Admittedly, it was very hard for me to keep an open mind about “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” seeing as I personally feel that the prior Transformers movies are two of the worst big budget franchise films ever made. But, I had heard semi-positive whisperings about this latest installment, that the filmmakers had fixed the mistakes and the action was awesome and blah blah blah. So, I actually went in hoping that director Michael Bay had finally made a halfway decent Transformers film, especially since he’d had three chances to get it right…and, well, I guess it’s safe to call this his third strike.
This time, the story (as it were) follows everyman hero Sam (Shia LaBeouf) as he struggles to find his first post-college job. Meanwhile, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) and the Autobots discover a long lost piece of technology which is tied to the resurrection of their former leader Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy). As the evil Decepticons strive to gain control of this formidable secret, Sam once again becomes wrapped up in the ongoing war between these sentient mechanical beings. See how potentially cool that sounds on paper? Sigh.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, since my criticisms this time are more or less the same criticisms I had for the first two films, I would say that the most crippling aspect of this movie is the out of place, grating, bottom-of-the-barrel goofy humor. If nothing else, “Transformers 3” certainly carries on with the series tradition of making you scratch your head and say “What movie am I watching again?” The tone of the comedy scenes is so outrageous and over the top that when the film cuts to its more serious (and more interesting) “plot-furthering” scenes, you unintentionally start breathing again, not realizing that you’d been holding your breath in terror (yes, an exaggeration, but nonetheless fun to write). And while the scatological humor of the first two films is nonexistent – there are thankfully no pee, fart, or giant robot testicle jokes in this movie – we still have numerous way-too-long scenes featuring “comedic” characters screaming at each other (some even have goofy accents) that just drone on and on and take away any sense of investment or respect or tolerance for this movie. It is, in a word, overwhelming.
So, while the comedy here may be toned down in comparison to the other two, it only means that the obnoxiousness is at a 9.9 instead of 10. I just don’t get why Michael Bay thought that including this type of humor in a Transformers film (three times in a row!) was ever a good idea. I mean, can anybody tell me why a “comedy of erors” scene involving Ken Jeong (“The Hangover Part II”) and Sam bumbling around inside a bathroom stall – only for Sam’s eccentric new boss to walk in and think they’re having heated man sex, of course – is in a Transformers movie? Or why Sam’s tiny sidekick robots curse and why one of them has hair? Or what purpose Sam’s ridiculous parents serve? Well, apparently America seems to be OK with the inclusion of these types of jokes in these movies, so I’m obviously beating a dead horse. I just happen to think that the humor is irritating and that it pulls the movie down and just plain ruins any credibility since nothing is taken seriously, but again, that’s just me.
What’s worse, the first half of the movie (in which the humor is most dominant) has almost nothing to do with the second half, which means that we were subjected to those horrible jokey scenes of Sam adjusting to his new job for no reason. That said, there are brief moments of potential here, more so than in the other movies, which is primarily due to the fact that Bay buckles down and actually asks us to invest in the proceedings a bit earlier in this film than he has before (in Parts 1 and 2, Bay waited until their respective climaxes to suddenly ask us to care about characters we knew nothing about aside from the jokes they were involved with). Sam has a couple of decent emotional scenes with the robots here, for example, and Shia sells the required nuance quite well. Hell, the robots even have some decent moments amongst themselves this time out, which is crazy, seeing as these movies are named after these particular characters and yet said scenes barely existed in this series till now. Of course, these moments of weight mean nothing beyond the instances in which they occur because everything that came before them is just so silly, but they do elevate the movie a tad while you are watching them. Furthermore, said scenes drive home the fact that if Bay had simply excised the terrible comedy bits from these movies and had instead showed us more bonding moments between Sam and the Autobots, then we’d have a perfectly watchable trilogy on our hands. Sure, the series would still have a lot of problems from a storyline standpoint, but it’d be a heck of a lot more tolerable than what we have now.
And then, there’s the action, which seems to be the number one selling point for those who hated the last movie to give this one a pass. Yes, the action is pretty outstanding at times, especially during the final stretch of the film, as a full scale battle rages through the streets of Chicago. However, these sequences can only be enjoyed as empty fireworks, since we don’t care about what’s going on. It certainly doesn’t help matters that we meet most of the characters involved in these climatic scenes a mere two minutes before the big stuff happens. There’s no emotional investment here, just special effects thrown on the screen – impressively so, since you can plainly see every single bit of this film’s massive budget on display – but again, it just doesn’t mean anything. The bottom line is that if you’re going to make a two-and-a-half-hour long action movie, then you have to make good use of the first half of your story by building up to an engaging connective end point, which means that the first two acts need to lay a compelling foundation. The first two acts need to count. However, if you’re just going to squander that extra running time with torturous comedic scenes and plot threads that go nowhere, then you might as well cut to the final action scenes right away. Skipping over irrelevant, grating material has the same effect as including it – it’s a waste of everyone’s time.
And the thing of it is, I have heard people defend these movies (and summer movies in general) by saying you have to “shut your brain off” and just enjoy them. And while I am an advocate of suspending one’s disbelief when watching a film, I simply can’t accept bad storytelling or lazy humor. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the best summer movies of all time are as smart as they are entertaining, starting from “Jaws,” “Star Wars,” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” all the way to “The Dark Knight,“ “Inception,” and this year’s “Super 8.” That “shut off your brain” argument doesn’t fly for me, summer movie or not. Either way, the fact of the matter is that these Transformers movies are just too stupid for me to enjoy even as dumb spectacle.
Ironically, I’m not even what you would call a Michael Bay “hater.” As a filmmaker, I think he’s actually pretty talented. The man is great at orchestrating mayhem and conjuring pretty images. Unfortunately, those are his priorities – his sense of story barely registers and his sense of humor is that of a child who ate too much paint varnish. I’m of the belief that if you gave the guy a good script and didn’t allow him to add anything terrible to it, you’d have a decent movie on your hands. Perfect example: look at “The Rock.” That is one of my favorite all-time action movies. I’m even a fan of other Bay films like “Armageddon,” “Bad Boys,” and “The Island.” Unfortunately, the remaining movies on Bay’s filmography show him at his worst, and it seems like he’s only regressing with each new film, since he has the clout to do whatever he wants at the sake of storytelling coherence.
Any way you look at it, we now have three bad Transformers movies, and there is absolutely no excuse for that. The shameful reality is that “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” merely cements the fact that this is the biggest “missed opportunity” franchise of all time. All we can do now is welcome the inevitable reboot that’s sure to come.