Following on from the first two films, Transformers: Dark of the Moon picks up with the Autobots living a peaceful existence with their human hosts, but that peace is soon shattered when the Decepticons launch their most devastating attack yet, involving an old Autobot ship that crash-landed on our moon decades ago.
What we thought:
Never having been what you might call a fan of director Michael Bay, I gave his first two Transformers films a very wide berth – avoiding them even as they replayed endlessly on DStv. That is, until a few days ago when I realised I needed to review Bay's latest entry into the franchise for this here publication and it would certainly not do to take on the third instalment of a beloved-by-many franchise without at least giving the first two a fair chance. Unsurprisingly, two atrocious films and five never-ending hours later, I emerged from my Bay-induced stupor, dreading the third film more than ever.
I may be damning it with faint praise by calling it the best film by far in the series but it does stand head and shoulders above the first two films. But that means very little: even if it Bay's best film since the first half of The Island, it was still a mind-and-bum-numbing experience that became more and more insufferable as it went on.
The opening parts of the film, though, really surprised me. I can't tell you if these bits lasted five minutes or five days, of course, because time and space lose all sense of meaning in a Michael Bay film, but not only did these initial moments of Transformers: Dark of the Moon not actively suck, they managed to be fairly enjoyable. Oh, sure, some of the dialogue was still groan-inducing and, yes, it was mostly unoriginal and full of Bay's trademark bloat but, not only did we have some fun moments with actors who are clearly far, far better than this sort of thing (Alan Tudyk, John Turtrurro, John Malkovich and - as one of the few actresses in a Michael Bay movie to act as more than eye-candy - Frances McDormand), but there was even a halfway decent alien-invasion story to be found. The parts where it mixed Transformers lore and real-world American history were particularly well handled, hinting even at genuine intelligence and creativity.
The problem, though, is that this being a Michael Bay movie, that stuff is bound to fall by the wayside sooner or later. Michael Bay is not a director who cares about storytelling and he certainly doesn't care about actors, and even less about characters. Bay is all about ogling impossibly beautiful women and shiny cars and making a huge, deafening racket, while filling up the screen with as much (admittedly good) CGI as is humanly possible.
It's like Bay was afraid that the first parts of the film might show him to be a director of at least some, albeit limited, substance so he filled the remainder with all the Michael Bay guff that fans and critics have come to expect/dread from the man.
There are some decent action scenes to be found and Leonard Nimoy voicing a giant robot riffing on Spock's unforgettable farewell speech in Star Trek II will provide at least some delight for fans of classic Trek (Nimoy's presence is easily one of the film's best points) but all of it disappears into the tedious, cacophonous sludge of Bay's worse tendencies.
Most of the film's best actors and most enjoyable characters (not to mention a handful of subplots) are shunted off to the side, being either forgotten entirely or stuck literally watching the action from the sidelines as the film returns its focus to Shia LaBeouf's Sam Witwicky for its final hour(s). LaBeouf may be better here than he was in previous films but even he and his ridiculously hot girlfriend (supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who replaced Megan Fox) are unable to draw any attention away from the fact that, for all their crash-bang-wollop mayhem, these supposedly climactic battles bore rather than thrill.
Bay's lack of restraint and tendency to film every single set piece the same way (huge objects smashing into each other, gigantic explosions, alternating shaky cam and slow motion, rinse and repeat) make him one of the least engaging action directors of all time, as well as one of the worst storytellers in the business. Transformers: Dark of the Moon does little to disprove that.
Fans of the Transformers series will probably love this and the press have clearly had a field day with the non-story of Megan Fox not being involved in this instalment but, for everyone else, even if Transformers 3 is a far better option than its predecessors, I'm afraid we're going to have to get our sci-fi blockbuster kicks elsewhere.