Michael Bay’s Transformers was a fun film. It was silly but nevertheless, an engaging summer blockbuster. Its sequel Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, on the other hand, was and still is one of the worst films I have ever voluntarily paid money to see. Unbearably stupid, unnecessarily long and incoherent, it was the worst three hours I spent at the movies in 2009. In my original review of the film, I called it “the cinematic equivalent of a chorus of donkeys braying ‘Auld Lang Syne’ at a slaughterhouse!”
The best thing I can say about Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the supposed last film in the Transformers franchise, is that it’s a far more tolerable film than its predecessor. Then again, Bay would have to have the mindset of M. Night Shyamalan to release a movie worse than Revenge of the Fallen this soon. For the most part, Bay has eradicated many of the grating problems that plagued that turd of a second film. Gone are the buck-toothed racist robots twins; there aren’t any gratuitous shots of robot balls; no premature visits to robot heaven; and thankfully there aren’t any little robots humping Megan Fox either because she’s gone too (we don’t miss her). Even Sam’s parents have been reduced to little more than cameos. Despite the cleanups, Dark of the Moon, like its predecessor, is extremely long (its 150 minutes feel like 350), soulless, extremely loud and just… exhausting.
Like the first two films, the plot of this one also involves Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf in tool mode) going through an emotional crisis. In the first, it was high school; then, it was college; this time, it’s finding a job. Maybe in the next, it’ll be getting a divorce. As in the previous two movies, it’s all thrown aside when those big effing robots decide to bring their war to town. Then it’s up to him and a rag tag group of stock military characters to run around screaming, shooting at God knows what as the robots destroy everything, including a landmark or two. But don’t worry, nobody knows the Transformers exist.
As seen in a nifty prologue featuring a clever mix of CGI and archived footage, the robot war was commuted from Cybertron to Earth when a spacecraft carrying Sentinal Prime (voiced by Leonard Nimoy), crashes on the moon in 1963, thus igniting the space race. Turns out, the entire mission behind Apollo 11 was to uncover the crash with Kennedy, Nixon, Armstrong and Aldrin, all being in on it (Aldrin even makes a cameo). Flash forward to present day and Sam is struggling with his job hunt. His new girlfriend Carly (model Rosie Huntington-Whitely who makes her big-screen debut via the most shamelessly gratuitous shot of the year) brings in the paychecks while Sam mopes about her close relationship with her accountant boss Dylan Gould (Patrick Dempsey playing McSleazy).
After an hour’s worth of asinine comedy and supposed character build-up (every minute of story is punctuated by two minutes of requisite explosions and three of juvenile comedy geared to pimple-popping teens), the “plot” finally kicks into gear for half an hour before making Bay makes way for slow-motion, explosions, sunsets, 180 degree pan-shots, explosions, a lot of over-acting, explosions, screaming, robots fighting, explosions, gratuitous shots of Rosie Huntington Whitely, and explosions. In other words – a mouth-breather’s wet dream.
While it’s easy to trash talk Michael Bay, I’ll give him credit for being a master technician. When it comes to destruction porn, he has no peer. Dark of the Moon is beset with some of the most jaw-dropping scenes I’ve ever seen in an action movie. Most of these come during the hour-long (yes, hour long) finale of the film where the Autobots and Decepticons blow poor Chicago to rubble (I guess New York and L.A. had enough of Bay). A sequence where a colossal transformer named Shockwave cuts a building in half while the human characters scramble from floor to floor in the collapsing building is eye-popping spectacle while a scene showcasing soldiers diving out from a crashing helicopter is an eye massage. There’s also a frenetic car chase sequence (a Bay staple) that makes good use of all the unsold clunkers from last year’s Labor day sale while simultaneously putting LeBeuof’s screaming abilities to a test. Best of all, for the first time since Avatar, a live-action movie looks damn good in 3-D.
The problem is after two movies of the same robot-on-robot destruction, I’ve become desensitized. Fine, it’s pretty cool at first, even for the first 20 minutes of continuous action. However, after two hours of being hammered in the head with Optimus destroying nameless Decepticons over and over again, it translates to white noise. I get this is a Transformers movie and I should go in expecting a fun time but are engaging characters that aren’t clichés and a story that’s interesting too much to ask for? Constant action only works when I give a damn about the characters. Give me a reason to fear for the lives of these people (or robots) and I’m game. If all we get is the unlikeable Sam (who everyone knows is a metallic tool in disguise), the supermodel chick (another robot) plus two-dimensional Col. Whatshisface (Josh Duhamel), Sgt. Saywhatnow (Tyrese Gibson) and a bunch of stock characters filled out by Oscar winners/nominees cashing paychecks (Frances McDormand, John Malkovich), gifted character actors (John Turturro, Alan Tudyk) and annoying comedians (Ken Jeong), then please pass me the Ketamine.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon is definitely more watchable than Revenge of the Fallen. The action sequences that director Michael Bay orchestrates in this film are some of the most elaborate and stunningly executed sequences I’ve seen. But for all the explosions and screaming, there has to be a vested interest in the characters we watch, even if it is a Transformers movie. A wafer-thin plot, stock characters and a bloated running time simply doesn’t cut it. Watch it if you’re in love with these movies. If you hated the last one, chances are you’re not going to like this either.
3-D: Bay got it right. The 3-D is definitely worth it.