The Transformers series can simply be seen as teenage fun, complete with battling robots, gorgeous women and shiny sports cars, however beneath the surface, Michael Bay blockbusters are a powerful messaging vehicle for the US military. Transformers 2 was the biggest joint military operation movie ever made and the narrative develops further with the latest installment.
Indeed hidden within the clash of metal and the rattle of gunfire, the film's central message concerns the dangers of America feeling too secure in the post-bin Laden era and in particular warns against any significant mothballing of the military. Much of the two and a half hours of action could come straight out of military recruitment films. The Pentagon, one of Hollywood's biggest players, gave Bay access to a host of boy's toys allowing a tour de force of US military hardware including tomahawk missiles, surveillance drones, Osprey aircrafts and of course heroic Navy Seals.
After filming Transformers 2, Bay gushed about how for one scene "authentic military personnel were hired to show just how they might actually handle an over-the-top situation like an alien robot invasion". This particular scene involved enough US military firepower to invade a small country including two A-10 Thunderbolt II 'Warthog' jets, six F-16 Fighting Falcons, 10 Humvees, two M1 Abrams tanks, two Bradley tanks, two missile-launcher vehicles, two armored personnel carriers and the Army's Golden Knights parachute team.
What essentially amounts as military propaganda is then placed into an overtly patriotic narrative of our times. Bizarrely the film starts with the good robots, without intergalactic enemies to pursue, deciding to pursue US foreign policy objectives -- joining the War on Terror by taking out a suspected Iranian nuclear facility. The appearance of Buzz Aldrin and a collage of real and fictional segments from the moon landing simply pours more flag waving treacle onto the audience.
The trilogy of films has brought close to $2 billion in revenue so far, and with the Pentagon facing having to make savings of $78 billion over the next five years, its messages are a constant reminder of eternal vigilance and not letting your guard down for a minute. One of its central set pieces is based in a collapsing skyscraper in Chicago, a scene that unashamedly evokes memories of the fall of the Twin Towers. Meanwhile the hero, Sam WitWicky, may have saved the world twice but that means nothing, symbolized by his inability to even get a job. Indeed WitWicky's unemployed Ivy League student status links to a greater idea that he should join the military's fight in a 'your country needs you' moment, as he prepares again to sacrifice himself to save others.
Truly there is more to Transformers than meets the eye.