I could’ve lived a long and happy life without about an hour of stupid plot and bullshit Transformers™ mythology, but once it finally wound itself up, I have to admit Transformers: Dark of the Moon was as enjoyable an exercise in the spectacle of destruction as you could expect from a Hasbro toy commercial. If the idea of sentient robots turning themselves into assorted cars and trucks and back again while kicking the crap out of each other and everything around them doesn’t appeal to you, then you already know to steer clear of this one. If that sort of thing is your cup of tea on the other hand, this is the summer movie you’ve been waiting for. It easily vaults the low bar set by the other two films in the franchise and it’s also the least irritating entry in director Michael Bay’s entire filmography.

The story such as it is has something to do with a bunch of magic pillars buried on the moon that can be used to build some kind of crazy space bridge that allows for instant travel from one end of universe to the other. Naturally if the bad robots get a hold of the pillars before the good robots, it’ll be dark times for the fine people of Earth. Bay spends just enough time on this nonsense for you to start getting restless and asking stupid questions like “Why are the robots spiffy and shiny-new when they’re in car form, but dented and scratched and beaten up looking when they’re in robot form?” and “If they already knew this shit was on the moon, shouldn’t this have been the plot of the first film?” Since this is not a movie that stands up to a minute’s scrutiny, it’s at its best when it zips along from one fight to the next without giving you time to analyze what you’re seeing. In fact, these movies would all benefit from being shorter and from Michael Bay not treating them as reverently as a 10-year-old playing with his action figures in the back yard.

The performances aren’t Transformers‘ drawing card, but Shia LaBeouf remains an engaging screen presence. His ability to jump naturally from taking things seriously to goofing on the absurdity of it all helps keep the film grounded a little. Less successful is English muffin turned underwear mannequin turned action movie T&A Rosey Huntington-Whiteley. In her defense, she’s never asked to be anything more than eye candy, but she has all the charm of a blowup doll and her entirely vacant on-screen personality is a surprisingly long jump off the bottom rung represented by Megan Fox. Fox at least was able to give her fetish object a little bit of spark and she had some chemistry with LaBeouf. Their characters also had the benefit of having had some history together over the course of two films. That history and chemistry would’ve gone a long way toward punching up the sense of peril and drama when the love interest is inevitably endangered, but here you just don’t care. When The Crumpet isn’t on screen (and sometimes when she is), you forget she’s even in the movie. While she doesn’t detract from the spectacle, the movie would’ve been that much more interesting if she’d added a little to it.

The supporting cast is a mixed bag. John Turturro returns to chew the scenery as Simmons, but the thrill of seeing the Coen favorite cutting it up in a live action cartoon is gone. Another Coen regular, Frances McDormand seems more comfortable in one-on-one character interactions than when stuff is blowing up, but she’s fine. John Malkovich is completely wasted as a kooky industrialist. It turns out his particular form of entertaining bombast has a lot more kick in quieter movies. He’s buried here. For his part, Josh Duhamel holds his own as a bit of military beefcake. On the other hand, the only good thing left to be said about ubiquitous human irritant Ken Jeong (The Hangover, TV’s Community) is that he’s involved in one of the best parts of the film when ***spoiler*** his annoying character Wang (Heh heh, Wang. Get it? It’s like “penis” but it’s also Asian. Funny right? Heh heh) gets tossed through a skyscraper window. ***end spoiler*** Patrick Dempsey has just the right amount of sleaze as LaBeouf’s romantic rival – enough anyway to make you root for his untimely death. The best part support-wise is Alan Tudyk (TV’s Firefly) who gives a fun performance as Turturro’s zesty but off-kilter German assistant, Dutch. Less Wang and more Dutch, please.

The thing is, you don’t watch a Transformers movie to see an acting tour de force, you turn up for the action and the effects and both are excellent this time around. Bay’s usual hyperactive over-edited style is generally not how I like to see my action presented, but here he tones it down a notch. He’s still the king of imaginative and thrilling ways to destroy things – the sequence with the tipping building and the crazy giant worm-bot is an especially exciting and unique carry away sequence – but here he demonstrates a little more patience in lingering on shots and scenes. There’s still no sense of geography, but at least in the moment there’s an opportunity for your brain to catch up and enjoy what it’s seeing on more than just a subliminal level. In an effort perhaps to counteract the annoying strobing effect that comes with fast action in 3D films, Bay also deploys some effective use of slow motion amid the carnage and it works beautifully. It’s a technique Bay should use more often in action and not just when he’s focused on his starlet’s pantied ass as she swishes up the stairs.

The effects and sound design are top notch as you’d expect. They’re so good in fact as to be relatively seamless. That’s a good thing because they don’t draw you out of the action, but at the same time they lack the “wow” factor that you sometimes get with new and revolutionary effects. I prefer effects that blend in and are entirely at the service of the action, but be forewarned if you’re looking for a Terminator 3-level leap forward in technology. As for the 3D, it’s used about as effectively here as it has been in any live-action film so far. In films that depend more on character and story, the 3D tends to actually be an unwanted distraction for me, but Transformers is pure spectacle and the 3D is just more visual stimulus. That’s fine, but for my taste the illusion of depth never impressed enough to make up for the loss of brightness in the image and the diminished vibrancy of the colors. Having said that, if you’ve enjoyed the 3D you’ve seen in other films, this is about as good as it gets.

Overall, if you’re already invested in the Transformers back story and know all the robots by name, you’ll probably have a smoother time with the film’s draggy opening. I found it incredibly boring with one too many of Bay’s usual music video sequences meant to convey the emotion the rest of his film lacks, but at least he eliminated a lot of the 3rd grade playground humor that normally ruins these things. The humor that’s left works. That combined with Bay’s more thoughtful approach to action elevates the second half of the film so much that you easily forget the slow start as soon as the robot crap starts hitting the fan and the entire city of Chicago succumbs to the mechanized mayhem. All in all, Transformers: Dark of the Moon does what you want it to do and that’s no small thing in this particularly disappointing and dull summer season.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon. USA 2011. Directed by Michael Bay. Screenplay by Ehren Kruger. Cinematography by Amir Mokri. Original music by Steve Jablonsky. Edited by Roger Barton, William Goldenberg and Joel Negron. Starring Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Josh Duhamel, John Turturron, Tyrese Gibson, Patrick Dempsey, Rich Hutchman, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Alan Tudyk, Julie White, Kevin Dunn, Buzz Aldrin and Bill O’Reilly. Featuring the voices of Peter Cullen, Hugo Weaving, Leonard Nimoy and James Remar. 2 hours 30 minutes. MPAA rated PG-13. 3 stars (out of 5)

 

22 Responses to “Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)”

  1. DOTM gets 3 stars from you?

    I think I’ll watch this on Monday when tickets are cheaper here. The benefit/ripoff factor for DOTM seems to be leaning more towards ripoff. I assume it could be better than Revenge of the Fallen with ease.

  2. I had very low expectations. I just wanted to see robots wrecking stuff without the connective narrative tissue pissing me off. It delivered. The opening hour was more boring than I expected/wanted, but it wound up being worthwhile.

    I’ll be curious to hear what people who are fans of Bay and the other films think of it. I’m not really a reliable judge of either.

    Unless you’ve really liked the 3D you’ve already seen, I’d recommend seeing it in 2D especially of cost is important to you. It was well done here, but didn’t make it a better experience for me.

  3. The only times I’ve seen films in 3D was Avatar (3D being well used here) and Thor (not a good use of 3D by any means, but I saw it in 3D to avoid watching it dubbed at the theater near my house, plus movie tickets cost less on Tuesdays in Peru).

    As for Bay and Transformers, I really enjoyed the first film and for that one, I went in having low expectations and watching zero trailers. But the second film was a disgrace (those fucking twin bots) even if I had low expectations due to critics slaughtering it badly.

  4. I’m glad it wasn’t a torturous experience for you and happy that it was worth most of your time, but I figured dogs and cats would be hosting Roman orgies before Michael Bay would ever coax a three star review out of Craig Kennedy. You’ve couched this review carefully and I understand what you’re praising here, however you’ll likely take some crap for this. But if spectacle is what it’s selling and spectacle is what it delivers, then mission accomplished. Your review actually mirrors A.O. Scott’s positive notice, but with a lot less snark and condescension.

  5. I tried to go in with as open of a mind as possible (even if my expectations were low) otherwise it would’ve been a waste of time. You sort of have to approach these kinds of things on their own terms. In principle, there’s a part of me that still loves quality on screen destruction and there’s always the promise of that, it’s just generally Bay bores me. He notched back a few of his more annoying traits here and it allowed the basic fun to come through. Yes, thankfully there were no signs of Mudflap and Skidmarks or whatever those bots were. There were a couple of wise cracking smaller bots that were played for laughs, but somehow they weren’t quite as annoying.

  6. Maybe I’ll just walk in an hour late to see the good parts.

  7. Well, I can add Michael Bay to the list of directors who get passes for their special-effects driven action spectacles, despite iffy writing, acting and whatnot. Yeah, I’m a Lucas fan, but it seems weird that allowances get made for the likes of Bay, Cameron, Jackson and the like. Double down on the double-standard.

  8. Bob, Lucas has made billions off of Star Wars and he continues to make huge bank more than 30 years later. You act like he’s this unloved auteur toiling away in obscurity.

    The fanboys who act like his movies belong to THEM might not be too happy with him, but he sleeps comfortably at night on a mattress hand stitched and filled with thousand dollar bills.

    I don’t see anyone giving Bay a free pass, rather they’re judging him on his own terms. You know what you’re getting with a Trannies film. You pay your money and you take your chances.

  9. There’s a difference between mainstream success and critical acclaim, man. I just think he deserves at least the same amount that a number of other selfsame blockbuster auteurs get.

    I take the Bay stuff with a grain of salt, especially reviews like yours, Craig. But at the same time, I can see this kind of sentiment as the snowball that can turn into an avalanche decades on. Hitchcock’s movies are just as brainless as Bay’s, all things considered, and he’s all but canonized by now.

  10. Lucas has plenty of critical acclaim and he’s responsible for some movies that have obsessed an entire generation of movie fans.

    I wouldn’t even put him and Bay on the same level.

    Don’t get started on Hitchcock. Just don’t.

  11. Lucas has some acclaim, but it’s rather backhanded nowadays. The Prequels are in just as much need of critical rediscovery as, say, “Heaven’s Gate” (although yeah, their massive embrace by the mainstream makes that kinda irrelevant and moot in the long-run). But in any case, my main gripe is the double standard I see in a lot of appraisals of his stuff and other modern blockbusters that suffer from the same faults, but get free passes.

    I will admit I’m not sure why I’m making the argument here, as this isn’t exactly a movie that was on my must-see list. But whatever.

    As for Hitchcock, I enjoy and/or respect about four or five of his movies, give or take half of “Psycho”. The rest– no. And no matter how loved he is, I’ll take the lamest of Lang’s stuff over his, any day.

  12. I find the Star Wars prequels to be mostly a slog, but I’d gladly watch any one of them before watching just about any Michael Bay film you care to mention. Trannies 3 is his best movie and it’s still not great.

    No free passes here.

    I was actually OK with the prequels for the most part until the last one dropped the ball (for me). They didn’t have the same magic for me as the first two movies, but then I wasn’t 7-10 years old anymore either.

    My beef with the last of the prequels is that the final transformation into Vader is the central point of the whole shindig and the way it was portrayed (complete with silly homage to Frankenstein) was a forehead slapping let down.

  13. Eh. Vader’s origin story was more or less redundant for me. I pretty much credit my ongoing love of SW in general to the Prequels, and their politics, gorgeous visuals and Jedi action

    Bayisms has a strangely omnipresent feel in a lot of movies nowadays. People tend to focus on his juvenile attraction to big explosions and boobies, but for me the odd thing is how he treats time so elastically, padding things here and there with ramped up action or slow mo to drag everything out. It’s present almost everywhere now, but people tend not to notice it if it isn’t applied to giant toy robots, or hot babes with guns, or whatnot.

  14. In my opinion, Bay has single-handedly ruined the action sequence with over-editing and a total disregard for time or geography.

    Trannies 3 was a bit better, precisely because he applied some judicious use of slo mo. If my memory serves, usually his slo mo applies to macho posing or to pin up girl posing, not so much for action

  15. Honestly, I blame somebody like Greengrass more for his complete lack of clear coverage at the behest of “realism”, but Bay’s been slowly eroding audience attention spans since “Bad Boys”. It’s gone on to influence even a lot of mainstream stuff in subtle ways, or at the very least it’s tapped into some awful zeitgeist that equates keeping the camera level with boredom.

  16. People seem to like it, so who are we to argue?

    I find it boring as hell, but I’m in an increasing minority.

    I’m actually curious now for you to see Trannies 3. Not because I think it’s good, but because it’s easily Bay’s best film and at least shows signs that he’s grown.

    No small task for a guy who shits and it makes half a billion dollars.

  17. I have to admit Bob, I don’t even think even Armond White would call most Hitchcock brainless in the same breath he praises George Lucas.

    That’s some friggin’, well that’s certainly something.

  18. Craig, if I were going to give a movie the benefit of the doubt and go against critical opinion to see it, I’d probably choose “Green Lantern” instead of Trannies. It’s by a director I like, in a genre I like, following characters I’m not particularly well versed in, but can follow without much trouble. All I can say about the “Transformers” movies is I find myself wondering how the hell a planet of sentient robots evolves in the first place, and would rather see that movie. I wonder if it would have something to do with Emmerich’s “Singularity” thingamajig.

    And Chuck– no, I’m gonna be good for right now. And Hitchcock really isn’t worth it.

  19. I have to say as a huge Transformers fan that I thought this was easily the best film in the series. As someone previously mentioned, the second film was a joke. The first film had numerous scenes that were completely ridiculous, the autobots hiding in the backyard, an autobot peeing on John Turturro, to be a completely enjoyable experience. This film was a great Transformers movie. You mention that you were bored during the first hour, but what I was really impressed with is they took the time to develop an actual story this time through.

    I have read this blog for a long time and really enjoy hearing everyone’s opinion on movies. I enjoy all types of movies, the proof being the last film I saw before this in theatres was Tree of Life, and I want to commend you on one of the fairest reviews I have seen written about this movie.

    Thanks.

  20. Nice to hear from a fan of the first movie, BlackXinu and glad the third was everything you wanted. I just looked at Rotten Tomatoes and was surprised to see how negative the reviews have been.

    I get lots of critics just aren’t going to be amused by a robot-carnage movie, but it is what it is and this particular one happens to be much better than the other two.

  21. Finally saw it. DOTM was a film that had a 1.5-star dialogue along with a 4-star final battle.

  22. I gotta say that this had an immense scope that was impressive (hats off to ILM once again), but only Michael Bay would cut away from the destruction of an entire planet. Seriously, he couldn’t pay off just one shot that doesn’t involve a carbot killing another carbot?

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