Michael Bay continues his one-man quest to blow everything up in the interminable, deafening Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the third in the ever-diminishing franchise built around robot toys from the 1980s. The best moments in the movie arrive in the first ten minutes, as Bay and his screenwriter Ehren Kruger re-jig history to land the Apollo 11 mission on the moon on a secret mission to explore a cavernous crashed alien spaceship, containing the first clue to the existence of gigantic sentient robots.
Fast forward forty years and the war between the two races of robotic aliens (the good-guy Autobots and the bad-guy Decepticons) continues, with the fate of the Earth hanging in the balance. The Autobots leader Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) is attempting to locate fragments of an advanced technology, developed by his mentor Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy), before his sworn enemy Megatron (Hugo Weaving). Despite receiving a hero’s medal from Obama, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) has been cut adrift by the US government (personified by Frances McDormand’s clipped secret service chief). Recently graduated from college, Sam is looking for a job. In between interviews, he passes the time with his new girlfriend Carly (lingerie model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley making her debut, and with any luck, her swansong) in their incongruously ornate apartment in Washington.
In Sam’s absence, The Autobots have been enlisted into the US military, tearing off around the world to dish out mechanical justice to an assortment of swarthy-looking villains in various desert locations. While on a fact-finding mission to Chernobyl, for some reason, Optimus Prime and his human handler Lennox (Josh Duhamel) are ambushed by an enormous robotic hydra, inspired by David Lynch’s sandworms from Dune. Back in the US, everyone with information about NASA’s co-operation with the Autobots are being assassinated by a bird-like robot with the ability to transform into everyday objects. Eventually, and by that I mean about an hour into the story, the good guys start joining the dots in the conspiracy and the plot is abandoned in favour of all-out action.
The story might be nonsense but the Transformers franchise allows Bay and his army of technicians to push the envelope as far as digital image-making is concerned. Although the scores of crash-bang action sequences blend into an interchangeable accumulation of clattering cogs and grinding gears, Bay’s 3D vista allows for rare moments of grace; a flurry of moon dust or a tumble of scarlet sparks spreading across the screen, each falling mote distinguishable from its neighbour. The real trouble is that Bay doesn’t know when to stop and what’s more, the director still hasn’t learned that epic action sequences and flashy effects don’t make up for a dire script and woeful performances. Watching the film, there’s the distinct impression that Bay would be happier if he didn’t have to include human actors at all, allowing him to play with his robotic toys in peace.
Thematically, Bay’s already undemanding story has been further simplified into the broadly drawn strokes of an all-action war film, with the good guys and the bad guys squaring off against one another in an hour-long climax set amongst the ruins of a destroyed Chicago. Aside from some deeply unamusing comedy business, there is no room for character development or plot beyond an endless series of high-octane explosions, clattering mechanical battles and lingering soft-core titillation. As such, the third, and hopefully last, iteration of this soulless franchise matches the template of the first two films; an hour of blinding pyrotechnics interspersed with indistinguishable shiny objects smashing into each other while their human counterparts run about shouting.
Transformers: Dark Of The Moon is better than Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen but that’s like your doctor telling you he can’t save your life, but he found your wallet. A small mercy indeed. After three films (this one running for more than two and a half hours) metal fatigue has set in.
You can read my interview with Michael Bay for the first Transformers film here