It’s time for some “real talk”, guys. I can’t think of any other way to approach this review. I will keep it brief since Transformers: Dark of the Moon director Michael Bay can’t seem to do it himself. Do you just want to see some shit blow up? If you answered in the affirmative, then you will probably greatly enjoy this film a whole lot more than the second entry in the franchise since you will actually be able to SEE what is happening for a change. Everyone else looking for anything more than that can look elsewhere because that is all you are going to get from this astoundingly pretty, but astoundingly empty, incoherent, nonsensical and excessive film.
I know, Michael Bay made an excessive film? “The hell?”, you say with all the incredulity in the world. It isn’t exactly a good thing or a bad thing. In fact, I am struggling at the moment with what I even thought of the film. Quite frankly, this film might have broken my brain entirely. Again, that isn’t a good or a bad thing. While there is some undeniable entertainment value in the third film in the Transformers franchise, there is so much about it that I detested and made me want to gnaw my own hands off. One moment I openly wanted to stab myself in the chest with my pen, and then the next moment I was just in awe with the sheer spectacle of what I was seeing. Uneven doesn’t begin to cover this film, nor does any synonym for it.
The story at the heart of Dark of the Moon really isn’t a bad one in theory, but it is botched in terms of practice and common sense. It turns out that the Apollo 11 mission was actually a cover by the United States government to retrieve pieces of an alien craft that crashed into the moon. On this ship was Sentinel Prime (voiced by Leonard Nimoy), one of the good guy Autobots, who was protecting a bunch of pillars that could resurrect the home planet of these robots in disguise. Or something like that. I can’t fully distill the plot of this movie into words (and writer Ehren Kruger seems to have a Joe Eszterhas-like level of not caring to deliver a coherent story or even a single line of believable dialogue), but apparently something really terrible will happen if the evil Decepticons get their hands on them. Like, something that could destroy the Earth by letting them land their planet on top of ours and could lead to the enslavement of the human race. All of this really puts a dent into the life of the unassuming hero of the series, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) who is just trying to get a post-university job, gain some respect for saving the world twice before, and is trying to keep his new girlfriend (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, an actual big step down from Megan Fox, but at least a different character) from running away with her sleazy car collector boss (Patrick Dempsey, who is having more fun on screen being a jerk than should be legally allowed).
Let’s start with the negatives first. This movie is stupid. Absolutely 1,010% brainless with not a single thing that makes a lick of sense even in a fantasy realm. The plot is so nonsensical and illogical that it’s almost a work of art. The film continues with Bay’s need to fetishize right wing American gung-ho ideals (Hi there, Bill O’Reilly cameo!) while pontificating endlessly about the true nature of freedom and how the military is the only hope the Western world has. Bay still hasn’t lost his knack for filming a woman’s ass with a tight close up, and the violence on display here is pretty depressing if one stops to think of the mechanics behind it. It doesn’t matter if a robot or a human is being taken out, but they are almost undoubtedly beheaded or killed with a point blank head shot after being tortured first. It doesn’t help that the film’s first hour (of its completely unnecessary two hour and forty minute running time) is deathly dull and largely devoid of anything special. Oh, and the racism that many people claim marred the second film is still largely on display, but this time instead of jive talking robots, they all have European accents, so that makes it, you know, all good, right? Oh, and there is an astoundingly unfunny gay panic scene with cinema’s current favourite gay panic Asian Ken Jeong (playing a guy named Wang!), who needs to stop taking roles like this before he loses what little of the Community-based good will that I have for him.
Let’s move on to the positives. This film is stupid. It is absolutely in love with how incredibly stupid it is and revels in knowing that the audience just wants to see robots fighting, buildings crumbling, and things just blowing up all over the place. Bay, who is actually an auteur when it comes to this kind of film, is back in full Bad Boys 2 mode when it comes to the action set pieces, and his filmmaking has astoundingly improved. A lot of Bay’s newfound technical prowess actually comes from the fact that he was working with 3D cameras this time around. While it is debatable if this film really even needs the 3D, it forced the director to not adopt his usual quick cutting style. The end result is a Transformers film where one can actually see the robots in great detail for longer takes that don’t cut away immediately. Some of the fight sequences are still a blur of metal and blood-like oil spraying about, but for the most part, the action is top notch. The effects department and the stunt guys seem to have worked overtime to avoid the visual pandemonium of the previous film. The story is patently ridiculous, but it still manages a few clever twists along the way that up the stakes considerably. It helps that the cast all seem to know exactly what kind of film they are in. In addition to returning faces like LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, and John Turturro (who goes even further off the deep end with his character here, complete with a bodyguard played by an underutilized Alan Tudyk), there are some great supporting performances from series newcomers Frances McDormand (as an NSA operative) and John Malkovich (as Sam’s new boss). The film also ends on a resolute note that is refreshing despite the chuckle worthy speech at the end of the film.
On one hand, the hand that controls my sense of logic and good taste, Dark of the Moon is one of the absolute worst things I have seen in years that simultaneously offended and saddened me. On the other hand, the one that absolutely loves cheesy action films and deep down gets some sort of sick pleasure out of seeing Michael Bay bring his A-game, Dark of the Moon is one of the most entertaining films of the summer. Looking for anything remotely resembling “good” would be asking a lot of this film. Don’t go in expecting anything close to “quality.” If you are looking for something that is “fun” or are looking for something to watch while on a sugar high, in the middle of an alcoholic bender, or while doing peyote, this is the greatest movie ever made.