A Whole Lot of Loud and Messy

Movie Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
Autobots and Decepticons fight for the dominion of earth and freedom.
Spoilers: none

This Transformers movie is the shiniest toy on the shelf, containing – lo and behold – an identifiable story. It is better than the first two movies, which isn’t saying much, but I was surprised.

The general tenor of the film is like a mix of car porn, teenaged sleaze, huge, colorful (albeit ugly and uninteresting) robots, followed by an incomprehensible level of carnage and violence—loud, extraneous carnage and violence.

As with the other movies, we open with the voice of “Optimus Prime” (Peter Cullen) laying the groundwork for us in a narrative. And also as before, his resonating vocal depth is the only real take-back to the original Transformers TV series and Transformers: The Movie (1986). Sorry, Bay, but just hearing the awesome voice of Prime isn’t enough to make a great Transformer movie.

Optimus explains to us that the great war between the Decepticons and the Autobots was what brought them to earth due to the destruction of their home world, Cybertron. When Cybertron’s last hope failed, the Autobot ship crash-landed on the dark side of our moon. This, according to the movie, is what prompted our mission to the moon in 1969. So it seems that giant, loud robots who take an unjustifiable interest in preserving our species and planet is what shaped the events of the latter half of the last century.

When we are brought up to speed to present day – the continuation of events following “Revenge of the Fallen” (2009) – we again catch up with “Sam Witwicky” (Shia LaBeouf) and his new squeeze replacing Megan Fox, “Carly” (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). Sam is trying to move on in life, but is missing being thought of as the kid who saved the world. Hunting a job like us normal people, he meets his new boss, “Bruce Brazos” (John Malkovich) who happens to be one of the few well-nuanced characters in the film, though even he doesn’t look his part.

Hired on by Bruce as a mailroom worker, Sam’s co-worker, “Jerry Wang” (Ken Jeong), is a crazy Asian man. Now if you guessed that this character’s presence in the film is A. irrelevant and B. a misguided attempt at being funny, you guessed right on both counts. As with all three of the modern Transformer films, this character is one of a number that doesn’t help the movie go anywhere, but instead, perpetuates stagnation in lost humor.

Yes, Michael Bay keeps making movie messes, but just as surely as he does, he does so here by giving much less cheesy, adolescent humor, for which I am thankful. The robotic goofiness and teen sex-appeal are both still in place, but these had to be in Bay’s screwed up vision of how Transformers should be—a vision I will never appreciate or respect.

Moving on, young Sam and his new, unrealistically good-looking girly (who had to be here to fill the role of Sam’s new super-hottie to serve as the perpetual “damsel in distress” to provide screen tension) are both getting adjusted to the job when the Decepticons again emerge with a new attack plan. But unlike before, there is a new edge to the story, as well as a new presence. This is a force from the old world, a comrade and trainer of Optimus Prime, “Sentinel Prime” (Leonard Nimoy, voice).

Putting aside for a moment all of the movie’s flaws, there is a story here and it is a complex one that spins its elements fairly well. The most retarded elements like Sam’s dorky parents and Carly’s materialistic, “obvious bad guy” status as her former boyfriend “Dylan” (Patrick Dempsey) cannot take from the fact that the story is delivered to the audience in a way that (dare I say) works. I followed along and was damn near interested (if in a michaelbaysucks.com website owner sort of way).

What doesn’t work is the movie’s excessive length. It runs well over two hours, and like part 2, is loud, clangy, and full of metal crunching and screeching—enough so to make a gazelle run right into a cheetah’s jaws. There is more action in these two hours than could be wanted by a hyperactive 8-year-old boy with a bowl of sugar.

Down to each scene, the details of buildings twisting and ripping apart as they fall, humans being vaporized, or charred buses being flipped like pancakes, this showoff is so full of itself that one could watch the movie 50 times and still not take in everything that is visually offered up. Bay has dropped way back on the camera shaking, so things seem less like a cinematic seizure. There are some good combat scenes, but few of them can be appreciated.

There is an appearance by Bill O’Reilly and Buzz Aldrin as themselves, and there is former agent “Simmons” (John Turturro) who almost commands a level of respect this time around. The presentation of the Transformers themselves seems somehow more reverential. The transformational sounds of the bots seems to have been revamped to replicate what we remember them sounding like at least a little in olden times, though there are still no identifiable marks of the bots to allow us to tell them apart as they appear and re-appear on screen.

Ridiculously, Sentinel Prime has a robotic goatee to convey a Genghis Khan smugness. Megatron has teeth and at times, he and other Decepticons look to be wearing a tarp. It’s not hard to imagine how Bay and Spielberg were trying to throw in old school elements to impress themselves and us. For instance, speaking as Sentinel Prime, Nimoy uses his Star Trek line: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” I'm still not impressed.

I will never like what Michael Bay has done to the Transformers series, but I was surprised when he didn’t totally bomb. Bay doesn’t care what the critics think anyway. This one is too imbalanced to ever be a great movie, or even a good one, but dawgonnit, it tries to be, and few will contest that LaBeouf gives it his all, and with a fine performance by “Epps” (Tyrese Gibson).

The sad part: The film gives its teen audience what they will never know is just a whole lot of loud and messy junk wrapped in what is called a Transformers movie.


Grade: D+ (1 1/2 stars)
Rated: PG-13 (for intense and prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, mayhem, destruction, and for language, some sexuality, and innuendo)
Director: Michael Bay
Starring: "Sam Witwicky" (Shia LaBeouf), "Lennox" (Josh Duhamel), "Simmons" (John Turturro), "Epps" (Tyrese Gibson), "Carly" (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), "Dylan" (Patrick Dempsey), "Ron Witwicky" (Kevin Dunn), "Bruce Brazos" (John Malkovich), "Judy Witwicky" (Julie White), "Jerry Wang" (Ken Jeong), "Buzz Aldrin" (Himself), "Optimus Prime" (voice) (Peter Cullen), "Megatron" (voice) (Hugo Weaving), "Sentinel Prime" (voice) (Leonard Nimoy)
Genre: Action / Adventure / Sci-Fi