Look. We both know how this one’s going to shake out. If you didn’t like Transformers and you hated Revenge of the Fallen, nothing I say about Transformers: Dark of the Moon is likely to change your mind as to whether you’ll even see it or not. What I can say is Transformers: Dark of the Moon boasts the most spectacular 3D since Avatar so if you have even a modicum of interest in that level of visceral immersion (or you just want to see something that Michael Bay is truly masterful at) then stick with me a little longer as I plumb the depths of Bay’s third excursion into the war between the Autobots and Decepticons.
If you’ve seen the trailer, you get the jist: the space race launched by JFK in the 60s was an cover up to retrieve a downed Cybertronian spacecraft from the moon. Inside that spacecraft was the last great Prime named Sentinel (voice of Leonard Nimoy) and a mysterious cargo that has Autobot leader and Sentinel Prime descendant, Optimus, on edge. Meanwhile, Sam Witwicky (the “beloved” Shia LaBeouf) is in a bit of a funk as he’s saved the world (twice) and remains unable to find a job. Naturally, these completely unrelated plots are smashed together to have Sam once again aiding the Autobots in their quest to stop the dastardly plans of those no-good Decepticons.
In contrast to Revenge of the Fallen, this is an actual plot. It doesn’t deviate. It doesn’t try to juggle twenty things at once. The worst I can say about it is that the editing doesn’t do it justice. What should be a simple, coherent story isn’t, thanks to Bay’s ineptitude at assembling his footage.
The ever-shifting tone doesn’t do Dark of the Moon’s coherence any favors either, only serving to further muddle the botched editing job. Bay’s use of over-the-top slapstick comes out of some bizarro universe, almost a perverted version of what you’d expect from the physical humor used in early Hollywood productions during the transition from silent films to “talkies”. Although it makes for some laugh out loud moments (namely the cameo by Ken Jeong of Hangover fame), it seriously clashes with the weighty affairs assigned to the Autobots in their never-ending job to ensure the safety of mankind.
(Since we’re talking “humor”, many will be pleased to know Bay has mercifully spared us of all humping and excrement [robot and canine alike] as well as the racist caricatures that were Mudflap and Skidz. It’s sad that anyone can call this progress.)
After that first hour and a half of people going places and doing things (most of which make no sense), we arrive in Chicago to witness the insane setpieces that make up the finale. What Bay does to Chicago in that final hour is on a scale never before seen in cinema. It is an all out war between the Autobots and Decepticons and it looks like a warzone. The sheer extent of the destruction their battles wreak upon the city is mesmerizing especially in combination with the masterful execution of the 3D; the whole thing makes the skirmish at the end of the first Transformers look like child’s play.
Of course, Dark of the Moon’s finale has a number of flaws. For example, Optimus Prime is tangled in a bunch of cables at a construction site and disappears until the last five minutes to save the day—same as in Revenge of the Fallen—the only purpose of which is to protract the fighting and make an excuse for Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson to show up for no reason and act like they have a reason to exist (admittedly their affect on the outcome is far more convincing here than the previous two outings). And, with the exception of Optimus, Megatron, Bumblebee, Starscream and Sentinel Prime, none of the other Transformers are recognizable hence everything they do is mere eye candy with not a bit of substance to it.
Most damning of all is the reason behind the carnage: Optimus and the Autobots fake their own deaths allowing the Decepticons to unleash the hells of Cybertron on an unsuspecting Chicago. Optimus explains to Sam that he allowed this to happen in order to have humans finally understand how evil the Decepticons are. For all the talk about freedom and protecting humanity that Optimus spouts during Dark of the Moon’s 153 minute running time, he’s still willing to sacrifice thousands, possibly even millions of lives, to make his point. And Sam just goes along with it—if I were Sam I would be livid. It’s a move that’s entirely out of character for both Sam and Optimus and undercuts the few respectable motivations the movie has.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon ends abruptly once Optimus smites his enemies and the rubble settles with a proud voiceover blabbing on about Earth and freedom with that mandatory, Jingoistic tattered-flag-waving-in-the-background shot and not so much as a mention on Sam’s pointless narrative about finding his place or getting back his out-of-his-league girlfriend or even a moment to focus on the war-ravaged wasteland that was Chicago. You know, like a Michael Bay movie.