Robot rock – Transformers: Dark of the Moon review

Transformers: Dark of the Moon – Starring Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Frances McDormand. Directed by Michael Bay. By Simon Miraudo.

In 2007, I left a screening of Michael Bay’s Transformers feeling like an exhilarated schoolboy who had just happened upon his father’s nudie mag collection (or, to translate for today’s teenagers, had just discovered that the household broadband wireless connection would soon be uncapped). It was a movie almost exclusively comprised of money shots: fast cars, robots, explosions, Megan Fox stretching. Sure, the plot didn’t make a lot of sense, but neither does The Maltese Falcon and everyone loves that flick. And yes, it had a silly sense of humour, yet that only made it seem more endearing, like a precocious toddler angling for our attention with fart jokes. Ignoring those lesser elements, there was something about the film that appealed to teenage boys beyond regular blow-em-up actioners; perhaps it was the involvement of executive producer Steven Spielberg, or perhaps it was the presence of the awkwardly charming Shia LaBeouf, or perhaps it was just a perfect storm of joyful, adolescent anarchy. Four years, two sequels, a pair of racist robots and a conservative estimate of one billion robot punches later, I have to wonder if my enjoyment of that first instalment in the Transformers franchise was merely the result of low expectations (seeing ‘Based on the Hasbro Toy Line’ in the credits is hardly faith-inspiring).

The first sequel, 2009’s Revenge of the Fallen, saw Bay’s sensibilities brought to their logical, terrifying conclusion. It was louder, dumber and explodier, and far far far from endearing. The lame jokes remained, but they grew cruel and unsettling. The action sequences were ineptly constructed; it seemed as if Bay were twirling the camera so furiously as to transform the viewer’s central nervous system into a pile of custard. Above all, it was heartless. Dark of the Moon, the third and – we pray – final instalment, is not much better. A little better, but not much. Although the offensive comedy has been pulled back, the film is still psychotically unfunny. Our director, as well as screenwriter Ehren Kruger, weirdly insists on a number of misplaced sex jokes and moments of slapstick that never ever land. Also, the characters are uniformly unlikable (and, for some reason, bright orange); even Shia LaBeouf, the only connection this franchise ever had to humanity, has become an abrasive and unpleasant protagonist. That being said, Dark of the Moon features the trilogy’s best action set pieces, most iconic visual moments and offers a VFX extravaganza the likes of which may never have been seen before on screen. But what good is watching all that money on screen when there’s no human element or emotional resonance to make it count. Must it be one or the other? Can we no longer have heart and spectacle?

The film has a tantalising premise, but you have to wade through banal Transformers lore to get through it. Once upon a time, the Autobots (goodies) and Decepticons (baddies) battled for supremacy on the planet Cybertron. The Autobots lost, and fled to Earth, but not before sending an ‘ark’ containing the secret to their planet’s salvation into the cosmos. It crash-landed on the moon in the early 1960s, and the United States and Soviet Republic kicked off a space race to see who could reach it first (yes, that’s why they did it). Cut to 2011, and the Decepticons – led by a scarf-wearing Megatron – have finally figured out the location of the ‘ark’. It is up to the Autobots, including Optimus Prime and Bumblee, as well as trusting human Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf), his girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, ousting Fox), Army Colonel Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and the U.S. Secretary of Defence (Frances McDormand), to stop the Decepticons from … doing whatever it is they’re planning to do.

There are plenty of other cast members who deserve a mention, including Tyrese, Patrick Dempsey, Alan Tudyk and John Turturro, but explaining their characters would only mean delving into the film’s labyrinthine and often incomprehensible plot. John Malkovich and Ken Jeong even pop up in the picture’s first half; their roles are kind of large, but what specific part they play in the mechanics of the story I have no idea. Anyway, all these people are just there to make the robots look big when they’re punching each other, and big they indeed look. I will admit the flick has its fair number of impressive hero moments, particularly in the final hour. There are air-gliding sequences that may induce gasps, and a beautiful moment in which Bumblebee grabs Witwicky and transforms into a car, reminiscent of a similar scene in the classic 1980s animated feature. Instances like this remind me of that joyful abandon I felt in the first. There is an appeal to seeing phenomenally expensive special effects and hundreds of skyscraper-leveling explosions on the big screen. But sadly, at a soul-sapping 153 minutes, those moments are few and far between, and they are outweighed by the eye-gougingly Bays-ian flourishes that pervade every other scene. NB: the very first shot after the movie’s title appears on the screen is of Huntinton-Whiteley’s posterior. Come on Michael; at least pretend you hired her for her acting talent.


Check out Simon’s other reviews here.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon opens in Australian cinemas June 30, 2011

34 Responses to “Robot rock – Transformers: Dark of the Moon review”

  1. Why can’t a film just be fun anymore?
    The Hangover was simple fun and no one said two words about it. Why when bay makes a fun summer toy commercial, people start with the whole film is supposed to be such and such.

    anyways I looked forward to seeing the film and perhaps returning to retort or agree.

  2. I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t go to see movies like this for deep emotion or thought provoking plot. I mean seriously, this is suppose to be a big dumb, FUN summer movie. Not an academy award nominee. If this movie is more like the first and less like the second, I’m definitely gonna see it. Critics don’t need to review movies like these cause it takes all the fun away from seeing it, which is why you go to see something like this anyway. Films like these should not be taken THAT seriously.

  3. How are the robots from the last one Racist?? annoying? yes. In poor taste? Maybe.

    Are they portraying traits that show them HATING other races??

    Its like saying Shia’s character is racist because he is portraying a typical while American teen.

    You need to look up the definition of racism-

    • No, YOU need to look up the word racism. And while you’re doing that look up the word stereotype. And caricature. And stepin fetchit.

      • Shut down!

        And lol.

        Transformers is complete garbage. I endured the first through an ex’s recommendation (though I fell asleep near the end) and took pity on a friend who had a second, free ticket to see the second (he fell asleep near the end). What a complete bore.

        I enjoy watching my entire sex being narrowed down to ditzy, sexy stereotypes. I enjoy countless HOURS of unrecognisable robots hitting each other. What joy! It’s about as much fun as reading ignorant men prattle on about what defines racism and how people need to loosen up when it comes to Michael Bay.

        I hate Bay so much.

      • etimodnar….you are a woman with no imagination. That explains why you fell alseep during the movie.

        You probably enjoyed Brokeback Mountain or Black Swan. Now those movies are a serious cure for insomnia.

  4. Anything about the 3D Simon? Anything that we don’t know? You gave X-men First Class a movie with a good story, good actors, good acting and great action a bad review too. Dod you forgot to have fun in a movie? Are you in the Tree of Life branch.

    • Hi Rafa; I did indeed watch the movie in 3D, but chose not to comment on it because a) it is also screening in 2D; b) the majority of people who view it on DVD and Blu-ray when it is eventually released will see it in 2D and c) it didn’t really add anything to the viewing experience, or contribute as a storytelling device.

      Also, yes, I didn’t really like X-Men First Class either, and loved The Tree of Life. But I think you’ll find that pretty much everyone in the world disagrees about certain films, and that’s a good thing. What a boring place we’d live if we all agreed about everything. I love having fun in a movie – but in my opinion, Transformers 3 did not provide that. I hope you take from it more than I did.

  5. Good grief, yet another person who doesn’t understand what the word “racist” means. An issue that touches so many nerves, yet someone who Rotten Tomatoes has allowed to be considered a reviewer for their metrics doesn’t understand the definition of the word?

    Here’s a hint: if you’re going to write a review, you should have a dictionary and a glossary handy.

    • finally someone who sees it correctly- I have been told in the past the dictionary’s definition of racism isn’t correct….

      People are so brainwashed by the media trying to exploit racism for ratings that they have no idea what it really is.

    • Seriously. They established in the first one that they learned to communicate from our own media. And as far as our mainstream media is concerned, that’s what rappers look like and that’s what suburbanite white kids in America think rap is and they sound just like those Twins. That was a funny bit of social commentary.

      • I totally agree! A character is from an advanced alien society that says ” we don’t do much readin'” wears a gold tooth and fights his “brother” every chance he gets is a total model of social commentary. It’s called a stereotype, and this film was full of them. Inept parents, brain dead bouncy girls, terrified latinos, and worst of all, a vision of coonery that the KKK and their sympathizers would love.

      • If you were paying attention, they also said it was the language of the Primes, those ancient guys that Optimus obviously is somehow related to seeing as his name is Optimus Prime. So they can’t read it, Bumblebee can’t read it, Ratchet, Ironhide and the rest of them can’t read it. Guess they’re all racist too. i think the only thing horribly racist involving the twins is that it revealed how many Americans seem to still think African Americans have gold teeth and don’t read… who’s the real racist in this scenario? Because last I checked, hillbilly rednecks don’t do much readin’, speak in broken english, are missing or have gold teeth as well. The point still stands that they were emulating what they gleaned from our media, and our media, especially the bad rap that gets airplay, pushes those stereo types and a lot of white kids emulate it. Real hip hop doesn’t sound like that and people into real hip hop would think the rip on bad mainstream hip hop culture is just as funny as the film makers obviously did.

      • I also find it hilarious that the only people i see screamin racism on those twins are white folk. If you’d watched that movie in the hood, you’d have seen what big laughs they got from people that really get what the joke was.

      • haha, i totally agree Alan-

        Love your “bad rap” analogy, so true-

    • Since you seem to think that you understand the definition of racism better than the reviewer does, then please enlighten all of us who believe that disgustingly negative stereotypes are not racist. Please tell us what racism actually is professor.

      • the definition of racism is pretty cut and dry, you can look it up yourself.

        a stereotype is actually not racism.

        I believe Alan did a great job of describing all of this.

  6. You really couldn’t follow Maltese Falcon or the first Transformers? You didn’t have to sit through Inception or The Machinist did you? Really, lol. Well that gave me all the context on your expertise I needed. Thanks for adding that.

    • I think you need to brush up on your reading comprehension. Read the sentence again:

      “Sure, the plot didn’t make a lot of sense, but neither does The Maltese Falcon and everyone loves that flick.”

      He’s not saying that he “couldn’t follow” The Maltese Falcon’s plot. He’s saying that everyone knocks on the first Transformers for having a ridiculous plot that doesn’t stand up to any scrutiny, but they’ll praise The Maltese Falcon (a film in a different genre) for having the same level of nonsense.

      • He said it didn’t make a lot of sense. If it didn’t make a lot of sense, he must have been having trouble following it or he wouldn’t have had that issue. It actually made quite a bit of sense if you could be bothered to keep up with the plot. Seems like you need to brush up on the readin there bucko.

  7. For a movie of this scale to be taken as a ‘FUN-TYPE’ movie, is not that easy. Throughout the series, Bay has tried to incorporate many elements at once, be it drama, comedy and most notably action. He gets the equation wrong most of the time and tries to create a soulful movie experience which doesn’t work. If he did intend the movie to be ‘FUN’, he should consider ditching everything else and just sticking to what he knows best – blow $hit up, FOR FUN!

  8. Sorry to diverge from the Simon-hating (which is getting to be a trend here, which is putting me right off) for a moment. Obviously I haven’t seen this yet, premiering as it does in Australia in 11 hours or so (give or take a few minutes), but I already disagree with the need for a human element to whom audiences can relate.

    The human element, the jokes, the “bad comedy” to quote the original (and still the best IMHO) film are there for the sole purpose of stopping girlfriends and parents from refusing to accompany their boyfriend / children to the next film.

    Anyone who has (as Simon indicates he has) seen the original animated feature will recognise that even the 2 (count them), 2 humans in that film were overused and could easliy have been left out of the plot (with the only downside being the loss of that particularly terrific sequence Simon mentioned where Hot Rod catches Daniel Whitwicky and transforms around him, which I must admit still gives me a kick 25 years and several thousand viewings later). Lets get real;

    1) if you saw TF2, you’re most likely to go see TF3

    2) If you saw TF 2 its likely because you forgot,or were disappointed by how bad TF1 actually was and were hoping 2 would be better

    3) If you saw TF1 and or 2, you probably did so more than once because you were sure it would get better if you watched it again

    4) your girlfirend / parents didn’t want to go to TF1 or TF2 either but they went with you out of love (or pity) an possibly because you got conned into seeing some crap you weren’t interested in buty they were (like anything with RPat or that Heigl woman in it) so they’ll go to TF3 too

    5) What bay is really good at, above all else is making movies for which the trailers look unbelievably good, so good you go see the film even if the other 2 sucked.

    6) before you ask, yes I am a bit of a nerd, and yes I am one of thosse sad sacks who basically want to see the animated film done with CGI and the original voice cast

    7) I’ll see you there, won’t I?

  9. Maltese Falcon isn’t all that confusing – somewhat, especially if you consider Ms O’Shaughnessy. (Oh and the book is even better than the film).

    Maybe you’re thinking of The Big Sleep. The director actually rang Chandler when he realised he didn’t know who killed the driver. Chandler said who he thought did it. The director (Huston?) said he couldn’t have because he was elsewhere. Chandler said he didn’t know who killed the driver then. They shot the film anyway. And William Faulkner wrote some fruity dialogue about jockeys.

    • Would it be irritatingly smug of me to mention that I never had any trouble figuring out who killed the driver when I read the book? Mind you, I can see why people have trouble with it. Nobody’s paying Marlowe to answer that question, so there’s never a scene where he sits somebody down and explains how it all went down.

      I don’t know if the book’s answer works for the movie, though; they might have contradicted it without realising. I should actually watch it someday and find out. (Well, it’s in my queue. I’ll get to it one day.)

  10. Er, I just left my email address on the website. Can you strip it out?

  11. Doomed. I’m doomed to a lifetime of spamlickiness.

  12. Firstly i just wanna say that this movie did leave me a little disapointed when i left. That being said it wasnt as bad as some people are saying. I thought it was funny and so did the other 13 people i saw it with, plus the rest of the cinema. And the action was awesome. And thats all i really expected from it. Sometimes u just wanna go watch some robots duke it out. Its a bit of fun. The only place it failed in my eyes is story. It just seems that movies in general these days are just trying to squish to much in. Therefore bits that make sense and complete the story are missing, leaving the “exciting” bits. But i think people just need to take a step back and look at it for what it is…

  13. Hey you are just a stupid critic, seriously what do you expect by watching transformers ? Do you expect a movie that will make you brainstorm ? a awesome storie ? If you go to watch transformers, you are looking for robots crashing each other, hot chick and stupid jokes plus unbelieveble special effects, therefore, if you are gonna come to your little stupid website to judge a movie, judge it by it’s purpose. Transformers was just excellent and reached his goal.

  14. Right, now that i have seen the thing, I feel even more inclined to comment. Hidden within this film is be bones of a truly epic transformers movie of the kind some of us “geeky” hardcore TF lore officionados would relate to. Good stuff about the film includes botherignto give the Robots feasible motives, character and depth (except bumblebee who has kinda been done to death by now), very watchable action seens featuring the above and pretty decent use of 3D which ads (as Simon said already) absolutely bugger all to the film in any meaningful way, but which I bought for an extra $4 just in case it happened to rock.

    It even pinches a lot of pretty good elements form the ’86 animated film in a loving and exceedingly well executed way, but to avoid spoilers, I’ll leave those bits out. And the scene Simon referred to as being from the ’86 film does indeed kick serious ass and I would have loved to see more of that kind of “lets gloss over it in the cartoon, they’re only kids after all” detail. In fact, I plan to watch an re-watch that scene when I get it on DVD several times, which will entirley justify owning the thing.

    Anyhoo, its also about two thirds too bloody long with these long sections boring.

    Since (without giving too much away)the Autobots don’t seem to mind letting folk get killed en-masse in this one, couldn’t Bay please, please have allowed Turturro’s character to get killed very reraly on to stop him sucking all the joy out of every scene? Could we not, in fact, have edited every scene with Malkovich out onto the editing room floor (he doesn’t suck, he’s jsut wasted and should have been given McDreamy’s part, cos he was woefully miscast – note to world, patrick Dempsey is NOT endearing, not on Grey’s not in movies, definitely not in here). Props to bay for 3D shots of Huntington-Whitely’s scanitlly clad backside walking up stairs early on, but boo to him for not having more of that meaningless, sexist titilation. If you are gonna go there Mikey-boy commit to it and give us what we didn’t know we wanted till we got it more than about twice in this over long film.

    There’s a heap to like in this movie, honest, but please god, do not examine the plot while you are watching it, do not ask ‘where did that come from” or “hang on, does that not completely contradict the histroy laid out in the first and second films?” it will ruin the enjoyment of the good parts.

    I want soeone to do a “good parts’ version, please? maybe of all 3. Man, that would be something worth writing home about.

    Good part, Bay. Tell Swoop Good Part!!!”

  15. um excuse me mr crtitic but the movies are based on the annimated television series from the 1990’s, which i grew up watching! and micheal bay did a wonderfull job bringing that series to life! you need to watch the animated series to get the idea of the films, then watch the movies again and you will see my point….i hope there will be more as there are many stories they can do from the tv series…..come on at the absolute minimum you can get a good perve on the leading lady/man…….and enjoy some good action.

  16. by the way leave brokeback mountain and black swan out of it, they have nothing to do with tranformers.

  17. seriously why did you even bother with seeing the movie if u were just going to sleep through it? talk about a waste of your money, and seat space that someone who would of enjoyed the movies could’ve had.

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