After a nifty opening which is comprised of both stock footage and newly-shot film (think JFK meets Apollo 13) revealing that the US moon landing was part of a covert mission to explore a marooned alien vessel from the Transformer’s home plant of Cybertron, we’re back in present day where the surviving Autobots have now settled on earth and act as a convoy of world-scouring do-gooders.
Sam (Shia LaBeouf) has graduated from University and is struggling to find work in the big, wide world. Required to keep quiet about his fantastical adventures with those robots in disguise, he’s frustrated that he has to take a menial post room job offered to him by a maniacal control freak (an initially humorous turn by John Malkovich). Luckily, Sam has a new love (British lingerie model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, making her big screen debut) who we’re introduced to via a roving, pervy camera, which is titled up at her behind as she bounces upstairs to give her new beau a present. Forget talking robots that can magically transform into different disguises, the chances of LeBeouf’s character ever scoring with someone like that far outweighs any of the overtly fantasy elements in the film.
It isn’t long however before Sam’s help may just be needed to save the universe yet again when he uncovers a conspiracy to mount a Decepticon uprising which may implicate the recently resurrected Autobot leader who was discovered in the aforementioned moon mission, Sentinel Prime (voiced by Leonard Nimoy in a nice nod to the 80’s cartoon movie version).
Like May’s X-Men: First Class, Transformers: Dark of the Moon (surely that title must be down to legal wranglings with Pink Floyd?) has an ace up its sleeve with the juxtapositioning of a real world event within a fantasy framework. It’s a nice touch but perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s soon back to the same metal on metal action as the previous instalments. This is not to say that director Michael Bay (shooting on 3D cameras this time around) isn’t able to wring some fantastic moments out of it. Some of the effects work here is truly jaw-dropping. As the Decepticons lay waste to the city of Chicago you realise that how truly epic in scope the film is. You could argue that this is all due to (what must been) thousands of animators who worked on the film, but Bay knows how to shoot action, and the introduction of 3D appears to have reined the director in a little in terms of his normal ratter-tat-tat approach to the edit. What you get are some incredibly impressive Matrix-esque shots where the action beats are delivered in full view and (even more surprising for him) pretty easy to follow for once.
A moment where series regular Josh Duhamel and his crack team of soldiers dive out of their damaged helicopters whilst under attack from flying Decepticons (while huge chunks of destroyed aircraft rain down on them) is as impressive a scene as you’ll see in any big summer blockbuster, but as exciting as all this is, it also highlights the overriding problems with the film. For all its incredible effects and moments, once again, the human interplay, plot twists and reveals just seem really tired and ill-conceived. Even a potentially interesting subplot which involves a secret, decades-old human and Decepticon alliance fails to breathe any real intrigue into proceedings. It’s also maddening to see a whole slew of big talents (some of whom give it their all) fighting a losing battle against a mediocre script. Both returning cast member John Turturro and Francis McDormand are fun here (although it looks like they may have taken a wrong turn when heading to an audition for the Coens) and even LaBeouf is surprisingly strong, and can emote with the best of them when it comes to showing his love and solidarity towards the machines. Not sure what Bay saw in Huntington-Whiteley however, apart from the obvious. She’s no actress, and many of her scenes (particularly towards to end) are extremely painful to watch. Impossible as it may seem, she makes you yearn for those halcyon days of Megan Fox.
It’s pretty darn violent for a kid’s flick too. Robots are decapitated, have their spines ripped out, faces blown apart and generally get pummelled into an oil-splattered pulp. There’s something a little disconcerting about this, and like World of the Worlds before it, actual humans are now annihilated by the robots in full view of the audience.
The film is bound to do huge numbers at the box office in the next coming weeks, but it’s just a shame that even a smidgen of the attention that has clearly been attributed to the CGI and 3D couldn’t have been afforded to the script.
It’s not like Bay does anything new with his own style (that same tired jingoistic vibe is very much present and correct) but even he must have realised that he had to try and transform his jaded audience after the previous effort!