The TRANSFORMERS movies are like high-end Christmas toys that come bristling with all kinds of lights, bells, and whistles—but whose shoddy construction ensures they won’t make it past the holidays without being broken. These movies are boisterous and bright—admittedly very cool to look at and listen to at times. But TRANSFORMERS is never a memorable movie experience because the movies are, well, hollow and cheap—like trinkets from a Taiwanese sweat shop. It’s like getting a decent hand job under the bleachers in high school when you know you’ll have a much better time the following weekend, in your friend’s parents’ bedroom, with some chick you’ll meet at the party he throws when his folks are out of town.
If Michael Bay (THE ROCK, ARMAGEDDON) ever met the person who suggested “less is more,” the TRANSFORMERS director would probably shove a grenade in his mouth. For Bay, if it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing with lots of C-4 and a shot of cleavage (or a dick joke).
Bay’s M.O. hasn’t changed for TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON. Now three films deep in the science-fiction franchise based on the Marvel Comic (which, like G.I. JOE, was based on the Hasbro toys) everything’s noisier and more volatile then ever. Token army tough guy Lennox (Josh Duhamel) still has a funny chicken-hawk haircut. More historic landmarks are ruined, Roland Emmerich-style—only they’re in Washington, D.C. instead of Giza, Egypt. A climactic battle royal decimates downtown Chicago, with Sears / Willis Tower becoming ground zero for a showdown between Autobots, Decepticons, and their human sympathizers. The Michigan Mile is mauled and Navy Pier is plundered.
We can only hope Oprah didn’t survive.
The Autobots—led by noble Optimus Prime’s (Peter Cullen) click Peterbilt 379 truck—have spent the last couple years helping the “good” governments of Earth keep the peace. His human friend, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), is now a job-hunting college grad with a new trophy girlfriend, Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whitley). Sam could probably command $100,000 a pop at speaking engagements if he were allowed to discuss how he helped the Autobots save the planet. Twice. But he’s not. And it rankles his gaskets. It doesn’t help that his precocious parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White) are visiting the Windy City in their pimped-out RV (no, it’s not a Transformer). So Sam busies himself keeping tabs on snooty Carly, whose auto-aficionado boss (Patrick Dempsey) has his eye on her—and his mind on the coming robot war. Carly is as unlikeable as Megan Fox’s Mikeala. You don’t once get the impression she cares for Sam, even if she insists she does. Plus, you can’t trust a chick who is able to down Michigan Avenue in high heels during a robot apocalypse without so much as staining her dress.
The makeshift story here derives from a forty-year old NASA scheme: We learn the 1969 lunar landing was orchestrated in response to a crash-landing on the moon eight years prior. The derelict Autobot vessel on the moon’s shadow side holds the key to an incredible new power—a magical green ring that, er…I mean, a series of pillars that would allow the Decepticons to teleport Cybertron to Earth, where they’ll enslave humans to rebuild the robot world. It’s nasty technology; heaven forbid the dastardly Megatron (Hugo Weaving) and his pals get hold of it. Fortunately (or perhaps not), only the pillars’ comatose keeper, Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy) can operate them. Optimus is briefed on all of this by Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin himself. The film also has a few of those FOREST GUMP-like archival snippets of Kennedy and Nixon talking about the space program, and the import of landing on the fucking moon before anyone else. Even if giant evil robots lay interred up there.
Megatron—who rode shotgun to the villainous “Fallen” last time out—gets short shrift again. Cyclopian Shockwave is the “cool” Decepticon here, what with his enormous mechanical DUNE-worm boring through skyscrapers. Another bodacious baddie—Soundwave (a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG)—dispatches a murderous Pterodactyl called Laserbeak.
John Turturro returns as Sector 7 doofus-genius Seymour Simmons. He and John Malkovich (Sam’s high-strung, color-conscious boss) are charged with carrying the humor. And they succeed, but you still wonder just what the fuck John Malkovich is doing here to begin with. Does he have grandchildren who put him up to this? Hip-hop Autobots Skids and Mudflap are mercifully replaced by Wheelie and Brains—a pair of pint-size robot refugees living in Sam’s apartment who bring laughs without pandering to stereotypes as much as the robot rappers did. Ken Jeong (THE HANGOVER) cameos as a conspiracy theorist who informs Sam of the moon-shot plot.
The vehicle chases, robot fights, and urban combat sequences are still a marvel of digital choreography—with pivotal moments rendered in gorgeous slow motion—but so little of the action bolsters the flimsy narrative. In a terrific freeway chase midway through, Bumblebee—in his Chevy Camaro disguise—ejects Sam to trade blows with a robot pursuer—then morphs back into a car seconds later without dropping his mortified passenger. Later, Sam and co. slide down the glass exterior of a toppling building, only to plummet back inside the structure through some broken windows and continue their downward descent along the floor in the opposite direction. The franchise needs more original set pieces and visual gags like these. But even the most dazzling stunts won’t amount to much if the story behind them is shit. Bay tries too late in the game to make us care more than we do about the Autobots by having a couple of them captured and executed by the bad guys. But naturally Prime saves the day before the one Autobot prisoner we recognize gets blasted.
Steve Jablonsky’s deafening score is often too bombastic for the corresponding images, a mismatch that enhances the feeling you’ve already been here before. Twice. Like, okay, here’s the Autobots tooling down the highway in car form—BADABADAHBAHM!! This may be the funniest TRANSFORMERS film. But at 150 minutes, it’s also the most taxing. So much doesn’t make sense here, not least of which being why Secretary of Defense Charlotte Mearing (Frances McDormand) doesn’t simply nuke Chicago when events there threaten to obliterate all of humanity. Doing so would also serve to kill Oprah Winfrey, who has already caused a great deal of damage to our culture.
Go check this at a matinee or wait for the DVD. It may be the best TRANNY movie where action is concerned, but it’s just more déjà vu where the microchip-thin plot is concerned.