Review: Michael Bay Outdoes Himself With "Transformers: Dark Of The Moon"

The notoriously excessive director orchestrates his best Autobot vs. Decepticon smackdown yet, bad script and all.

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Complex Original

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In a recent interview with GQ, extravaganza purveyor Michael Bay gave a quote that should adorn T-shirts and be dictated in self-confidence seminars worldwide: “I don’t change my style for anybody. Pussies do that.” Seeing how that’s his stance, it’s logical to assume that Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, the director’s third anarchist, commercially polished go-round with the Hasbro property, is one bloated, never-ending, brain-hammering “Fuck you” to all of Bay’s detractors—i.e., any critics and/or film buff who’d rather chew on rice cakes than popcorn in multiplexes.

Following 2009’s joyless and rightfully chastised sequel Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, the latest giant alien robot adventure spends the first 90 minutes recapturing the wiseass humor of 2007’s Transformers (just to show fans and skeptics that the fun is back in effect) before roaring into 45 straight minutes of breathless CGI mayhem, which easily ranks as the best visual work of Bay’s predominantly visual career—Transformers: Dark Of The Moon’s final act is the first legitimate justification for overpriced 3D/IMAX ticket prices since Avatar. As the robots brawl, buildings get smothered in metallic tentacles, and returning star Shia LaBeouf (as serviceable a Transformers hero here as ever) scream-acts, Bay indulges in unadulterated spectacle, more so than he’s ever done in his now-16-year moviemaking run.

complex-review-transformers-dark-of-the-moon-insert1One gets the impression that Bay would have extended Transformers: Dark Of The Moon’s running time to somewhere around five hours if Paramount had the nerve to allow for such gluttony; that way, the shameless director could have inflated his middle-finger-on-celluloid of a finale, to the point of using the 3D technology to ram it down the throat of his naysayers seated in the theater, watching his latest showcase of mindless action despite all of their outspoken criticisms, because, let’s face it, these Transformers aren’t passing the $400 million box office marks solely through die-hard fans. And, knowing that Bay is the kind of filmmaker who yells at his cast on set and routinely earns respect in spite of his reported douche ways, it’s perfectly within reason to assume he was at least flipping the proverbial bird to his slanderers while cutting the finale in some darkly lit editing room.

Considering that Transformers: Dark Of The Moon is not only the best Transformers movie yet but also a crowning achievement in special effects and action filmmaking, he’s certainly earned the right to do so. Like all of his films, this overly long sensory assault has an assortment of problems: grating performances, a patchwork script full of ridiculous exposition sandwiched by outlandish destruction and slow-motion nihilism, and the lack of self-discipline, amongst many others. In his defiance, Bay has done little to assuage even a minor sect of condemners here. If anything, he’s about to make them that much angrier.

And we can’t do anything but flip the mental “Off” switch, sit back, and bask in the computer-generated absurdity. Transformers: Dark Of The Moon is a marvel of stupefying entertainment, reaching a distinctive plateau of summer blockbuster soullessness so that it becomes a case study in everything that’s wrong with big studio filmmaking. Yet, at the same time, it’s just too much of a gas to deny. Cinema needs the balance; seek out the nearest independent movie theater and you’ll discover a quieter, intensely character-driven picture, like, say, A Better Life; with Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, Bay has once again delivered the antithesis to such well-crafted minimalism: a brashly executed eye-gasm. And let’s keep it funky: Whether you’ll admit or not, we all enjoy a good lay.

Oh, Yeah, There’s A Shadow Of A Plot Tucked Inside Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, Too

Unlike the first two Transformers flicks, the world presented in the threequel genuinely feels like one where humans and metallic E.T.’s coexist. That’s because the heroic Autobot race, led by the ever-noble Optimus Prime, now lives on Earth, working with the government and military to preserve peace and order on the planet’s soil. Optimus’ favorite earthling, Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf), lives in Washington, D.C., with his bodacious new girlfriend, Carly (Complex's June/July cover girl Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, effectively replacing former love interest, and foolish shit-talker towards Bay, Megan Fox), who pays all of their rent since Sam is jobless.

Just as Sam lands a humble mailroom gig at a mega corporation, the Autobots’ fallen leader, Sentinel Prime, is retrieved from the Moon, which sets off a Decepticon-organized mission of evil, strategized in order to reconstruct an intergalactic bridge that will bring the robots’ planet, Cybertron, to Earth, allowing the D-cepts to turn humans into helpless slaves. Sam, Optimus, and the whole Autobot gang aren’t cool with that, naturally, and mount a counterattack that stretches from Chernobyl to Chicago, the Illinois city serving as the locale for the aforementioned 45-minute finale. Which, again, seriously whoops ass.

Just for good measure, the script, written by the always shaky Ehren Kruger, throws in a revisionist look at Apollo 11 (complete with a cheesy Buzz Aldrin cameo), a human villain (played by Patrick Dempsey) who’s in cahoots with the Decepticons and wants to smash out Sam’s hot girlfriend, and one of the most unnecessarily manic “comic relief” characters imaginable (portrayed by, but of course, Ken Jeong, who’s nearly as obnoxious here as he is in The Hangover Part II). Bay, meanwhile, spends a good amount of time humping Huntington-Whiteley with his camera; the first time we see her, the actress is shot from the ground up frolicking up a staircase in panties that are barely covered by a long, flapping white button-up.

Throughout all of the rampant silliness, a few of the film’s actors fortunately embrace the ridiculousness head-on. In an all-too-brief supporting role, prestigious eccentric John Malkovich hams it up without limitation as Sam’s new boss, spouting out mentions of Twitter and Facebook, panting before Huntington-Whiteley like a parched dog, and showing off a framed picture of himself wearing a red karate gi and making a “Pow!” hand gesture. Malkovich, like most of us, is aware that Transformers: Dark Of The Moon is an inconsequential romp; wisely, he lets the camp flow.

Perhaps Malkovich took cues from Transformers regular John Turturro, who’s back here for more scenery-gnawing as the goofy federal agent, now a pompous motivational book writer referred to as a “pinhead” by Bill O’Reilly (playing himself) on live television. He’s followed around by a new assistant/bodyguard, played by Alan Tudyk, recipient of the film’s funniest lines and strongest physical comedy.

It’s Michael Bay’s Way Or The Highway, Though The Highway Is Littered With Dismantled Robot Parts The Size Of Tanks

For every good performance, though, there’s a flat one. Josh Duhamel, back as the humorless military leader, for example, continues to display the charisma of a cyborg, though there’s not much he can do with painful dialogue, such as, “It’s the great matrix of leadership!” But Transformers: Dark Of The Moon is never about the acting, or even screenwriting coherence, of which there is very little; it’s a Michael Bay movie, meaning it’s programmed to make the theater-sold popcorn taste that much greater and the brain work as little as possible.

complex-review-transformers-dark-of-the-moon-insert2The action sequences are all, for lack of a more refined adjective, badass, and all of the effects fluidly rendered; Bay saves the best for last, however, treating the movie’s last three quarters of an hour as a no-holds-barred CGI firestorm, and it’s unquestionably glorious. The film’s best new robot, Shockwave, which resembles a larger and more chromed-out version of those creatures from Tremors, is quite the sight, wrapping itself around a skyscraper like a python; the building topples over into a ninety-degree angle, causing LaBeouf and company to slide all over the place and ricochet through windows, and, in turn, Bay to demonstrate some truly awe-inspiring direction.

Through much of the climax, it’s actually rather difficult to discern where the practical tricks end and the computer graphics begin, which is no easy feat when you’re making a movie about humongous robots. And then, once the inevitable final showdown between Optimus Prime and Megatron concludes, Bay spends all of two minutes culminating the human storylines, charging right into the final credits, as if to say, “Head to the exits, mere civilians, with only my totally gangster robots in your thoughts.” To which a snooty detractor might respond, “What a boisterous and dim piece of filmmaking that was, sir—my brain hurts.”

Bay’s potential retort: “Trying to find intelligence in a movie about enormous talking warrior robots? Pussies do that.” A cheap, though expensively made, thrill machine, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon should joyously decimate the logic of anyone carefree enough to bask in its excessiveness. No kitties here, Mr. Bay.


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