In ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’ giant lumps of metal beat the living crap out of other giant lumps of metal and Chicago is smashed to pieces. Oh, and there’s a couple of knob gags too. Knock yourselves out.
Tempting as it is to write the shortest ever film review for Starburst Magazine I’m sensing that you might be expecting something a little more in-depth and, whilst ‘depth’ isn’t what you’d normally associate with a film by Michael Bay - The Man Who Blows Stuff Up - I’ll try to rise to the occasion and give you an idea of what you can expect if you chose to leave your brain at home and toddle along to see the latest in possibly the most inane movie franchise in cinema history.
The Transformers toy phenomenon of the early 1980s came along at least two generations too late for me so I’ve no particular affinity for Decepticons and Autobots and Maximus Primes and Sentinels but I found Bay’s original Transformers film from 2007 reasonably entertaining in a noisy, brain-aching sort of way. Good FX but ultimately just a load of summer cinema nonsense. However, I viciously detested its witless, inane sequel Revenge of the Fallen with every living fibre of my being. Dumb to the point of being neanderthal, this was a film based on a range of kid’s toys which was filled with horribly inappropriate innuendo, a garbled and nonsensical plot and a cast who clearly wished they’d not signed that ‘sequel’ clause in their contract. I approached Dark of the Moon, this second sequel, with not a little amount of trepidation, my hopes scarcely raised by the admission from both Bay and star Shia LaBoeuf that they “fumbled the ball” in the last one and that Dark of the Moon would be much better. Well, I’m here to tell you that Dark of the Moon is indeed better than Revenge of the Fallen (because, let’s face it, it would be absolutely impossible for it to be worse) but it’s actually really not much better. It’s certainly less irritating, it’s certainly much more spectacular and it does deal with some of the main faults of the last film - it ditches the ghastly racist robots, dials back at least some of the more infantile schoolyard smut and - Glory be - jettisons the hopeless Megan Fox (an actress carved out of purest teak) from her role as Shia’s unlikely girlfriend. But other problems remain; a fairly simplistic plot is rendered largely incomprehensible due to an excess of garbled exposition and the film’s tone is all over the place, leaping from slapstick knockabout comedy to moments of huge pomposity and bombast often in the space of a few seconds (a brief ‘comedy’ sequence right at the very sudden ending seems oddly inappropriate considering the carnage and loss of life we’ve witnessed in the previous hour).
So what exactly’s going on here? We kick off with Shia’s Sam Witwicky (what sort of a name is that??) trying to adjust to a normal life after his experiences saving the world in the previous two films. He can’t get a job but he’s got the girl - his previous squeeze has dumped him but he’s been lucky enough to replace her with one who looks almost exactly the same. Rosie Huntington-Whitely (girlfriend of the multi-talented Jason Statham, apparently) plays Carly; she’s quite a girl even though she looks like she’s been repeatedly punched in the upper lip. Unfortunately our Rosie is no better an actor than Megan but then a pouty, leggy role like Carly doesn’t exactly demand a young Judi Dench; Carly spends most of her time being waaaay out of Sam’s league, getting captured, looking scared and running about. As Sam banters with his irritating free-spirited parents there’s Transformer mischief afoot as the Apollo 11 moon landing is revealed to have led to the discovery of a Decepticon spaceship buried under the lunar soil; before long the evil Decepticon Sentinel is stomping about the Earth, creating a ‘space gateway’ through which pass his Decepticon army of killers whilst planning to drag the dead Transformer homeworld of Cybertron into Earth’s orbit so the human race can be enslaved to rebuild the planet.
It’s a lively and inventive story, threading real 20th century history (Buzz Aldrin gets a cameo confronting Optimus Prime and the Chernobyl disaster is, rather tastelessly, suggested to have been caused by rogue Cybertron technology) with the wild fantasy of the world of the Tranformers, great lumps of extremely-supple intelligent living metal with a propensity for knocking seven bells out of one another whilst randomly destroying everything in their path. I’m not sure the reason why some of the robots speak with Glaswegian and Spanish accents have ever been adequately explained though…
For the first hour of its exhausting running time (the film lasts so long I was in danger of forgetting everything I’d ever done before I started watching it) Dark of the Moon looks like it’s concentrating on character and - more painfully - comedy. This isn’t subtle stuff but some of it raises a smile. John Turturro’s back as the manic Sector 7 agent, John Malkovich seems to be having a good time as Sam’s obsessive employer but it might be best to pass a discreet veil over Ken (The Hangover) Jeong’s hammy turn as Sam’s conspiracy nut co-worker. Even the majestic Frances McDormand has her moments as the uptight Government Secretary of Defence - “Stop with the Ma’am.”
But you go to see a Transformers movie because you want the bangs and the action - and to be fair Bay delivers it here in spades. Once its slightly heel-dragging first hour is out of the way and the Decepticons flood through the ‘space gate’ and start to wreak havoc in Chicago, I think I can guarantee that your jaw will probably hit the floor and stay there until the credits start to roll. By any reasonable standards Bay has created an astonishing hour of cinema here, a tour de force of CGI and special effects which is both pain-stakingly realistic and surprisingly visceral for what purports to be a family film. The Decepticon ships and robots systematically devastate Chicago and casually vaporise its fleeing inhabitants whilst Sam and his military chums tumble down collapsing buildings, freefall through the air, skydive and indulge in spectacular gun battles and dogfights. Through all this chaos stomp the Decepticons and the Autobots and, most impressively, the snake-like Soundwave which twists and smashes its way through the city like some super-annuated sandworm from Dune. This last hour of Dark of the Moon is, whatever you might think of Bay’s very individual style of film-making, an absolute master class in the art of the modern blockbuster. I’m in the ‘no, thanks’ camp when it comes to the current gimmicky vogue for 3D films but, utilising techniques and equipment pioneered by James Cameron for Avatar, Bay has created some genuinely thrilling and immersive 3D imagery here in sequences which go much further than the usual lazy scenes of spears and rocks flying out of the screen. Here for once, the 3D, whilst not exactly enhancing the story, lifts characters and locations off the screen and pitches the viewers squarely into the middle of battle sequences with slow-motion utilised to show off the real tent-pole 3D scenes.
It would be misleading to call Dark of the Moon a good movie because…well, because it just isn’t. But then it’s not really designed to be. It’s meant to impress and entertain you with its spectacle and occasionally amuse you with its one-liners and its broad comedy. Despite my hatred of the second film and the fact that I could quite plainly see that Dark of the Moon really is a bit rubbish, I found myself diverted and entertained by it and utterly gob-smacked by the scale of its visual achievements in the last hour. Go and see Dark of the Moon in a similar, largely-uncritical frame of mind, and you’ll probably have a whale of a time too. Although, like me, you might be reluctant to admit it…
Expected rating: 5 out of 10
‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’ is on general release around the UK now.