A visually impressive, but in all other ways uninspiring entry from the House of Bay. Filled with the director’s signature moments, right down to the slow 180-degree turns to camera, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is a schizophrenic mess that merely serves as a forerunner to its inevitable sequel.
Based on the Hasbro toy line and 1980s animated series of the same name, Michael Bay’s Transformers was in no way the surprise hit of 2007. Backed by monolithic advertising, toys books and product placement, the virtually review-proof film was guaranteed a sequel. Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was distinctive for not only out-grossing the already successful first installment, bringing the combined box office totals to over US $1.5 billion, but in being one of the worst films of the last few decades. Audiences flocked to it in droves, critics pounded it in equal measure and winning three in the Worst Picture, Worst Director, and Worst Screenplay categories at the 30th Golden Raspberry Awards. Both Michael Bay and star Shia LaBeouf have apologised for the film, partly blaming the crippling writers strike at the time. Proving that money talks louder than any critic, including the cast and crew themselves, everybody (with the exception of Megan Fox) is back for a third bite at the cherry.
In 1960s, Earth’s space race was accelerated by the crash landing of a Cybertronian spacecraft on the dark side of the moon. Back in the modern-day, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps) struggles to come to terms with the fact that he has saved the world twice over, but is unable to secure a job. Moving on from a recent breakup with another beautiful girlfriend (Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), Sam is once again drawn back into the ancient battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons as the race to secure Cybertron technology and Sentinel Prime (voiced Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek) threatens to rip the world apart.
There should be no surprises in a film that is co-presented by toy company Hasbro, but there is something compelling about a film that is so unabashedly commercial. The critical bar had been set so low by the previous entries that mediocre would have been a triumph for actionmeister Michael Bay, who has only once stepped partly outside the box with 2005’s The Island. The barrel of excuses for the missteps in the previous entries now behind them, writer Ehren Kruger demonstrates how much of his hand was in Revenge of the Fallen by producing another script that defies all logic in topping its predecessor’s ludicrousness. Shortly after the somewhat impressive opening sequence, making full use of James Cameron’s Avatar 3D camera crew, Bay plays his hand early as a director of Victoria’s Secret commercials in lingering shots of Huntington-Whiteley’s rear end. The film then gains momentum, but the same could be said for anything else that is rapidly heading downhill. Bay throws caution, common sense and presumably the script to wind and makes his own movie for the remainder of the incredibly bloated running time, pulling out every toy in his $200 million toy box.
Watching Transformers: Dark of the Moon is a bit like playing games with an ADHD child, with Bay never content to linger on any one scene terribly long. A potpourri of virtually everything Bay has every wanted to see on-screen, including the baffling inclusion of an extended skydiving sequences that serves no narrative purpose beyond looking cool. On this point the film soars, with the special effects and use of 3D unsurpassed to date, and it is a credit to ILM that these monolithic robots look as convincing as they do. Yet as the film bounces off the walls, hopped up on sugar and red cordial, we are given very little time to question what we are seeing. Battles end before they begin, hunks of metal hurl themselves against each other and the only sparks that fly between the leads are those resulting from the often unidentifiable robots clashing with impunity. LaBeouf never quite decides on whether he is beefcake or girly-man in the film, and terrific (but occasionally confusing) appearances from John Malkovich, Frances McDormand and series regular John Turturro only serve to remind us that this is not art. Fans would be forgiven for pining for Megan Fox in the face of the irrelevant Huntington-Whiteley. A high point of her uselessness comes during the explosive climax, with balls of flame all around her she stands stoic, hair whipping in the wind, untouched and unproductive. Like everything else in the film, she is pure eye-candy for the core audience of adolescents who will no doubt think all their Christmasses have come at once.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon is released in Australia on 29 June 2011 from Paramount.