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Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

MICHAEL Bay has long operated on the principal that nothing succeeds like excess, so it should come as no surprise that his third Transformers movie comes over-burdened with it.

It has an excess of special effects, an excess of eye-popping 3D and an excessive running time. There are also excessive shots of British supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s shapely curves and, yes, excessive shouting and screaming from its principal cast members.

Unfortunately, the only thing that Bay doesn’t see fit to over-indulge with are those little things called plot and character as that’s where Transformers: Dark of the Moon comes up short.

Hence, it’s pretty much more of the same, only bigger and louder than before. Bay’s original still remains the film to beat for sheer exhilaration, while his sequel virtually matches Dark of the Moon for eye-popping spectacle. But number three probably edges number two in terms of story simply because it’s not as convoluted.

Sadly, though, for all the technical achievement amassed, the film has a soulless quality that makes it difficult to care about much of what’s on show.

Dark of the Moon begins with an extended sequence centred around Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s Moon landing during the ‘60s space race, where they discover an alien space craft has landed belonging to the Autobots.

Contained within is Autobot hero, and former leader, Sentinel Prime and the key components needed to transport matter through a gap in time – components which could have helped the Autobots defeat the Decepticons, but which could prove detrimental to the universe as a whole if fallen into the wrong hands.

Back in the present day, the Decepticons have caught wind of the existence of this craft and set up an elaborate plan to steal the contents back, so they can transport their planet to Earth and use humans as slaves.

Caught in the Bay-hem, for lack of a better term, are Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), his new girlfriend (Huntington-Whiteley), her good-looking boss (Patrick Dempsey) and the usual batch of government and military officials (Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Frances McDormand), all of whom have various motives for being there.

The first half of Bay’s film unfolds as a part-comedy involving Witwicky’s attempts to find a job that has meaning (enter John Malkovich’s OTT boss) and a part conspiracy theory involving cover-ups and murder surrounding the mystery Moon craft and its cargo. The second, meanwhile, is an extended battle sequence involving the destruction of Chicago that marks Earth’s last stand against the Decepticons.

Both sections have sequences to marvel at, yet both also feel over-indulgent and lacking in much warmth.

Bay, as he so often does, seems content to flex those technical pecs without paying much lip service to character… a failing which, at two and a half hours, continually threatens to scupper the movie’s momentum.

What’s left is a partly impressive, but often bum-numbing all action blockbuster that just about gets away with it because of the jaw-dropping nature of those special effects.

The destruction of Chicago, particularly early on, is incredibly impressive, setting a new benchmark for both CGI robot bashing and building toppling, while the stunts being woven around them also add a wow factor (especially the sky diving sequence). And Bay, for his part, showcases the best sequences in slow-motion, while striving to make the most of the 3D format.

Earlier on, too, there’s an exhilarating freeway chase that showcases another amazing stand-alone sequence involving LaBeouf’s Witwicky being ejected from Bumblebee as the car transforms to avoid an obstacle, only to be reclaimed mid-flight once Bee returns to car form. It attracted whoops of delight from the audience (and deservedly so).

If only he’d taken half as much care with his characters and story. For while Ehren Kruger’s script at least makes more sense, there’s also a soulless quality about most of what happens when people or robots are allowed to start talking.

The good versus bad rhetoric of the various Transformers quickly becomes tiresome (as most of it is uttered by way of cliché), while the innumerable human characters just seem content to either shout at each other (often repeating the same things) or behave in oddly eccentric ways (witness Malkovich’s boss or Ken Jeong’s thankfully short-loved conspiracy theorist).

Of the main cast, LaBeouf remains a charismatic presence without showing any real signs of progression, while Megan Fox replacement Huntington-Whiteley does surprisingly OK in her first screen role even though she fails to emote true terror. Turturro remains content to mug his way through proceedings as outrageously as possible.

Dempsey, on the other hand, is good value as the shady businessman with a hidden agenda but Bay, somewhat incredibly, fails to find time to properly allow him to create a memorable (rather than token) villain, while McDormand is clearly having fun in a ball-breaking role as a government official. But again, she exists to chew scenery rather than create anyone credible.

The various Marines, meanwhile, are there to look gob-smacked or instil the action sequences with a gung-ho jingoism that lends the film its all-American values.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is therefore another typical Michael Bay product in that it sets new benchmarks technically without ever really engaging on an emotional or intellectual level. But could we really have expected anything more?

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 150mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: November 28, 2011