I was wrong about Michael Bay. The overblown explosions, the leering, the jingoistic Hoo-Ra. What I suspected was classic case of overcompensation actually has nothing to do with his tiny penis, as I’d argued in the Revenge of the Fallen review. Now that I have two more years of parenting experience under my belt, it’s easier to see what’s at play. All the telltale signs are evident in this third Transformers movie, clear to anyone who has raised a child: Michael Bay has childhood behavioral disorder. It’s a phase most toddlers go through between the ages of one and a half and three, and Dark of the Moon is a product of that behavior. As Dr. Tovah Klein, the director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development, writes, “It might be seen as bizarre by somebody who doesn’t know kids, but to a toddler, it [makes] a lot of sense.”
Typically during this period, “being destructive is part of being constructive.” Children are exploring their curiosity. They are egocentric individuals; “they have no sense that anyone or anything else in the world has needs different from their own.” They have no sense of consequences. They don’t comprehend that, if something breaks, they can’t play with it. They only think, “Cool! This makes noise.” (*bang* *bang* *bang) Children at this age lack simple impulse control.
Dark of the Moon is precisely the kind of film you’d expect from an egocentric toddler who lacks impulse control. Lil’ Mikey bangs his expensive toys together, not because it makes narrative sense, but because he likes the sounds they make. He doesn’t understand consequences, and for a overgrown child with unlimited resources, he can continue to destroy his toys knowing that his enabling Mommy will simply buy him more. With the help of $200 million and skilled technicians, he’s brought his imaginary chaotic world to life — here represented by Chicago — and like most two-year-old toddlers who build block towers, he gets off on crashing them. Likewise, his supporting cast — his army soldiers, his dolls, and his Playmobil figures — doesn’t exist to move the action; they exist only to witness his destruction.
In Dark of the Moon, we have Bay’s fast-talking fuzzy Teddy Bear, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), an unemployed college graduate searching for a new job. He’s in a new relationship with Bay’s porn-lipped Barbie doll, Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), who he met while accepting a Presidential Medal of Honor. (Lil’ Mikey often gawks at Carly’s breast, but that type of mammary infatuation is normal for toddlers.) Carly works for Dylan (Patrick Dempsey), the evil Ken doll who collects automobiles and is in cahoots with the Decepticons. The Autobots, meanwhile, have been helping the toy soldiers protect the planet since the events of Revenge of the Fallen.
But Lil’ Mikey doesn’t understand that history is fixed. In his unformed mind, he can do with it what he wants, so he revises the history of the NASA Space Program, starting with Kennedy and enrolling the likes of Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, and Richard Nixon, to create a world in which the race to the moon was secretly a race with the Russians to bring Sentinel Prime (voiced by Leonard Nimoy) back to Earth. Somehow doing so pits the outnumbered Autobots against the Decipticons over control of the planet. The hows and whys of that don’t really exist, but logical connections aren’t exactly the strong suit of the typical two-year-old’s mind.
In addition to bringing back some old toys (Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel, and John Turturro’s Simmons, now a Transformers’ conspiracy theorist), Bay also takes some toys away from the smarter kids, like Frances McDormand (as head of the toy soldiers), John Malkovich (as the CEO of the company that Sam works at, briefly) and Ken Jeong. Periodically throughout his exhausting play-time, Bay pulls their strings and watches them deliver their programmed lines before getting bored and going back to the tenuously related destruction of his robots. It’s a shame, too, because those three — plus a toy he stole from Joss Whedon, Alan Tudyk — are the only characters who bring any life whatsoever to Bay’s world.
As Dr Klein writes about the the actions of children in the stage of development that Bay is trapped in, “Just because it’s doable doesn’t mean it has to be done.” Exploration has its limits. “They need to throw, but [it would be] mayhem if they were allowed to throw things all over the place.” Michael Bay doesn’t understand limits. He’s externalizing his bad behavior, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon is the consequence of his destructive tendencies.
However, it is important for Lil’ Mikey’s growth and development that he be encouraged to use his words. In a small respect, Bay has made some progress there since Revenge of the Fallen. He’s vocalizing. There’s a story here — it’s not a good one, and it doesn’t make any sense, but he’s making an attempt to verbalize. He’s also showing off, which actually shows some developmental progress, as well. He’s beginning to understand that there’s an audience, so he’s slowed the action so that we can more clearly witness his destruction. He still does not, unfortunately, grasp the concept of time: A 160-minute movie might be a sign of arrogance for more mature filmmakers. For Lil’ Mikey, it’s indulgence. He has more toys to destroy, and it takes longer to do so. We are the unfortunate captives at his multiplex birthday party.
Therein lies the problem, and the problem with negative reviews of Dark Side of the Moon. “You don’t want to shame them or make them feel bad for doing it,” writes Dr. Klein. That only draws attention to Lil Mikey’s bad behavior. That’s Parenting 101. “Children learn by modeling, and if parents yell and scream when they are mad, toddlers - who don’t necessarily have the verbal skills to do yelling and screaming - may start tearing things up or becoming more destructive,” writes Dr. Linda Sonna, author of The Everything Toddler Book. We must ignore the bad behavior in order to see results. Lil’ Mikey Bay is a talented filmmaker with a tiny, unformed mind. If we were to encourage him to redirect those skills and resources into something more productive, maybe Mikey might stop stealing our money and start playing better with others.
(Background Research and Quotes Available at ToddlersToday.com)