Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Movie review by Greg Carlson

Saying that “Transfomers: Dark of the Moon” improves upon or redeems the catastrophic hellishness of “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” is like suggesting it is preferable to drown than to be eaten alive by a Great White. Sure, you don’t suffer the horror of being torn limb from limb, but you still end up dead. Michael Bay’s third overlong toy/car commercial and military recruitment exercise is unsurprisingly ugly, strident, and stupid. It is also thoroughly repetitive and almost never fun for more than a few seconds at a time. Shia LaBeouf returns as Autobot pal Sam Witwicky, although the movie’s insensible plot conspires to keep him away from Bumblebee and company until the government really needs him.

A goofy prologue suggesting that the Apollo program was Transformers-related would be amusing if Bay wasn’t so humorless and serious in his presentation. “Dark of the Moon” is the second summer movie to revise a major aspect of Kennedy-era history, but at least in “X-Men: First Class,” Matthew Vaughn had the sense to stick to archival footage of JFK. Bay can’t resist staging shots that require much digital hocus pocus and a Kennedy lookalike, and the result is a walk through the uncanny valley of the shadow of death.

Is there anything to recommend “Dark of the Moon” to wary viewers? In a word, no, but the joint presence of Frances McDormand and John Turturro makes a giant sucking sound as Coen Brothers fans are reminded of movies with wit and intelligence. Impervious to embarrassment, Bay also rushes headlong into a series of visuals that mine national tragedies for jacked-up CG thrills. The tasteless homage to the Challenger disaster takes the blue ribbon, as a space shuttle carrying banished Autobots explodes just after liftoff while a tearful Sam watches.

By the time the metal-on-metal carnage of the big final battle begins to unfold in downtown Chicago, impatient viewers will mistakenly breathe a sigh of relief that the end is nigh. Fat chance. Bay drags out the climactic fight until it has taken the shape of a separate feature-length movie divorced from its interminable preamble. When it comes to Mr. Bay and his Transformers, more is always more. Why have only Optimus Prime when you can have Sentinel Prime?

There are plenty of writers who have called out Bay’s weak anti-critical thought arguments that the franchise is about having a good time, but Paul Brunick’s brutal, sarcastic “Revenge of the Fallen” review in “Film Comment” applies to “Dark of the Moon” with just as much force. Simply “Mad Lib” swap the titles and exchange Megan Fox for Rosie Huntington-Whitely and most of the 2009 essay could be republished today. Brunick identifies Bay’s willingness to “graft the Transformers’ intergalactic mythology onto a noxiously reactionary, weirdly neoconservative worldview,” and questions the director’s overt misogyny. Brunick’s piece, focused on the jingoism of Bay’s worldview, skipped a discussion of the filmmaker’s talent for racist stereotypes, a hat trick Bay completes in “Dark of the Moon” with ease.

Never mind the silly much ado about nothing over the claim that Bay literally recycled footage from “The Island,” since first frame to last of “Dark of the Moon” feels, looks, and sounds identical to the previous pair of “Transformers” along with most everything Bay orchestrates. The only real surprise would be to discover that Bay hadn’t reused material, since his ideas and stylistic flourishes have played on an endless loop for years.

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