Transformers – Dark Of The Moon (*½)


The "Transformers" franchise continues its slow decline into bad movie-ville...

When a director admits that a film he made was “crap” or that the process in completing the film was “a BS way to make a movie…”, you kind of have to take notice. These words come from director Michael Bay and he was referring to 2009′s “Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen”, one of the biggest grossing films and sequels ever made ($402.1 million grossed domestically and $836 million taken in worldwide), and one of the most panned and belittled films of recent memory. For awhile, Bay heralded the film but along the way his tone shifted to one of apologetic, second chance-speak and “I’ll do better” mantras to the press. For a man branded as one of the most egotistical filmmakers around, his reflections on the second “Transformers” was rather unique, for lack of a better term.

So, two years removed from that massive success, Bay and lead actor Shia LaBeouf have publicly proclaimed a leaner, better, and more impressive “Transformers” this time around. LaBeouf has admitted that Bay’s second “Transformers” film was something he found to be “utter chaos” to work on and “completely indecipherable” to watch.” Hmmm. And so…believing that Bay and his team and LaBeouf and writer Ehren Kruger have clicked and are all on the same page, we have the third (and final?) “Transformers” epic – “Transformers: Dark Of The Moon”.

And yes, this film is better…and still not any good at all.

In this installment, we learn that the famed and historical 1969 Apollo 11 mission to the Moon was not simply to send a man to the Moon in the space race with Russia, but rather it was to uncover something much more top secret and problematic. Several years previously, NASA officials detected something crashing into the Moon, but failed to get a read on what caused the impact. With the United States space program in full effect, Apollo 11′s mission was to secretly collect samples of the crashed ship, later identified as The Ark, and return back to Earth for NASA to analyze the findings.

On board The Ark was a robot known as Sentinel Prime (voiced by Leonard Nimoy), brother to Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen). Sentinel Prime was transporting “Pillars”, devices which would offer his home country of Cybertron a chance to survive the devastating wars that had reduced his race and his country to near extinction. These “Pillars”, when utilized, create a portal which allows a space highway of sorts to exist and thus, allows matter to flow from one place to another. Jumping forward to the mid-1980s, we learn that the devastating nuclear accident in Chernobyl, Russia in 1986 was caused by the Russians possession and use of a fuel cell from The Ark, which Russian cosmonauts had recovered and brought back home from the dark (side) of the Moon. This revelatory discovery in modern day calls into question a truce and working arrangement with the United States government and the good-guy Autobots, led by Optimus Prime, now co-existing with humans and living here on Earth.

Our hero from the first two films, Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf), has graduated from college but sits unemployed. He is sharing an apartment with his new girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in her feature film debut) and is bemoaning his inabilities to find work. Carly has a increasingly lucrative job as an executive assistant to a ridiculously wealthy financial mogul, Dylan (Patrick Dempsey). Dylan has designs on Carly, which Carly deflects away, but Sam sees through Dylan’s overtures. Most distressing to Sam, however, is the immediate news that his parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White) are coming to visit and despite saving the world twice and receiving a Presidential Medal of Honor from President Obama, Sam is worried that his parents will think he is a failure. Mmmkay.

After several failed job interviews, Sam meets up with the disarmingly odd Bruce Brazos (John Malkovich), who offers him a job in a corporate mail room. Insulted by the offer, Sam reaches his breaking point and lashes out at Brazos, who tells Sam that he likes what he sees in him and the mail room is only the beginning of what could be a successful career for Sam with the corporation. Sam accepts the position and soon thereafter is targeted by an equally strange co-worker Jerry Wang (Ken Jeong). Wang recognizes Sam and has been investigating conspiracy theories related to the Autobots, the Decepticons, and the government’s top secret involvement with each. One afternoon, as Jerry shares his information with Sam, their office comes under sudden and surprise attack when a Decepticon arrives and
kills Jerry and several of Sam’s co-workers. Sam is suddenly faced with the reality that the Decepticons are back and yet another war between the human race, the Autobots, and the Decepticons is set to unfold and he is smack dab in the middle of all of it once again.

There is a lot more to this story, however it is so convoluted that it wastes time digging into. Government officials, current and retired get involved, some of Sam’s old military buddies from the previous films make a fighting return. Michael Bay has commissioned a credible supporting cast and has attempted to streamline the presentation and storyline, so we can better identify who the Autobots are, who the Decepticons are, and the role all play in the “Transformers” movie universe. But largely because he is Michael Bay at the end of the day, his attempt at such revision has led to his adding more cast and padding the film out to the longest running time yet. Sigh.

“Transformers: Dark Of The Moon” is a rambling and unrestrained wreck of a film, one that tries to be funny and engaging for awhile and then just metaphorically says “(Bleep) It” and devolves into a 50-60 minute destruction of downtown Chicago. To the best I could tell, this final and interminably long war sequence in Chicago is likely the whole point of this endeavor. About all the good I take away from these 157 minutes (BAHHH!) is that humans are quite easily incinerated by Decepticon weaponry, things go boom and bang impressively, how hot Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is, and that actually, Shockwave is a pretty badass robot that lays waste to a whole lot of skyline and Earth in a very efficient manner.

But is that really all you want with this? Really? I imagine that most people who pay to see this, and spring for the 3-D tickets will not care in the least about the endless flaws present in the film. The dialogue is hideous and Michael Bay’s use of his new cast is to have LaBeouf play Sam as even more insufferable and jerkish than before, while Frances McDormand’s role as U.S. Secretary of Defense exists to spout empty reactionary lines to human and robot alike. John Turturro chews a lot of scenery as an eccentric retired secret agent, while Ken Jeong and John Malkovich overact so passionately, you wonder if Michael Bay offered them a bonus based on who could be more unnerving and annoying.

And yet…I have to acknowledge that Michael Bay has delivered one impressive looking and sounding film. I will never justify spending 3-D dollars on a movie ticket, but I must admit that the 3-D on display here is rather impressive. Bay has also worked diligently with his visual effects team to clean up the action sequences and make everything easier to follow. This is simply Oscar-worthy work on the visual effects side of things and the film does deliver a stunning, if not exhausting, sound mix as well. But you have to take the good with the bad here as well, because the score used to punctuate many of the action sequences comes straight out of the “Inception” songbook. The now iconic metallic “BRAAAAHMMMM!!!” is used so often by composer Steve Jablonsky that Hans Zimmer should consider litigation.

For whatever reason, when it comes to “Transformers”, in the court of public opinion, these films are teflon. These are characters I cannot imagine wanting to spend any time with whatsoever and the action and battle sequences consist of an exhausting melange of loud, noisy, metallic scrapes and crashes. As a friend and fellow critic noted at the end of the film, Bay’s film induced a serious headache for him. Sadly for my friend, I imagine Michael Bay would be quite tickled with himself upon hearing that.

If this is what people want in their movies nowadays, fine. I’ll be the “Hey Kids, Get Off Of My Lawn!” opinion on this then. You know, I hear all the time that Hollywood has run out of ideas and that the big budget studio movies are only becoming worse and worse with each passing year. It is rather likely that many of those who complain about mainstream cinema becoming boring and subpar and many of the same folks who paid to see this and/or the other “Transformers” films. So, to each their own though, right?

When it comes down to it, I’m not sure any review of “Transformers” matters in the grand scheme of things. People are going to go and pay and go again because Shockwave is awesome, or Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is hot and a babe on screen (an opinion Michael Bay crowbars in to Huntington-Whiteley’s scenes, as if he is merely taunting his former star, Megan Fox.)

Go. Go on and eat up all 157 minutes of this. Buy the popcorn, the soda, that 3-D movie ticket.

Just remember that Michael Bay apologized once before and only after taking $836 million dollars from moviegoers for a insanely popular film he now and rather conveniently calls bad.

Think he’ll ever apologize again?

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My love of film began at the age of 7 when my parents not only gave me a television, but HBO to boot. My first theatrical experience was "E.T." My first movie cry came with "Old Yeller". "The Usual Suspects" made me decide to make movies and film writing a priority in life, even knowing the twist beforehand. My passion for film, music, and pop culture in general can be isolated to my youth. My love for film took root in high school. Above all else, movies and art, in any form, exist to entertain and I remain much more interested in how art affects others, more than with myself. But I love the conversation and to have a chance to share my thoughts and be a part of the community here is a unique and enriching experience.