Transformers: Dark of the Moon (3D) review

It’s taken me a full trilogy’s worth of viewing but I’ve finally come to the conclusion that the Transformers films are not made for me. I’m clearly not the target demographic. Evidently men nostalgic about the 80s animated series – and the Hasbro toy line upon which it was based – as well as boys aged 16 and under, seem to be the only 2 groups that the filmmakers are concerned with pleasing. Everyone else is shut out, with nothing to engage their senses except for the franchise’s impressive visual wizardry.

I’m certainly not slamming this third entry in the film series – Transformers: Dark of the Moon is definitely superior to its overblown, brain-dead predecessor Revenge of the Fallen (my review) – but I suspect that this could have been a much better film if only director Michael Bay, producer Steven Spielberg and co. weren’t entangled in the notion that things have to be stupid, goofy, shiny, or any combination of the above, to be fun.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon features an appreciably sleeker and simpler plot. While the good guy Autobots’ first human ally Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) struggles to find work after college, the Autobots are reunited with Sentinel Prime, their greatest leader, long thought dead. Sentinel’s return though brings the evil Decepticons out of hiding. Led by damaged Megatron – laughably swanning about in a cape now – the Decepticons implement a plan to bring their homeworld to Earth using a powerful teleportation device.

Dark of the Moon is definitely the most brutal of the Transformers trilogy. There is plenty of destruction as well as several permanent deaths as bots rip each other apart. There is no mercy or forgiveness. Optimus Prime, unleashing his full badassery, really proves in this film why he is the head of the Autobots.

At the same time though, the “grown-up” intensity of the combat and action scenes is continually undermined in other important areas. The chief of these: I still don’t understand why the majority of the Transformers have to be so childish? There is an explicit comment in the film about the Autobots being “kids,” presumably to explain why they so frequently fool around like ADHD-afflicted adolescents. I don’t remember much of the cartoon, and was never a fan, but juvenile behaviour seems out of place given the Transformer back-story. I would expect Transformers, as seasoned warriors and the last few survivors of a planet-scale genocide, to be a bit more grim; a bit more emotionally worn down.

In the films, the Transformers have never been allowed to have ‘real’ characters. They’ve never been trusted to carry the franchise dramatically. This is silly in an age when audiences are used to, and can sympathise with, entirely CGI-creations like Lord of the Rings' Gollum. As it currently stands, for casual viewers (i.e. not decades-long Transformers devotees) the bots are pretty much interchangeable in terms of appearance and personality. And in action scenes it’s often difficult to tell Autobot and Decepticon apart.

What screen time should have been devoted to developing the Transformers is instead squandered on an overstuffed human cast, entirely comprised of bland fighter types, bland sexy chicks and wacky idiots who rival the parents of South Park in stupidity. Despite including big names like John Malkovich, Frances McDormand and Patrick Dempsey, the human scenes are largely pointless. In fact, editing out Sam’s job search would have streamlined the 2 hour 20 minute film, which in its current state feels way too long.

Speaking of the human cast, Shia LaBeouf’s trademark onscreen blend of gormless, manic and aggressive is wearing thin now. It’s no surprise that his character continually repels potential employers in the film. Of the new additions to the series, by far the most fun is Alan (Firefly) Tudyk as John Turturro’s German man servant, whose pacifist exterior occasionally cracks to reveal a bloodthirsty madman beneath.

As I said before, Dark of the Moon isn’t terrible. Although 3D doesn’t add anything special to proceedings, the film still features several visually inspired moments. My personal favourite, hands down, is a vehicular chase sequence that has sometime-Camaro Bumblebee disassemble and reassemble around an airborne Sam in a single slow-motion take. The “invasion” scenes are also very well handled. They prove that Michael Bay might not be a bad choice if Hollywood ever decided to make a Terminator film centred on the large-scale future battles between man and machine.

This said, Bay seems to have developed this idea that in every film he makes he has to top his previous movies’ big action finales. Remember how the pyramid battle in Revenge of the Fallen seemed to last forever? And much the same in Pearl Harbour? Well, the culminating battle in Dark of the Moon is even more drawn out. Only Michael Bay can make an action scene so long, yet also so unrelentingly fast paced and explosive that it becomes boring. I almost fell asleep at the 8pm screening. Basically, with no breaks for characters to strategise, or the audience to catch their breath and process what’s going on, it all becomes too much.

I know that Transformers: Dark of the Moon is intended to be dumb and deliberately juvenile. It’s all about giant robots, big bangs, sports cars, sexy babes and the dork who somehow always hooks the hottie. I just think that such wallowing in male fantasy doesn’t need to be so excessive in all departments. If the Transformers film franchise were to ever continue, I hope it would be more of a character-driven epic (largely free of annoying humans), serious in tone and accessible to a much wider audience.


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