June 29, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Somebody say they needed 1.21 gigawatts?

Grade: D +

Director: Michael Bay

Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand, and John Malkovich

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 2 hr. 37 min.

The greatest trick Michael Bay ever pulled was making his last Transformers movie so godawful that virtually any follow-up would look superlative by comparison. While Bay excises most (but not all) of the hip-hop “humor” that sullied Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, he amps up the decibels and bumptiousness for Transformers: Dark of the Moon (hereafter Transformers 3).

As the film opens, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) and the Autobots roam the planet as a phalanx for American foreign policy – we watch them destroy an “illegal nuclear facility” in some nameless Arab country. Meanwhile, Decepticon leader Megatron (Hugh Weaving) has been reduced to a desert-dwelling raghead patiently plotting his next terrorist incursion.

Opportunity comes in the form a Cybertronian ship whose crash landing on the moon in the early 1960s was the actual impetus for the U.S.-Soviet space race (this historical tie-in includes a shuffle-through by Buzz Aldrin himself). Found aboard the craft are a collection of gizmos designed to teleport Cybertron into Earth’s orbit (we never really know why) together with the dormant hulk of former Autobot leader Sentinel Prime, voiced by Leonard Nimoy. Nimoy’s inclusion provides the film’s lone moment of cleverness when a couple of slacker bots watch the “Amok Time” episode of the original Star Trek TV series and, in a bit of foreshadowing, describe it as “the one where Spock goes crazy.”

Once again the Decepticons and their allies threaten mankind while political leaders opt for appeasement, exiling the Autobots and removing their soldiers from the battlefield in hopes that the enemy will just leave them alone. Instead, the Decepticons launch an offensive to secure world domination, headlined by a rampage through downtown Chicago that does more damage to the Windy City than Mrs. O’Leary’s cow.

Transformers 3 shamelessly assimilates the vernacular and imagery of Sept. 11 (Chi-town is “Ground Zero”), refracted through Bay’s interpretation of the lessons learned from the Vietnam War, Holocaust, and Neville Chamberlain. And if toppled skyscrapers aren’t discomforting enough, inexplicable recurring hero Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) discovers the Decepticons are out to steal your women, too. As Sam’s new girlfriend Carly, ex-Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (subbing for the suddenly sage Megan Fox) primarily sports tight jeans and purses her pursed, collagen-filled lips while standing in front of a green-screen full of explosions and other assorted carnage.

Bay’s literal and figurative flag-waving would be fine if his film was any good. The Bush Doctrine overtones in Christopher Nolan’s Batman films are suitable because they’re packaged in first-rate vehicles. By contrast, Transformers 3 an orgy of dizzying, interminable special effects and right-wing allegory set to Wagneresque blaring brass of composer Steve Jablonsky. You pray for periodic flashes of color in order to tell one shape-shifting robot from another – at one point, four indistinguishable silver robots are caught in a Mexican standoff. Bay’s tone-deaf notion of humor is Sam’s mom taking time during the End of Days to chat with her adult son about how to satisfy a woman.

The rest of the window-dressing is equally vapid and useless. Save for Carly's collaboration with Bay’s leering camera, there’s not a single supporting character whose presence would be missed, but there are a whole lot of actors that should know better. They include a gonzo corporate exec (John Malkovich), a NSA ramrod (Frances McDormand), McDreamy as a car collector (Patrick Dempsey), a crazy Asian (Ken Jeong, natch), a conspiracy nut (John Turturro, again), and invincible super soldiers Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson.

In Bay’s reality, Bill O’Reilly passes for a celebrity cameo and a medal awarded by President Obama for saving the world isn’t enough to get Sam a job as a mail room clerk. “We’re pretty much all Republicans around here,” quips one company headhunter, channeling his director and his loud, jingoistic polemic for neo-con U.S. geopolitics. Transformers 3: Mission not accomplished.

Neil Morris

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