This review contains spoilers
The first transformers film was a pleasant surprise when it was released in 2007, it had its flaws but it was an entertaining piece of escapism, surprisingly well made considering it was based on a children’s cartoon. Unfortunately the same cannot be said about its sequel Revenge of the Fallen- overlong, overblown and very predictable it seemed to prove the first film was little more than a lucky fluke. But money talks and the series massive box office made a third instalment inevitable. Director Michael Bay and Star Shia Laboeuf return for the latest entry in the series.
Opening a year after the events of Revenge of the Fallen Sam Whitwicky is lying low with new girlfriend Carly Spencer (Rosie Huntington Whitely). Moving to Chicago in search of a job he is hired by Bruce Brazos (John Malkovich wasted in little more than a cameo). A move away from the playful tone of the earlier films, it makes for interesting if uneasy viewing, in a film about robotic aliens nods to the recession and the dire situation facing college graduates weren’t entirely welcome.
One of his fellow workers (The Hangover’s Ken Jeoung, providing most of the film’s few laughs in an eccentric performance) hands him a document, hinting at a potential cover up at the 1969 moon landing and setting the plot in motion, before being brutally (and rather funnily) killed, it’s one of the highlights of the film, but also demonstrates its flaws A film clearly has problems if someone being thrown out of a window is more memorable than buildings exploding.
The first hour of the film is surprisingly slow, it takes too long to get a relatively simple plot going, several scenes could have easily been jettisoned with no adverse effect, and Time that could be used to connect with the characters is wasted on clunky exposition and annoying subplots that lead nowhere. It almost makes you wish for the brainless action of its predecessor, making it hard to judge whether this instalment is an improvement or not.
And then the film turns strange, it somehow works in a bad taste detour to Chernobyl (decepticons caused the explosion) and an uneasy scene in the middle east (Apparently autobots are involved in the war on terror) both are poor attempts at making the film more relevant and add to the list of problems with the script.
Megatron made an imposing villain in the first two films, in this instalment he is relegated to a supporting role, not only does he have little to do he isn’t even relevant to the plot, making his death devoid of any impact (Although Leonard Nimroy has fun as new chief baddy Sentinel Prime). Whilst Bumblebee, another popular character from the franchise is given virtually no purpose in the film, replaced by other transformers which are largely forgettable and easily confused.
New cast member Alan Tudyk is wasted as John Tuturro’s camp new assistant-not funny, very annoying and very, very clichéd. Tuturro himself is reduced to a annoying attempt at comedy (at least that’s what it seems like) that feels out of place in the film, most of the returning characters are hampered by ill thought out dialogue and limited screen time.
On the other hand the absence of other characters does the films favours; the annoying (and racist) transformers Mudflap and Skids are gone. Sam’s annoying parents are largely absent; existing for comedy relief (which never really worked) in the previous films they aren’t missed and make the film more enjoyable.
In fact the dorky humour of the earlier films is largely absent; the script is written by Ethan Krueger a co-writer on the second film, he brings a more mature, less predictable tone to the film, although it’s still plagued by a convulted structure, clichéd dialogue and over length (though it feels a lot shorter than its predecessor). There are a number of plot holes which I won’t go into detail about, although the central McGuffin, the ‘space bridge’ weapon makes the first two films largely pointless. In anycase rest assured this isn’t a film that requires a lot of thinking.
In the first two films Megan Fox was given little to do but Scream and Run, absent from the film (she is dismissed with an amusing, if cruel one liner) she isn’t really missed. Her replacement Rosie Huntington Whitely (in her film debut), fails to make an impression as a character or an actress. Despite serving as a new central character she is given even less to work with than fox. We learn next to nothing about her character or motivations, there is little chemistry between her and Labeouf and their relationship is so sketchily described is hard to see why the audience should care about her at all.
This is a film that largely relies on Shia Labeouf’s shoulders to succeed, whilst he has improved as an actor, and carries the film adequately to its end, there is never a sense that he is particularly enjoying himself. You can hardly blame him, Sam Whitwicky is still as annoying and two dimensional as he was two films earlier; it’s hard to think of another major franchise where it’s so hard to care about the protagonist.
Transformers Dark of the moon is still a film aimed squarely at teenagers, but the violence has never felt more believable. Humans are reduced to burning piles of ash, whilst the transformers scream in pain, there ‘bones’ break, they even ‘bleed’. It’s an improvement over the overblown nonsense of the earlier films, but it’s somewhat unsettling- it is based on a kids cartoon after all.
Filmed and set in America with an American cast and crew, you expect some bias but the film is rampantly Pro-American, non US audience members are expected to have a basic knowledge of America’s geography and accept some truly cringe worthy speeches about Americas Greatness. As a Brit I have little knowledge of the US’s layout and I certainly have no interest in flag duty or honour, it’s cheesy, confusing and frankly annoying.
Whilst the film certainly has its flaws (a lot of them) it also has several strong points.
One of these is Michael Bay, whatever his flaws as storyteller (admittedly not something necessary to a franchise about talking robots) his directs action scenes like few others.
This skill is most evident in the last 45 minutes, it too takes too long to get there but the climax is packed with stunning action sequences.
Decepticons turn Chicago into a smoking ruin, it is on a scale not previously scene in the franchise. Elsewhere teams of parachuting soldiers weave between explosions and collapsing buildings, Shot with handheld cameras these scenes have a gritty intensity rarely found in the trilogy, and are arguably its highpoint. Avoiding a current trend the action isn’t reliant on super quick editing or slow motion, it is largely possible to understand what’s going on, even if it’s harder to enjoy.
The best set piece barely involves transformers, Sam and Several soldiers are trapped in a skyscraper gradually collapsing sideways , to escape they jump out of the window and slide down the outside of the building, its unexpected and defies logic, but its’ undeniably a very fun scene, and showcases some genuinely impressive technical ability.
These scenes would be nothing without the special effects, the explosions, transformations and gunfire has never looked better, almost justifying the films massive budget. This is the first instalment to be shown in 3D; which is employed to adequate if hardly necessary effect; it certainly improves the visuals, and gives the effects more clout, but doesn’t really merit the additional coast for the audience.
In conclusion Transformers Dark of The Moon lacks logic, soul and any real meaning, but it still provides a small measure of entertainment, the action is skilfully put together, some of the humour is actually funny and watching Shia Labeouf get increasingly badly injured will please many people. But this doesn’t make up for the fact that this is a messy, overlong and largely forgeable conclusion to the trilogy. Fans and undemanding audiences will look past the flaws and enjoy the film, whilst anyone else will probably want their money back.
Shia Labeouf has claimed it’s the best entry in the series on this evidence he was watching a different film.