The supposedly final film in the trilogy based on the immensely popular Hasbro toy line sees more of every thing. More robot action, more crude humour, more global peril. But has Michael Bay gone too far this time?
This isn’t really a review. It’s a consumer warning.
Although I fully believe that every person should watch a movie to form his or her own respective opinion, as a film critic I also believe that I have a social obligation to warn you of a defective product. Because that’s exactly what “Transformers: Dark Of The Moon” is.
Most directors grow with every film they make. They learn new tricks, mature as artists, and improve their craft of storytelling. Then there is Michael Bay. A director whose entire output is defined by one thing and one thing only: excess. He comes from the school of “More is more. Screw ‘em if they don’t agree. It’s my way or the highway.” Possessing a singular vision is actually a necessary quality for a director. The greatest filmmakers have always been ruthlessly single-minded, so that what the audience sees up on screen is purely driven by the voice of one man. Alfred Hitchcock, David Lean, Stanley Kubrick and even James Cameron, to name a few.
All good directors also know how to tell a story. Bay does not.
I suspect that deep down inside, Bay knows his weakness. So he overcompensates with sound and fury. He probably hopes that by dazzling you with excess, a spectacular spectacular (to borrow a term from “Moulin Rouge”), you won’t notice how hollow his films are. Michael Bay films are all about surface appeal simply because there is nothing beneath the surface. Occasionally, he lucks out with a script that has a focused and driven throughline, like “The Rock”. In those cases, Bay’s excess is balanced out. But when he’s saddled with a poor script, like Ehren Kruger’s wretched work here, that excess is amplified, turning everything into an incoherent, overwrought, and — ironically — boring mess. That is the dark side of Michael Bay. No one can deny that he excels at making pretty pictures (his art direction is top-notch), but he cannot for the life of him see beyond the glorification of the surface. To him, it is a one-size-fits-all approach to filmmaking. He just throws as much stuff as he can onscreen, and expects people to be entertained.
So why then does he keep getting work? Because his films make money. And why do his films keep making money? Well, to put it crudely, Michael Bay films provide value for money. To studio executives, his films look like every cent spent is up there on screen (for better or worse). The man is all about maximum bang for the buck. Literally. Sadly, audiences buy into that as well. The really alarming thing is that many people of this era are so used to sensory overload in their daily lives, they mistake that for good entertainment.
Make no mistake. “Dark Of The Moon” is anything but good entertainment.
It starts off so promisingly. The alternate history take on Man’s first lunar landing, complete with President Kennedy’s digitally-enhanced presence, is pretty cool. It gives the whole Transformers mythos a relatable, real-world vibe (like in “X-Men: First Class”). The first 15 minutes feel like a smart story being told with genuine clarity and focus. However, once the principal cast shows up, it’s all downhill from there. None, and I mean NONE of the human characters even remotely work. Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) has somehow managed to become more annoying across the 3 films, and it comes to a head here. How can anyone possibly tolerate, let alone like a guy who does nothing but sulk, whine, and yell at people? I certainly can’t. Sam’s romantic triangle subplot is also excruciating, and it just grinds the movie’s pace to a screeching halt.
Competing with Shia for the Most Punch-worthy Face award is Ken Jeong, once again plying his painfully unfunny schtick. John Malkovich as Sam’s weirdo boss is even more WTF. The bizarre tone of his performance is so at odds with everything and everyone else, it’s almost as if he wandered in off the set of a completely different movie, but Bay decided to keep him. As I recall, that role was already filled by John Turturro as the crackpot Section 7 agent. Unfortunately, he is still around, as are Sam’s parents. And they’re still as irritating as ever. In fact, none of the humour by any of the actors ever works. If they’re not underacting to the point of catatonia, like the superbland Rosie Huntington-Whitely, they’re overacting horribly.
But you don’t watch a Michael Bay film for the acting do you? You want the action, the explosions, the BAYhem. In this department at least, I have to say that the action is clearer and more easy to follow. Apparently, shooting in 3D has forced Bay to slow down his style. It takes the human eye more effort to register and process artificially-separated planes of depth (basically what the 3D effect is). So Bay had to accommodate that, resulting in longer cuts and less shaky cam. The thing is, it’s an accidental improvement, so Bay can’t really take any credit for the action being better than before. For what it is though, I appreciate the few moments of bonafide thrills, like the wing-suit skydiving stunt through the Chicago cityscape.
If only Bay wasn’t so intent on punishing us with his inability or unwillingness to tone down the excess. From the obnoxious acting, to the leering, misogynistic depiction of women, to the insultingly blatant product placement (eg: Lenovo and Mercedes shoved down our throats every few minutes), to the needlessly convoluted but ultimately irrelevant plot, watching this movie is an exercise in endurance. You are left exhausted at the end of it, not because it is a glorious rollercoaster ride, but because you have been worn out by the overload. Again, some audiences will mistake this fatigue as entertainment value. While I hesitate to call these people morons, they are the reason why movies like these keep getting made.
To me, the biggest travesty of all is that even after 3 films, the Transformers remain bystanders in their own film. We know almost nothing about Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Ironhide, Ratchet, Megatron and Starscream. They have specific traits and spout catchphrases, but they are empty vessels, mere special effects rather than characters we care about. And if we don’t care about the Transformers, then what’s the point?
Technical craftsmanship aside, “Transfomers: Dark Of The Moon” is in no way art. It is a product, and a cynical, soulless, poorly made one at that. It represents the worse sides of Hollywood, and is easily the worst movie of the year.
If you still decide to find out for yourself and purchase this, then all I can say is: caveat emptor.
Storyteller by trade and dreamer by nature, Wai has been deeply nuts about the celluloid world since the first time he discovered he could watch a story instead of reading it. But he likes writing about it. Wai goes by a single name because he likes to avoid any “Imperial entanglements” (a.k.a. “conflict of interest with the powers that be” for those of you who don’t speak Star Wars) in his employment. Plus, cool people use one-word names. He has just set up a movie website, the first of its kind in Malaysia, in an effort to foster greater filmic knowledge for the rakyat. Check out Electroshadow.