasons than her acting skills. There is nothing wrong with hiring an attractive female lead, but it becomes problematic when it is painfully obvious that looks really are the person’s main gift. Huntington-Whiteley may be an excellent Victoria’s Secret model, but there must have been better actresses auditioning for the part.
“Dare lecture me, slave?” Megatron asks Carly towards the end of the film. With all of the news surrounding the very public dispute between Bay and Fox, one cannot help but to think of their relationship when Megatron utters these words. This is not to say that I didn’t enjoy the film: the visuals are spectacular, there is more humor than in the previous two films, and Bay delivers exactly what viewers will expect after the first two. It’s just a shame that these expectations cannot include a more diversified portrayal of women when his name is on the credits.