Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Review)
The third film in Michael Bay’s trilogy is frustrating, exhausting, and soulless, containing much of what might make a good film yet still falling short in every single category save for the action.
Michael Bay’s Transformers trilogy is an exercise in excess, in every way, shape, and form. Every character is an epic caricature–from Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBouf) as the ridiculously clumsy nerd, to Mikaela (Megan Fox) and now Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whitley) as the ridiculously hot girlfriends, to soldiers (Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson) being as macho-military-American as is humanly possible, to an endless parade of minorities doing nothing but aggressively display every single stereotype their race might represent. The peripheral characters are absurdly slapstick and over-the-top. The plots cover broad strokes of every Hollywood-ized twist and beat. And the action–oh, the action. The climaxes of each film place ungodly amounts of mayhem and destruction at center stage, decimating cities and causing obscene numbers of explosions. This excess brought in massive profits for the series, although when everything was cranked up again for the sequel Revenge of the Fallen, it was met with alarming fan and critic uproar. Finally taking the criticisms into consideration, Bay dials back the more irritating elements of his trilogy for a tighter, better, but still very flawed third installment.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon begins with a massive retcon of American history by revealing that the original Moon landing was in response to a ship that crashed on the surface. This ship was the last escape vehicle from Cybertron during the battle between the good Autobots and evil Decepticons that destroyed the planet. This ship carried both Sentinel Prime, Optimus Prime’s mentor, and a set of pillars that serve as teleportation devices between planets. Megatron, a shadow of his former self and very near death, has been plotting his new rise to power as ruler of Earth. Meanwhile, Sam Witwicky has a new girlfriend in Carly, though is unable to find a job fresh out of college as he simultaneously finds himself in a jealous competition with Carly’s boss, Dylan (Patrick Dempsey) over her affections. Then Chicago gets torn apart for an hour. That’s about all there is in terms of plot, although there are a couple of twists and betrayals I didn’t see coming.
Dark of the Moon features some truly abysmal pacing. The moon landing/”here’s what really happened” montage that opens the film is excruciatingly long, and followed by over an hour of absolutely nothing happening. Then there’s a short and exciting chase sequence, another long period of nothingness, and then a solid hour of action. Why Bay decided to hold off until the end to show any real action is a mystery, but I was getting extremely bored for a long while. Luckily, Bay really delivers here with some of the most impressive action I’ve seen in a long time. Chicago is practically leveled with countless explosions, brawls, and gunfights. There’s literally so much going on in this last hour it’s impossible to put it into words here. It almost never lets up, each scene leading almost seamlessly into the next, with massive action setpieces stacking on top of one another. It’s absurd, loud, and jaw-dropping. Unfortunately, an entire hour of nonstop action is a long time, and it actually started to wear on me. Bay pounds his audience into submission with eardrum-shattering destruction. It’s good action–really good, at times, even–but I was numb after about a half hour of it.
Credit is due, however, to the special effects team. There are some fantastic-looking effects shots in this film, most notably the one featured in the trailer (with the giant worm Transformer cutting the skyscraper in half), as well as a extended sequence with several soldiers with gliding suits weaving in and out of buildings as Decepticons chase after them. Everything looks crisp, bright, and colorful, and Michael Bay has even managed to slightly brighten the characteristically dark picture that 3D movies usually have. It still looks a little dark occasionally, but it’s a huge step in the right direction. And speaking of 3D, it’s not half bad here. Honestly, it’s not a movie that needs to be seen in that format, and there were certainly times where I completely forgot it was there. Other times, it looked pretty good and seemed to feature what James Cameron originally envisioned for the format. It provides some depth to some of the images and gives a nice sense of perspective to the longer shots. One hidden benefit of the format is that for the 3D to really come off strong, shots need to be sustained for a couple of seconds. This forces Bay to dial back his split-second editing a bit, and the picture is better for it. It’s more coherent, and less chaotic. It’s less of a chore to try to follow. Honestly, if you love the Transformers series, go ahead and spring for the 3D–you’ll like it.
There is a great segment in Dark of the Moon when the Decepticons touch down on Earth en masse, and immediately begin attacking civilians. The extended sequence is dark, thrilling, and upsetting, and the ensuing robot-on-robot violence is extraordinarily brutal. It’s a glimpse of what this franchise could have been. Then, it turns around again and returns to the immature, irritating humor that characterizes the trilogy. I don’t hate all of Bay’s movies; Bad Boys I & II and The Rock are fantastic action movies. Bay’s playful style just doesn’t gel with a series about giant robots that kill each other. It’s better than the other two films, but it’s still not great enough to change the mind of anyone who dislikes the series. At the same time, fans of the franchise will find themselves very much entertained. It’s pretty much more of the same, for better or for worse.
Score: ** (out of 5)
Rated: PG-13 for intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality and innuendo