Michael Bay’s Transformers films have always played with expectations. Expectations for the first film were quite low as no one expected Michael Bay’s signature brand of cheese loaded explosions to do justice to the tales we had all imagined with the beloved toys. But then the first film was a deserved success, a success which earned a modicum of respect for the explosion loving Bay and launched the careers of both Shia LaBeouf and Megan Fox. On the back of that success the second film was expected to be quite good also. Instead it was an unholy disaster of epic proportions. Rarely has a film been messed up so badly. LaBeouf’s career came to a screeching halt and Megan Fox followed it up with a string of almost equally poorly received flops. And so for the latest instalment expectations became much more trepidatious. The film stood an equal chance of being as good as the first, or as poor as the second. It turns out it’s both.
Dark of the Moon is best compared to a well constructed train. It is solid, sleek and moves along at an enjoyable pace. Unfortunately the sole goal of this train’s construction seems to be the absolute train wreck which is the third act.
The first two acts of this film are as well rounded as the first film was. The characters are positioned well and the plot swings along nicely. The story once again follows Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) as he makes his way through life. He’s now at that wonderful stage of trying to find a job after graduating from college. A task Witwicky finds all the more difficult given that after saving the world (twice) he is unwilling to accept such lowly positions as ‘mailroom boy’. Sam’s frustrations are further amplified by the relative success of his new girlfriend Carly (Huntington-Whitely).
Huntington-Whitely replaces Megan Fox’s Mikaela Banes. The replacement is quite well scripted and you get the feeling that this film wouldn’t have worked with Fox in it, but it still feels a little forced as we never got to actually see the break up between Sam and Mikaela, or even a lead up to it. As for new girlfriend Carly? She doesn’t have much to do. She is little more than a mobile plot device. Other character’s reactions to her do drive the plot forward at points, but she herself does little more than stand around looking pretty, a job former Victoria’s Secret model Huntington-Whitely does quite well, just not quite as well as Megan Fox. It doesn’t help that Huntington-Whitely’s accent remains thoroughly annoying throughout.
Meanwhile the Autobots are out aiding humanity. Which it turns out is remarkably similar to just aiding the good ol’ US of A. So much so that they could have done away with the ‘NEST’ moniker (Network Elements: Supporters and Transformers) and just gone with ‘Team America: World Police’. Along the course of their work they discover that the humans have known about more Autobot technology than they thought, as 50 years ago an Autobot craft crashed on the moon. The space race of the 60’s was all about getting to the crash site. When the Americans finally got there in ’69 they started bringing back parts. Fortunately they didn’t bring back the really dangerous stuff from the ship; so the Autobots promptly pop up and get it.
Unfortunately all of this is going according to a plan of Megatron (Weaving) of the Decepticons. This plan had been in place for decades. It just went unmentioned in the previous films. With the plan finally taking shape Megatron is able to move from his perfect hideout for a giant robot (in the middle of the wide open African savannah dressed like a Tusken Raider) and make his move. His move involves having Ken Jeong killed, apparently for just being Ken Jeong, which is very reasonable. Sam Witwicky however has at this point swallowed his pride and gotten a job working with Jeong and so learns that Megatron is up to something, giving him the perfect excuse to go be a hero again. Except National Intelligence Director Mearing (McDormand) won’t let him help.
Sam is left with only one option. He must team up with the single most inept agent the United States has ever employed, Simmons (Turturro). Luckily Simmons has gotten himself a useful new sidekick, Dutch (Tudyk). Dutch is the stand out character of the film and Tudyk steals every single scene he’s in. He almost justifies the admission price on his own. With his new partners, Sam solves the case and once again gets to go be a hero.
Everything up to this point has been rather fun, a little silly at points, quite affectionate at others. There are good laughs and kick ass robots kicking ass. Not perfect but well on course to equal the first film. Unfortunately everything suddenly takes a nose dive.
Humour has played an important role throughout the film and the jokes are well executed, allowing you to laugh along with the film, for the last act however there is no choice but to laugh at the film. The plot becomes ridiculous, the dialogue becomes obvious and/or pointless and the cheese becomes rancid. There are still jokes which are supposed to be funny, but they’re funny for all the wrong reasons, as in, ‘it’s hilarious that the makers thought that that joke would be funny’. Most of the ideas seem to be there purely because someone thought it might look cool (to be fair most of the ideas do look quite cool, even in their ridiculousness, except for the ideas which play to the 3D), if they think the idea is a little too ridiculous they just attempt to explain it away with an even more ridiculous line of dialogue, which doesn’t even come close to working.
Eventually the procession of ludicrousness reaches a point tentatively called a conclusion and the film just stops, rather abruptly. This is best demonstrated in Optimus Prime, an Autobot who appears to be powered by emotional tension. It has to reach a critical mass before he can stop getting his ass kicked and aid the conclusion, but when that emotion reaches its (rather low) peak, the film is over within 2 unsatisfying minutes.
Bad movies are an unfortunate fact of life. At their worst they leave you wailing for the hours lost watching them, like in Transformers 2, but at their best, bad movies provide endless entertainment as you get to laugh at just how ridiculous things get. Dark of the Moon is the latter kind. Thoroughly ridiculous, and thoroughly enjoyable. LaBeouf managed to really grow into his role and demonstrates exactly what it was that made him so popular after the first movie while simultaneously cutting out everything which made him unpopular. Sam Witwicky has grown up, and so has Shia. Michael Bay on the other hand. . .