Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

I want to start out by saying that this film defies any true sense of good or bad. I am writing this about an hour or so after leaving the theater, and my mind has still not settled from the assault that this movie is. If this movie is anything, it’s 95% pure Michael Bay.

Just as background, unlike a lot of other tentpole films this summer, I don’t have any strong connection to this franchise whatsoever. I don’t think I owned more than one or two of the toys as a kid (Ghostbusters, comic superheroes and Ninja Turtles dominated), and I don’t really ever remember watching the cartoon, either. So there really isn’t any sense of nostalgia here. I think the first film is a ton of fun, and a great story of ‘a boy and his car,’ while the second film is a colossal mess, and worse yet, laden with terrible attempts at humor.

As the third film in the franchise, the terribly-named Dark of the Moon dials everything up to maximum volume, except for the non-white stereotypes, which are largely absent (although a bunch of white ethnicities get the Bay humor treatment this time around). The key to the success of the first film was that story I alluded to earlier. The second and third films have an excess of plot, but neither has much story to tie it all together.

The second film, Revenge of the Fallen, suffered from being too convoluted. Thankfully, the third film’s plots are easier to follow, but the film never clearly lays out what any of the objectives are. We don’t even know what exactly the characters are attempting to accomplish, except on a scene-to-scene basis. This also saps the film of any sense of urgency, because we don’t know who is supposed to be doing what, and when. Or why.

The film meanders around for the first hour, with really only the latter hour and a half (yes, this is a two and a half hour plus film based on an 80s toy franchise) really trying to build anything. If Michael Bay was a worse director, I would assume that this was some kind of editing issue, but he is such a craftsman I can only believe this bizarre structure is a choice on his part.

Exacerbating all of these issues are the lack of characters in this film. Shia LeBeouf is actually pretty great as Sam Witwicky, and I really liked the opening plot of him trying to find a regular job after saving the world (twice). Other than that the only real characters in the film are the wonderful Bumblebee (pictured above, and the heart of the franchise) and Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots. Otherwise, everyone else is more or less an archetype either serving the purpose of plot or because they are from the first film. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley does a very serviceable job as Sam’s new girlfriend, and not giving her much to do enhanced her performance, I’m sure. Toward the end of the film, there is a scene in which the camera is locked on her for what feels like 5 minutes, and she just has a blank expression while things explode around her. It’s pretty awesome.

The attempts at humor are pervasive throughout the film, except for the over the top third (fourth? fifth?) act. The best line in the film is easily the random, “I don’t care about your exotic milk, Jerry. I just want some respect.” Said to Ken Joeng’s character, in what amounts to a strange cameo type appearance. Patrick Dempsey also does a good job with his role, and the always great Alan Tudyk plays Dutch, a hilariously awesome effeminate Germain spy/computer hacker.

And that’s the weird thing about this franchise. Despite the bizarre plotting, leaps of logic, lack of characters (I still can’t tell some of the robots apart), and high volume, I enjoyed the hell out of this movie. It’s extremely long run time didn’t even deter me. I was completely transfixed by the entire film.

This is a spectacle movie, and on that it absolutely delivers. I saw it in 3D IMAX, and holy crap! Not only was the sound and visuals stunning, but the 3D presentation was bright and well thought out. Bay definitely altered his kinetic shooting style for 3D, and it shows. This film had the most satisfying action sequences of the entire franchise, totally negating my biggest pet peeve with the two prior films.

In fact, this film is gorgeously shot from top to bottom, and Bay’s directing skills should never be called into question. Jeff Cannata of Totally Rad Show said it best in their review, “[Michael Bay] shoots his women like cars and his cars like women.” These were the most impressive special effects I’ve seen in quite a long time, and the first since The Matrix where I asked myself “how did they do that??

ANYWAY, I think you probably already know what you’re getting into with this movie, and if you want to see it, this is not one to miss in the theater. In 3D!