After two-and-a-half hours of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen and nearly two hours of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, director Michael Bay finally starts to deliver: the final 40 minutes of this film, which showcase the utter annihilation of downtown Chicago under heaps of metallic garbage, are technically marvelous. The precision with which Bay carries out his 9/11-like mass destruction is almost a thing of beauty.
But after an entire movie´s worth of setup – endless exposition, pathetic character development, and precious little robot action numbing the audience into submission – one massive balls-to-the-wall slam-bang action set piece is too late to save Transformers 3.
But it certainly isn´t too little: as a U.S. Army team skydives around (and through) Chicago skyscrapers, the boa constrictor-like Shockwave coils himself around a high-rise while humans tumble around inside, and Autobots and Decepticons duke it out on the streets below, we are, at long last, given something in return for sitting through these last two interminable films.
Dark of the Moon – (poorly) titled so because of rights issues involving Pink Floyd´s Dark Side of the Moon? – starts off innocently enough, with a waxy, cartoonish CGI John F. Kennedy explaining the real reason behind the space race: to contact an alien presence, conveniently located on the “shadowy” side on the moon, which Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong secretly document during the Apollo 11 mission.
Later, 81-year-old Aldrin actually turns up in the film as himself to further explain NASA´s deep, dark secret. As if, you know, you weren´t initially convinced. Apparently, the alien presence on the moon was a crashed Autobot escape vessel housing Autobot leader Sentinel Prime (voiced by Leonard Nimoy), along with the “pillars”, devices that can open up a gateway between two worlds (here, Earth and Cybertron). Not enough conspiracy? The Decepticons were totally behind the Chernobyl disaster, too.
Meanwhile, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), despite saving the world, twice, in the two previous films, is struggling to find a job. He has a new girlfriend, Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), because Megan Fox was fired for referring to Michael Bay as Hitler. Carly´s slimy boss Dylan (Patrick Dempsey) puts in a good word for Sam at Accuretta, where anal retentive Bruce Brazos (John Malkovich) offers him a job in the mailroom.
Then there´s Sam´s parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White), who stop in D.C. to be on hand for comic mugging and reaction shots. And the incredibly bland Lt. Colonel Lennox (Josh Duhamel), who leads a mission into Chernobyl to uncover the Decepticon ruse. And former agent, now-millionaire Seymour Simmons (John Turturro), who gets wrangled back into the alien intrigue with his assistant Dutch (Alan Tudyk). And Secretary of Defense Mearing (Frances McDormand), who doubts the Autobot intentions. And
At some point, you´re likely to forget this is a movie about vehicles that morph into giant robots the size of buildings. That was my biggest gripe with the previous film, and it´s even worse here: through an hour and forty-five minutes, we´re given a 10-second Optimus Prime vs. Shockwave scene, and a minute-long Ironhide & Sideswipe vs. random Decepticons sequence. That´s all the action. The rest of the scenes involving the Transformers are of the dialogue-driven exposition nature. For a Transformers fan, that’s the greatest sin here.
As if we wanted to see these giant junkyard heaps talk to each other. Dark of the Moon throws a bunch of new characters into the mix, but only Shockwave (who steals the show when in boa mode) and Sentinel Prime get anything to do. Too many of the other characters (especially the Decepticons) look the same, and when they start dying left and right at the finale we often don´t know who is who. Not that it matters, as most of these robots have died and returned over the previous films.
The human cast fares even worse. Victoria´s Secret model Huntington-Whiteley is, I think, a better actress than Fox (the British accent may help hide her deficiencies), but Bay does her no favors, having her run around crumbling buildings in high heels, towering above her costar LaBeouf, framing her face so tight that her upper lip threatens to overtake the screen in close-ups. An orange-tinted Malkovich and one-note McDormand look embarrassed to be here. Only Turturro (much better than last time around) and Tudyk, chewing up the screen, seem to know what kind of movie they´re in.
Oddity: the (countless) human victims explode into bloodless PG-13 clouds of bone and dust, yet the robots spurt a rusty metallic blood.
By the time the big action-packed climax comes around, the film has lost us. Whatever talent Bay had as storyteller (last evident in the first Transformers film) has deserted him, and his movie is dead on the screen – zero momentum, as dead as a Summer Blockbuster can get and torture to sit through; the action figure equivalent of Eat Pray Love. But it looks great, the camerawork and editing are polished and clean, and Bay´s style is a nice refrain from the shaky-cam, hyper-edited flurry of confusion that passes for action these days.
And then we get the 40 minutes of nonstop action – slick, clean, technically proficient action on a grand scale – and it kind of wows you, you realize the kind of expert technician that Bay really is. But even in the midst of the action, you wonder where the characters are going, or how they got there, or what they´re trying to accomplish, or what, exactly, is going on in the grand scheme of things. Yeah, the storytelling sucks.
Note: Transformers: Dark of the Moon is purported to look good in 3D, but it´s only screening (in English) in a 2D version in Prague, at Palace Cinemas Slovanský dům and CineStar Anděl. Elsewhere (and in 3D), it’s dubbed in Czech.