Spectatorship – Michael Bay’s Transformers

Since its conceptualisation, Laura Mulvey’s critique of the male gaze and its visual pleasures for cinema spectators has been a springboard for much feminist film criticism since 1975 (Mulvey 1994, 19).

The theories of Mulvey are still relevant today and can be seen being represented in many films and franchises. One director in particular; Michael bay who has become infamously known for his use of sexualised female characters, product placements and explosive action sequences, controversially presents the male glaze throughout the transformers franchise (M. Bay 2009-present).

Within in films Michael Bay presents a sexist representation, as he always includes sexualised lead female characters who are love interests for main protagonist Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf). In the first instalment Sam is stranded on the side of the rode with a broken car, Mikaela having left and dumped her jock boyfriend offers to help repair his car. Sam Witwicky is the positioned as “the masculine spectator” (Mulvey 1994, p 20) as he heavily focuses on Mikaela’s bend over body fixing the hood his car. Michael Bay direction also highlights this as he uses “a selection of shots, close-ups and angles” (Mulvey 1994), when focusing on Mikaela cleavage, curves and buttocks. Likewise, the second instalment includes a scene of Mikael placed on top of a motorcycle that she’s repairing, with the camera zooming and focusing on her legs and tightly worn shirt and top.

With the characters and love interests of the first three instalments of Transformers, it not just Sam Witwicky who the masculine spectator but it can also be shown to be young teenaged males of the audience that are masculine spectators since they are enjoying watching attractive girls being placed new fancy sport cars. However, with the fourth instalment (Age of Extinction: 2014), director Michael Bay controversially depicts female lead (Nicola Peltz), which may raise strong debates about spectatorship and the male gaze. While on the run from federal agents, Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) and daughter Tessa Yeager, are rescued by her boyfriend Joshua Joyce (Jack Reynor).



The scene in which Cade Yeager first meets her daughter boyfriend he disapproves of the relationship between them as she is 17-years-old therefore underage to be dating the 20-year-old. If viewed male spectators may decide to take what Mulvey describes, a “passive spectatorship” (Mulvey 1994), since the scene in question can be viewed as being inappropriate on Michael bay’s part, however with his typical choice and casting of an attractive female actress, male spectators have the “privilege of invisibility of looking without themselves being looked at” (Mulvey 1994, p 21)

Comparisons can be made with and another popular franchise featuring the same element of cars. The fast and furious franchise (Multiple 2001-present), presents a male gaze through its representation of muscle sport cars and high octane action sequences. The film presents female characters (Michelle Rodriguez, Jordanna Brewster, Gal Gadot) who although are sexualized, are presented as strong and empowered who can keep up with the male characters. With these characters a female spectatorship is created by women in the audience who bring “their particular history and social identity” (Mulvey 1994, p 22)



Stacey, J. ‘From the Male Gaze to the Female Spectator’ In Star Gazing: Hollywood Cinema and Female Spectatorship. London, New York: Routledge, pp. 19-48


Transformers franchise. (2009-present) Dir. M. Bay. [Film] USA: Paramount Pictures

Fast and Furious franchise. (2001-Present) Dir. Multiple. USA: Universal Studios




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