To say that Dark of the Moon is the best Transformers movie yet is hardly saying anything at all. The picture surpasses its notorious forbearers by being visually accomplished, sometimes almost even coherent, and nowhere near as jaw-droppingly racist as the two films that preceded it. Am I damning with faint praise?
Well, it’s also mind-numbingly boring.
The second installment, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, felt like a curdled blast from director Michael Bay’s diseased id. Shot without benefit of a screenplay thanks to the writers’ strike, the movie lurched back and forth from one disjointed set-piece to another, attempting to plaster over obvious seams with broad humor, rank misogyny and two staggeringly stereotypical gold-toothed Ghetto-bot sidekicks who took great pride in the fact that they never learned how to read. (This was an important plot point.)
Fulminating with barely disguised contempt for the Obama administration, the previous picture wore bold anti-intellectualism on its sleeve, while our weak-kneed, then-new president attempted to negotiate with giant killer robots, until the badass military men at the helm (Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson) went ahead and tossed Barack’s bespectacled, probably gay emissary out of an airplane and invaded a Middle Eastern country.
It also had an enormous robot with wrecking balls instead of testicles.
Despite $400 milllion in box office grosses, Bay himself eventually admitted that the movie was “crap.” So Dark of the Moon finds him on his best behavior, spinning an absurd alternate history kicking off with the 1960’s Space Race and a hilariously unconvincing cameo by stock footage of John F. Kennedy. Did you know that we only ever went to the moon in the first place so that we might procure alien technology created by Leonard Nimoy’s Sentinel Prime?
This cheap hijacking of the Apollo mission stings even more thanks to the participation of Buzz Aldrin, playing himself. It is as embarrassed as I have ever been for anybody since Aldrin got kicked off Dancing With the Stars last year. No wonder Neil Armstrong doesn’t do public appearances! Sir, you once walked on the moon. Now how about sharing a dialogue scene with Optimus Prime? (“Greetings, fellow space traveler.” There are no more heroes.)
But for reasons that remain mysterious to me, Transformers rests on the plight of Shia LeBeouf’s Sam Witwicky. Once upon a time a stammering teenager whose first car was a robot warrior from another world, he now just kind of hangs around the ginormous android action, at good one-sixteenth the size of the fight participants and generally just getting in the way, while doing a not-half-bad Baby John Cusack impersonation.
If you were unfortunate enough to have seen either of the previous Transformers pictures, you might remember that Megan Fox once played Sam’s improbably hot girlfriend. Thanks to tabloid trauma (and the overweening disgust of executive producer Steven Spielberg, according to GQ magazine) Fox was replaced by Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whitely, who is introduced from her scantily clad backside in maximum leer-vision, and I do wonder why women in Bay’s movies always have such moist lips, glistening in his perpetual sunset.
The first hour and a half finds LeBeouf’s Witwicky taking a desk job at eccentric John Malkovich’s corporate widget-making headquarters. Soaked in bronzer and bellowing his dialogue in some sort of inexplicable accent, Malkovich is not the kind of actor who should be encouraged to “go over the top.”
There’s all sorts of terrible comedy, most of which involves The Hangover ’s Ken Jeong as an even-more-eccentric-than-Malkovich company vice president, but for our amusement everyone keeps thinking that he and LeBeouf are gay lovers. (Homosexual panic is hilarious!) It’s an appallingly acted workplace comedy for a good 90 minutes of the running time.
And then the angry, evil robots kill Chicago.
No joke, thousands of people are slaughtered in cold blood. We see the evil Decepticons fire some crazy electromagnetic shotguns at innocent, fleeing bystanders, stripping the skin from their bones and sending skulls rolling down Lower Wacker Drive. Your personal mileage may vary, but I had a hard time reconciling the feature-length wackiness with the millions of people who were murdered on their way to the third act.
Some folks have been applauding Transformers: Dark of the Moon’s final reels, as they are (no shit) an entire solid hour of rock ’em, sock ’em robot fighting action, toppling skyscrapers and wreaking mass destruction on a scale never seen before in movies.
Personally, I was so bored I wanted to die.
Director: Michael Bay
Starring: Shia LeBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whitely and John Malkovich