Title: Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Directed By: Michael Bay
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Patrick Dempsey, John Malkovich, Ken Jeong, Alan Tudyk, Frances McDormand
I love chocolate cake. When I eat too much chocolate cake, I feel sick and don’t love it much anymore. I like visually stimulating imagery in movies. When I see too much visually stimulating imagery, in 3D nonetheless, I feel sick and don’t love it much anymore. Hopefully Michael Bay doesn’t love chocolate cake as much as he loves tracking shots and dizzying robot battles or he’d have a morbidly obese problem on his hands.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon suggests that Apollo 11 really flew to the moon to investigate a mysterious spacecraft crash. Turns out, that spacecraft is from Cybertron and carries an Autobot technology with the power to save their race. However, years later, the government has neatly tucked away this little bit of info, and Optimus Prime, Bumblee and the other Autobots are committed to living on earth, assisting the US military.
Meanwhile, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is a recent college graduate trying to secure his first post-school job, but unfortunately, his Ivy League diploma and medal from the president don’t bear as much weight as he hopes. On the bright side, Sam had no trouble replacing Mikaela (Megan Fox) with yet another woman way out of his league, Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). She’s got a high-paying position working for Dylan (Patrick Dempsey), a car-collecting hotshot, who’s generous enough to give Carly a paycheck that supports both her and Sam. Believing this is no life for a former hero, Sam is desperate for the day he can jump back into the action with the Autobots and, thanks to a piece of that Cybertron spacecraft surfacing in Chernobyl, he’ll get that chance soon enough.
There is a through line there, but, ultimately, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is an incredibly confusing jumble of information and unnecessary side characters. The excess of expository voiceover winds up having a reverse effect; rather than helping the audience understand the details of the situation, we’re drowned in so much information, it all blurs into absolute nonsense. The opening sequence of the film is basically one big history lesson; Bay should have left it at that.
Luckily, before we dive back into examining the effects of this spacecraft stranded on the dark side of the moon, we get a bit of a breather courtesy of Sam’s usual antics. Minus the contrived new romance, Sam is basically the same high school kid we met in the first film and, thanks to LaBeouf’s prime comedic timing as well as some snappy editing, this portion of the piece is fast-paced and quite entertaining. However, when Sam’s amusing job hunt montage comes to an end and he finally lands a gig, that’s when things spiral incredibly out of control.
One of the film’s most shocking moments is when the credits roll and Ken Jeong and John Malkovich’s names pop up. Sure, their roles are the slightest bit amusing at the time, but, by the end, they’re entirely forgettable and insignificant to the plot. Alan Tudyk earns a few laughs as Simmons’ (John Turturro) sidekick, Dutch, but again, a part the film could have done without.
In terms of our female franchise newcomers, they receive the poorest treatment of them all. Frances McDormand’s Mearing is reduced to the cliché tough military woman, donning a manly suit, all-business attitude and constant scowl. On the other hand, her character does create the divide between Sam and the Autobots, one scenario that actually manages to become the slightest bit engaging and emotional. The saddest story in this film is poor Huntington-Whiteley. A model, Bay literally plucked her from the runway just so he can look up her skirt all day – via the camera, of course, as at least half of the shots of Carly are from the ground up. She is mere eye candy through and through and when Bay and writer, Ehren Kruger, actually give Carly something important to do, it’s so out of the blue and incredibly contrived, it’s downright absurd.
As for the Transformers vets, while everyone does give a valiant effort, at this point, they’re all mere caricatures of their former selves. Josh Duhamel’s Lennox barks orders and saves the day, Tyrese Gibson’s Epps packs some heavy artillery and his smooth swagger and Simmons is as obnoxious and now unfunny as ever. And poor LaBeouf, having to run around screaming like a madman for half of this film. Sam Witwicky has not grown in the least in terms of character development since the first film, which was a major problem with Revenge of the Fallen and an issue that desperately needed to be addressed here. Character arc doesn’t come from saving the day and winning the girl; he needs to change as a person and he doesn’t. Ultimately, he’s the same guy three times over fighting for some new obscure alien object, the All Spark, the Matrix of Leadership and now these bridge-building pillars.
Regardless of the lame story and characters, there’s no denying that Bay knows exactly what he’s doing when it comes to designing his visuals. The camera is incredibly active, constantly tilting up, panning, pushing or perhaps even a combination of the three. Then there’s the CGI and it’s absolutely pristine. The detail on the Transformers is gorgeous and all of the robot/human interaction looks incredibly realistic. The problem comes from having far too much of these good things. Even before the actual battles, the camera is so active, it’s dizzying. Plus, the value of those camera movements is almost entirely extinguished due to overuse. Ultimately, they become unmotivated tools with zero impact.
By the time we actually hit the fight sequences, your head is already spinning – or aching in my case. Then, in true franchise fashion, the action itself is such a blur, it’s often tough to tell which robot is fighting which. And we haven’t even gotten to the final battle in Chicago yet. That must have been about an hour of the same things over and over again – Sam, Carly and Epps’ men sliding down falling buildings, Lennox and his team gliding and parachuting in, mishmashes of Autobot/Decepticon combat. Sure, there are some absolutely beautiful frames in this material, but if you want to use slow motion to enhance them, you better pick a few to bestow that honor upon so as not to devalue the entire lot. But, no; we get them incessantly and rather than admire the stellar animation work, you can’t help but to giggle a bit.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon isn’t just a bad movie; it’s insultingly bad. How Bay can acquire this much money to not improve on the disastrous Revenge of the Fallen in the least is mindboggling. Dark of the Moon is another bloated and confusing adventure oozing with disorienting CGI action and one-dimensional characters. This better be the end of the Transformers franchise, otherwise Bay owes me a lifetime supply of Advil.
By Perri Nemiroff