Transformers: Dark of the Moon Review
The Autobots face their greatest threat yet in the form of director Michael Bay, the man who launched the live-action franchise four years ago and whose third entry is as much of a belligerent and charmless mess as the second. For a man supposedly inspired to make a better film this time around after admitting he was disappointed with the last one, he doesn’t seemed to have learned many lessons. Naff script? Check. Tedious and inappropriate adult humour? Check. Appalling use of female characters as objects of either lust or mockery? Check. Overlong and deafening use of military action that borders on the pornographic? Check. And its all been dialled up to 11. For undiscriminating action fans there’s enough bang for your buck onscreen to give the film a pass, but the time has now come for Bay to exit this series and head back to the music video industry, where he must surely be regarded as some form of deity.
Since the last time we saw them, the Decepticons have been in hiding licking their wounds, but also secretly hatching a plan to steal a top secret weapon that crashed on Earth’s moon in the 1960s, an event which kick-started the space race between the USA and the USSR. Guarding this weapon was the then Autobot leader Sentinel Prime, Optimus’s predecessor, who has lain dormant ever since. Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) finds himself drawn in to this nefarious plot and fighting alongside his Autobot friends once again, culminating in a devastating and deadly battle in Chicago.
For long-standing fans of the Transformers universe, Dark of the Moon does offer some interesting tidbits. Ransacked from the storylines of the old Marvel comics are popular nuggets like the Wreckers and the space bridge, while other scenes directly reference the classic cartoon series: watching Laserbeak land and perch on Soundwave’s arm should bring a smile to many a fan’s face. The Ark, the ship that originally carried the Transformers to Earth, is resurrected here as the vessel that was carrying Sentinel Prime’s secret weapon before it crashed on the moon. One can sense a small yet genuine effort to return to some of the more popular elements in Transformers’ history, even if it is a case of too little too late. Sentinel himself is voiced by Leonard Nimoy, in a nod to his role in the original 1986 animated movie, and there’s a neat Trek reference late on that should raise an eyebrow or two.
Unfortunately, earlier problems with Bay’s take on the series persist. The look of these new Transformers is still incredibly ugly. They are all so similar: bar the odd flash of brightly coloured paint, it is stupidly difficult to tell them apart. This is doubly true when Bay refuses to spend any time fleshing out their characters. Beyond Optimus and Bumblebee, it would be next to impossible to correctly identify another Autobot. The Decepticons fare little better, and Megatron suffers the ignominy of being sidelined until the conclusion. The much ballyhooed introduction of Shockwave, a popular villain from the original series who vied with Megatron for leadership of the Decepticons, is completely botched, he having little to do except arrive on some sort of giant mechanical worm and say about three or four words in total.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that we can’t tell them apart when so much time is spent on the human caricatures characters, who are just as annoying as they were last time around (step forward John Turturro, Kevin Dunn, Julie White and series newcomers John Malkovich and Frances McDormand). Say what you like about Shia LaBeouf but he does at least appear to be trying, and if the series has a heart it lies with him and his Autobot buddy Bumblebee. Megan Fox replacement Rosie Huntington-Whiteley might well be trying, but she is so devoid of expression and any trace of acting ability it is impossible to tell. One can almost see the reflection of the autocue on her (perfectly made-up) blank visage. Bay doesn’t even try to disguise the fact that she is only there as eye-candy; quite the opposite. In the end there’s no-one here to care about, and so the film just washes over you, trying ever harder to impress with action set-piece after action set-piece, and failing.
When the end finally rolls around, after an extended and admittedly impressive-looking battle on the streets of Chicago, it is topped off by a laughably brief confrontation between the Autobot and Decepticon leaders which would appear to indicate that Bay is done with the franchise and this is his final word. We can only hope this is the case, and that the series is taken forward by someone with a better understanding of why these characters continue to be enjoyed long after their original shelf life.