I went into Dark of the Moon desperately hoping to be surprised, but simultaneously feeling completely cynical and pessimistic about that happening. I was hoping that my personal distaste for Bay’s filmmaking would be forgotten, and that I would at least be entertained and blown away by some groundbreaking visual effects. I gave it a go. It was not to be. Why a seemingly endless budget for chaos and destruction was contributed to this loud, pointless, soulless and abominably directed mess makes me very sad indeed.
The opening montage is accompanied by expositional narration by Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullan). It reveals that the 1969 Moon landing by Apollo 11 was actually a covert response, authorized by President John F. Kennedy, to investigate the NASA detected Cybertronian spacecraft that had crashed on the dark side of the Moon in 1961. Known as The Ark, it was the last ship to escape the war devastated Cybertron. Piloted by Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy), it carries “the Pillars”, technology that could be used by the Autobots to destroy the Decepticons for good. In the present day, following their previous escapades on Earth, the Autobots have forged an alliance with the US Military, imposing freedom by blowing up “illegal nuclear plants” in the Middle East amongst other things. During a mission in Chernobyl, at the request of the Ukranian Government, Prime discovers a fuel cell from The Ark that the Soviets had been using as a fuel source, prompting him to seek out U.S National Intelligence Director Charlotte Mearing (Frances McDormand) and find out everything humanity knows about the moon dwelling craft.
At the same time, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is frustrated with his life, despite having a ridiculously hot new girlfriend, Carly Spencer (Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whitely) to take care of him. Sam is struggling to find a job and has convinced himself that his previous escapades (i.e saving the world twice) deem him worthy of serving America. We watch his whiny desperation shunned by a number of employees, before a ridiculously eccentric fake-tanned boss, played by John Malkovich, finally offers him one in his mailroom. Sam’s parents also show up with their usual awful comedy and quips about his uselessness.
This is all, as you will find out if you decide to ordeal this film, inconsequential to anything. The only plot point that comes back to serve a purpose is Sam's ongoing rivalry with Carly's smarmy boss, Dylan Gould (Patrick Dempsey). When news of ‘the pillars’ falling into the metal claws of the Decepticons reaches Sam, he finds a way to get involved, seeking out retired agent Seymour Simmons (John Turturro) and super-soldiers Lennox and Epps (Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson) to help him once again save humanity from total destruction. While the events unfold with nauseating pace and we are thrown from one location to another, this wafer thin plot doesn't really go anywhere.
Dark of the Moon is absolutely ridiculous from the opening minutes. It’s hard not to laugh at just how embarrassingly dumb it is and how insulting it is to our intelligence as an audience. I thought it might redeem itself in an epic climax, but it’s the same cataclysmic battle sequence we've seen before, albeit largely more impressive. It throws literally everything at the audience and reduces Chicago to smoldering rubble, in quite horrific fashion I might add. Bay just doesn’t seem to understand how difficult his films are to watch. Its either cringe-worthy inconsequential and unnecessary plot developments, woefully out-of-place and poor-taste attempts at comedy, blatant Nationalism or headache inducing, haphazardly edited action sequences. Everything is overblown, especially the running time, an arduous 157 minutes. Be sure to choose wisely when to take your toilet break. You're at risk of missing something important.
When you think about it, the purpose of the first two hours of this film is entirely as a set-up for the climactic battle. It introduces a hell of a lot of human characters, most of whom serve little purpose and end up merely observing the final battle unfold. Sam and Carly are in the thick of it, but really, the other two Transformer films have been about these giant metallic monsters fighting it out. This is essentially what we get here, but distinguishing between the allegiances, and navigating the disorientating action choreography is tiring and painful work. It isn’t that great to look at. The depth from being filmed with the 3D technology is effective on occasions, but mostly renders itself unnecessary. The fact that we can witness an entire city being destroyed before our eyes and experience so many layers to the battle simultaneously does blow our minds. But when the human characters are just as lifeless as the robots, what does it matter?
There are a couple of moments where my interest was piqued; the scene on the freeway at about the halfway was quite exciting, and Shockwaves demolition of the Chicago high rise is quite spectacular. Bay blows his load with this latter scene, because as soon as it is over, every other combat sequence feels lesser and more laborious. A massive climactic battle with that much energy and destruction shouldn’t be boring though, should it? Even when a near intolerable first three quarters builds to it? You bet. Every genre cliché under the sun pops up again, and downtown Chicago becomes dues ex-machina central. I lost count of the amount of times that Sam should have been killed, except for convenient rescue of the Autobots. But really, it is hard to fault to visual effects and sound design. If there is one area where Bay excels, it is here.
Where he doesn't excel is subtlety. With Megan Fox replaced by hot Brit Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Bay has even better assets to work with. We are introduced to the Victoria's Secret model by a lengthy shot of her ass as she walks up some stairs. Later, there are numerous other opportunities to flaunt her figure or to capture her in slow-motion looking ponderously off into the distance as things blow up behind her. Ridiculous. I don't remember Shia LaBeouf being so bad in the preceding two films. He appears to be on crack for half the film, either endlessly whining about not being involved or spouting worthless drivel. Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, John Turturro (gloriously over-the-top again), Patrick Dempsey, Alan Tudyk and Ken Jeong all should feel embarrassed to be involved. Each give dreadful performances. I could go on (the awkward collaboration of archive/recreated footage from the opening montage, the abrupt ending etc.) but I don't want to. You know what you're in for if you have seen the first two Transformers films. If you haven't, I imagine you won't want to see this anyway. It's the collaboration of everything wrong with the Hollywood blockbuster, and it's far from entertaining.
My Rating: 1 Star (F)