Movie Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Even before I bought a ticket to see Transformers: Dark of the Moon, I questioned why I was going. The first Transformers film was novel–it at least took me back to my childhood. The second one was awful, though I do like seeing movies shot in Philadelphia. So, why would I imagine this third installment would be any better? Maybe it’s that I just have a strong desire to see everything I can. I remember once hearing Henry Rollins say that he was angry that there were books out there that he hasn’t yet read, and places he hasn’t yet seen. I think I feel that way about movies. Ergo, I was compelled to see this new one. Plus, I have a ton of free movie passes that I always use, so I didn’t actually have to spend any money on it.

I bet if I look back at most of the reviews I’ve done on this blog, they probably all start with something like “I wasn’t expecting much,” or, “Even before I bought a ticket to this movie, I questioned why I was going.” This is most likely because for every movie I watch in the theater, there are ten that I see digitally or on DVD. Those are the ones that are really interesting to me. But maybe I’m just a sucker for the theater experience like the rest of America; I want to see something big and ugly while I munch popcorn, and not think too hard about it.

No, that can’t be true. Because even though I went to see Transformers: Dark of the Moon of my own volition, I knew going in that I would be looking at it with more of a critical eye than most moviegoers. And that’s how I could see through its mesmerizing special effects and nonsensical plot to what it really is: a big pile of space junk.

At the start of this film, The Autobots are now carrying out Black-Ops missions for the U.S. Government. Why they’re limited to the U.S. and not international, I don’t know. It seems like if you’re an alien race you’re not going to lay down national divisions like we here on earth do. So they’re off doing this, and Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) is now living in Washington DC, but is unable to find a job, even though he’s saved the planet twice. Apparently the government in this film is also not keen on keeping unemployment numbers down. With Megan Fox gone, there’s a new love interest, Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), who is Sam’s sugar mama until he can find work. The first time we see her, it occurs to me that Michael Bay kind of pervy. We pick up on the backs of her bare knees (she’s clad in only a men’s button-down shirt and underwear) as a handheld camera follows her up a set of stairs. The camera peeks up under her shirt as her body shifts on each step, showing the shape of her bum. My first thought–right after OKKKKKK–was, “Hey, there are ten-year-olds in this theater!” Carly is provocatively dressed throughout the movie, but I supposed that’s why Bay hired a model and not an actress for the role.

What happens from there is we learn the U.S.’s first mission to the moon was less about space exploration and more about investigating an alien ship that crashed there. Luckily, Buzz Aldrin wasn’t given a ring and an oath to speak to a lantern. Instead, the ship contained a series of pilars that, when assembled, allowed time travel. It was supposed to save the Autobots and Cybertron, but it crashedand the rest is Transformers history. The next two hours of this film (dear god, it’s 157 minutes long!) consists of the bad guys trying to get the full set of pilars from the good guys so that they could use the time travel device for evil instead of good, and the good guys trying to stop them. Along the way there are humans: a hard-as-nails DoD official called Mearing (Frances McDormand–yes, just like in Thor, there is an Oscar winner in this terrible film), who refuses to listen to anyone who has anything to say about what’s going on . . . until it’s too late!, Simmons (John Turturro), the former Section 7 agent who has gone from hiding his classified escapades to cashing in on them, Jerry Wang (Ken Jeong), a conspiracy theorist and all-around oddball, Dylan (Patrick Dempsey), Carly’s McDreamy boss who alway steps on Sam’s toes, Bruce Brazos (a very misused John Malkovich), Sam’s quirky would-be employer and martial arts enthusiast, and Lennox and Epps (Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson), who reprise their roles of military blockheads who are actually smart from the first two films.

All these humans play a collective role in the film: to keep it from just being fancy, uninteresting robots. I guess this is to anchor it as something mass moviegoers can relate to. It doesn’t. The humans are just as uninteresting as the robots. But with all the special effects, I guess little things like story and acting don’t matter. People will see it. People are seeing it.

And speaking of special effects, I think they’re overused to the point of making a big muddled mess of everything. These robots have so many intricate parts to them, and whenever you really get to see them up close, they’re always in battle, being hurled around the screen in shots that are way too closely blocked (something I think most fight scenes have a problem with), so you can’t really appreciate all the work of the artists who brought them to life. The sound is the same way; these movies have an incredible audio quality to them, but there’s just so damn much of it all the time that it really overstates what was supposed to be something that we’d appreciate. If you really want to hear what a movie should sound like, check out Saving Private Ryan.

Here’s one more thing that is pretty bad: Some of the shots used in this movie apparently weren’t even filmed for this movie. Check out the screen caps below. The images on the bottom of the sets are from Transformers: Dark of the Moon. The ones on top are from another Michael Bay-directed movie called The Island.

I’m not exactly sure what it is that made me dislike this movie so much. I can usually find at least something that I enjoy in every film I see. If I had to pick one thing in this one, it was probably Ken Jeong, and that’s only because he sucked the least. I guess I just feel like it was subpar because it didn’t have to be anything more than that. Bay knew that no matter what he did, this movie was going to make a ton of cash. And he was right. If–god forbid–there’s a fourth one, I don’t know if he’ll be so lucky though. These films have been in a decline since the second half of the first one, and there hasn’t been an uptick since. Maybe by this time two years from now, moviegoers will wise up.

I would tell you not to waste your money on this film, but seeing is how it grossed something like $300 million worldwide over the weekend, you probably already did.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon trailer: