Better late than never REVIEW: Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

So, here it is: the closing arc of Michael Bay’s slow-motion laden Transformers trilogy. It arrived on a sea of fanfare and tore up the box office, adding a 3D component to the “robots in disguise” that few could turn down. It’s loud, it’s busy, it’s overlong…but it’s also a guilty pleasure of the highest order.

After Revenge of the Fallen, which left many (intelligent) fans disheartened and severely pissed off, Dark of the Moon seems to have taken stock of its many mistakes and attempts to avoid making them again. The fact that it largely succeeds is both unexpected and a pleasant surprise. Bay, despite himself, has cranked out a bold action film which ends the trilogy on somewhat of a high note.

As with much of the director’s work, this is a high-octane, unrestrained blockbuster that is more concerned with eye candy than a water-tight script. But Bay has proven himself to be an expert at large-scale set pieces, and while the feedback has been generally mixed, his third stab at the material passes muster as a special effects showcase.

Unlike its predecessor, Dark of the Moon possesses some good ideas. Bay and screenwriter Ehren Kruger (Arlington Road) have cooked up a few moments of genuine sci-fi intrigue, including a revisionist take on 20th Century history that is quite ballsy for a summer tent pole pic. Especially one made primarily to sell toys.

The plot picks up after Fallen, with the Autobots finally established on Earth. In the movie’s boldest stroke, we find out the real reason for the Soviet-American space race (in pursuit of a downed alien craft) and how this ties into the war that had been raging on their home planet Cybertron for decades. In the present, we find Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), who is struggling to find his first post-college job, while the Autobots, led by Optimus Prime and the U.S. military’s NEST team, work in tandem to take out the remaining Decepticons around the world. However, the evil ‘bots eventually get the upper-hand and begin an invasion to conquer Earth, with Chicago as Ground Zero in a final war between the Autobots/humans and Decepticons.

There’s more going on – a lot more, some of it actually interesting – but for the sake of spoilers, we’ll keep it at that.

Bay is back to his childish best in the directors chair and most of the main cast return to join him, including Josh Duhamel as NEST Colonel Lennox, Tyrese Gibson as Chief Epps and John Turturro as the “comedy relief”, Agent Simmons. They go through the motions and recite the lines as well as can be expected.

In one of the films better casting coups, Turturro is joined on-screen by fellow Coen Brothers regular Frances McDormand, who seems to have been included as a salute to the real movie fans in the audience.

Almost everyone is back. One of the most talked-about departures from the film is Megan Fox as Sam’s former flame Mikela Banes. As you’re probably aware, this is due to an interview she gave in the press stating that working with Bay is like working with Hitler, seemingly committing career suicide in the process. It’s a pity.

Her replacement comes in the form of underwear model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, as Sam’s new love interest Carlie (a nod to the original animated Transformers film). Her function is simple: the time-honoured damsel in distress. Bay doesn’t give her much of an active role in the film other than being captured, and her lack of range is almost crippling during the supposedly heart-felt dialogue scenes. Like the ceaseless special effects, she is merely an extension of the orgasmic visuals, and what a fine sight she is. It’s truly unbelievable that a character like Sam would date women this far out of his league, but hey, there are giant robots! Try not to think. Bay commits to his new leading lady, introducing her via a tracking shot of her posterior. It’s quite possibly the best ass shot since the “opening” of Lost in Translation.

Other notable additions include Firefly‘s Alan Tudyk as Simmons’ camp publicist, John Malkovich doing it for the money as Sam’s employer, and Patrick Dempsey popping up as the Obvious Third Act Villain. Tudyk almost steals the show in a performance of fearless absurdity, bouncing off of Turturro and revelling in the films slapstick fringes.

Despite this, such characters have no place in the film and only serve to boost the running time. There are far too many automatons here vying for screen time, dragging the film out to a butt-numbing two and a half hours. The stars here are the title robots, and thanks to ILM’s tireless work everything looks amazing. Saying that, I still dislike the overall design of the robots in the franchise. They’ve tried to make them resemble humans too closely, such as their eyes and teeth, which doesn’t make much sense (lest we forget the Autobot with a beard and cane in Revenge of the Fallen). Just give me the bulky, square robots from the 80’s cartoon!

They introduce a lot of new Autobots in Dark of the Moon, my favourite being the Wreckers, a Special Ops team that takes pleasure in mass carnage. They add a fighting spirit to the story that the other films lacked. An honourable mention must go out to the robot pairing of Wheelie and Brains, who add an element of much-needed levity on the robot side (allowing you to forget the borderline racist twins from the last flick). Better, is Leonard Nimoy’s welcome return to the franchise in voice form, having played Galvatron in the animated movie. He brings his considerable vocal talents to Sentinel Prime and even manages to drop a few geeky references to the Star Trek universe. He is an amazing addition to the original voice cast, with Peter Cullen, Hugo Weaving and Frank Welker all reprising their roles.

Ultimately, the film is about action, not characterisation, and Bay delivers the goods. The entire last hour is a relentless assault on the senses, with the Decepticons laying waste to Chicago one explosion at a time. The scale is truly immense, with no expense spared, finally delivering the robot mash-up we’ve been waiting for. Among the many awe-inspiring moments is a vertigo-inducing skydiving sequence and an action scene set within a collapsing skyscraper. Shit hits the proverbial fan.

While he has no comprehension of pacing or subtlety, Bay can always be counted on to deliver big-budget hysteria and Dark of the Moon is a wonder of cinematography and special effects. The last act is so gleefully extravagant that the films many flaws are instantly forgiven. You signed up to see robots hitting each other, and you’ve got it. The best moments of Dark of the Moon are truly adrenaline-pumping, and there’s something to be said about cheap thrills.

Anyone put off by Revenge of the Fallen should put that behind them and give the third film a chance, it’s easily superior (although never quite topping the original). This is what the second film should have been, even if that essentially boils down to pixellated images hitting each other. Dark of the Moon is a fittingly tone-deaf blast and a fine way to close the series. Disengage your brain and take it for what it is.

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About Matt Hakin

26 Year Old Geek Comic Collector Movie Lover Amateur Photographer Warhammer Player Real Ale Drinker
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