Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

2014 #56
Michael Bay | 154 mins | Blu-ray | 2.40:1 | USA / English | 12 / PG-13

Transformers: Dark of the MoonIn an era where sequels seem to improve on their predecessors more often than not — building on established characters and mythology for a deeper experience, rather than rehashing the same plot/jokes/action sequences for a second-go-round money-grab — this Michael Bay-helmed series based on ’80s action figures is a throwback to… well, the ’80s. It’s almost appropriate.

This is the third Bay-guided Transformers flick (I liked the first, was generous to the second), and it starts off well, with a virtuoso eight-minute pre-credits sequence that reconfigures the past 50 years of Earth’s spacefaring in the story’s image. OK, so it contains a seriously ill-advised, incredibly poorly-realised CGI JFK, but we can let some things go. Unfortunately, from here on out the movie does its best to pile on stuff we can’t let go.

It’s difficult to know where to begin on Dark of the Moon’s flaws, because it throws them up so unrelentingly. The storytelling is appalling — it meanders through interminable tonally-suspect ‘comedy’ bits, but then skips over plot points so thoroughly it’s like somebody forgot to shoot some scenes, or possibly reconfigured the entire plot in the edit. Often it feels like watching a not-final cut, full of scenes and moments you’d normally find in the DVD’s deleted scenes section and think, “yes, quite right they cut that”. One of Bay’s (and his fans’) mantras is that these films are just about entertainment, not “winning Oscars or like whatevs”, so maybe he genuinely couldn’t give two hoots about plot? Storytelling is boring and to be brushed past in a race to the next “funny” bit or big fight, maybe?

Boring peopleThere are impressive visuals, it’s true, but that’s all they are: dramatic pictures. The characters, their motivations and actions that lead to these visuals often make no sense. And to say they “lead” there at all is generous, because just as often things begin to happen for no apparent reason. I swear no one’s thought any of it through — like the moment when the big honourable hero is offered a truce by the villain and, instead of accepting it, immediately executes him. Stay classy, Optimus Prime.

If this was a direct-to-DVD or Syfy Channel cheapy, everyone would rip it to shreds. But because it’s slickly shot with bank-breaking CGI, rather than on video with computer game rejects, some people still buy into the badly-told plot that doesn’t make a lick of sense, the poorly-constructed action sequences that are impossible to follow, let the weak acting and ludicrous tonal variety slide… One character even has the temerity to utter the line — and I quote accurately — “does it suck or what? I mean it’s like a bad sci-fi film.”

Yes, it does suck, but it’s not “like” a bad sci-fi film — it is a bad… well, sod the “sci-fi” bit: it’s a bad film. For a movie made by experienced filmmakers, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is shockingly inept.

2 out of 5

The fourth film in the series, Transformers: Age of Extinction, is released in UK cinemas tomorrow (yes, on a Saturday).

Transformers: Dark of the Moon featured on my list of The Five Worst Films I Saw in 2014, which can be read in full here. However, when I rewatched it in 2017 I had

2 thoughts on “Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

  1. Trouble is, these films are so unfathomably popular and hugely successful, they keep on making them. Transformers 4 is apparently even worse- what’s the odds it makes even MORE money?

    I recently saw the Lone Ranger movie (review coming soon-ish) and really enjoyed it, but it tanked at the box office (at least compared to its cost and expectations). It was certainly superior to these Transformers films, as was the ill-fated John Carter. Seems its all a crap shoot.

    There’s some undercurrent of cynicism in these films that disturbs me. Bigger, louder, faster… Committee filmmaking that is utterly soulless. In hindsight, it makes films like Cloud Atlas all the more special, for all its failings. In my darkest moments, I just think the mass film going public are morons who are suckers for mindless spectacle, and the industry going to hell in the drive for profit/box office.

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    • The sad thing is, based on anecdotal reports, I think that “the mass film going public are morons who are suckers for mindless spectacle” is a pretty accurate assessment. Two things specifically related to Transformers 4 that evidence this caught my eye today:

      1) from Empire: “The loyal fans – and they are legion – will trot out clichés like, “Leave your brain at the door,” and defend Age Of Extinction’s right to be nothing but a succession of varoom! and kersmash! sequences. For those who aren’t still blindly faithful to something they liked when they were nine, despite the colossal scale, there’s little to see here.” The first bit is true — that’s exactly what they do. The second bit is, I think, bang on as to why.

      2) Andrew Ellard’s Tweetnotes on the film. Towards the end he talks about the reactions of the American audience he saw it with: “audiences love it. I saw this in a packed theatre. They CHEER when innocents were threatened/killed. I can loathe Bay for making it, but he’s…right? This crowd, they love hate. They love revenge. Selfishness. Cruelty. The sexism? They shrug it off. The nonsensical story and people? Ditto. But the cruelty is an active joy. The applaud. I’m not exaggerating. This (American) crowd applauded at the end of the film.”

      So yeah, audiences are awful.

      Hearteningly, I also read two reviews of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes today, and it sounds like it continues in the more-intelligent-than-your-average-blockbuster vein of its predecessor. Maybe there’s some hope… some small hope…

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