Transformers: Dark of the Moon | Film reviews, news & interviews
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Toy robots punch each other again. Movie of comic of toy returns
When the infantilisation of Hollywood started in 1977 with Star Wars, as a 10-year-old I was all in favour. The hugely successful Transformers franchise based on a series of clever 1980s toys - they’re a car; some Origami-style fiddling later, they’re a robot! - probably isn’t where that trend bottoms out. Michael Bay, the most bombastic, critically derided and commercially unsinkable director around, has as the title suggests gone prog rock for this third film, pumping up the Transformers “mythos”, and dragging it out to triple-album, 154-minute length.
The pre-credits sequence chucks in dizzying pop-culture allusions, as a ship from the good Autobots, losing their civil war with the evil Decepticons, flees and crash-lands on the dark side of the Moon in 1962. The secret back story of President Kennedy’s inspirational speech announcing America’s race to the Moon is shown in digitally retouched footage of JFK himself. His lines are “improved” too, as he tells his staff: “You need to move heaven and earth. We need to get to the Moon!” Who knows what future indignities lie in store for 20th-century icons who neglected to tie down their image rights?
When Apollo 11’s lunar module loses contact with a watching Earth on the Moon’s dark side, Neil Armstrong (Don Jeanes, pictured right) and Buzz Aldrin race (as best they can on a Moon walk) to investigate the crashed ship. The real Aldrin turns up in present-day scenes, the only moments of this movie inspiring respect. “It is code Pink, as in Floyd,” someone says of this hushed-up secret history. “Why do you think we haven’t been up there since 1972?” - the year before Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon, suggesting labyrinthine, Floyd-involving conspiracy theories more interesting than the movie. It’s the sort of loopy mythos-rebooting Alan Moore patented when applying his vast mind to apparently irredeemable comic books, but screenwriter Ehren Kruger can’t run with these ideas any further.
What’s most striking is how cheap Bay makes footage of JFK in the White House and 1969’s Moon-shot look as he digitally tarts it up in 3D. It gets worse when we switch to our present-day hero, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf, winningly channelling David Schwimmer), and his girlfriend. She is no longer Megan Fox, coincidentally axed after comparing Bay to Hitler, but posh British model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, not an actor. Hollywood and Bay’s sexism glows through the scenes in which she pouts vaguely in the direction of giant robots who are trying to slaughter her, her only aptitude for the job a decent body.
The fashion for cult art-house talent dabbling in blockbusters begun with Con Air (1997) continues in early scenes enlivened by John Malkovich as LaBeouf’s monstrous office boss, John Turturro as a Transformer conspiracy theorist, and Frances McDormand (pictured above) as a CIA chief. They’re left on the sidelines as the Autobots’ turncoat leader Sentinel One (voiced by Leonard Nimoy) leads the Decepticons in laying waste to Chicago, and, in a scientifically inadvisable move, plots to bring the Transformers’ dead home planet Cybertron into Earth’s orbit, so puny human slave labour can rebuild it. Hours of Transformer fights follow.
We at The Arts Desk hope that you have been enjoying our coverage of the arts. If you like what you’re reading, do please consider making a donation. A contribution from you will help us to continue providing the high-quality arts writing that won us the Best Specialist Journalism Website award at the 2012 Online Media Awards. To make a one-off contribution click Donate or to set up a regular standing order click Subscribe.
With thanks and best wishes from all at The Arts Desk
Olivier Assayas recalls his heady, heavy days as a soixante-huitard
Melancholy meets irrational optimism in Bob Rafelson's New Hollywood classic
BFI reissue of the mother of all vérité docs
Brit crime caper hits new lows, despite strong cast
Robert Siodmak's brooding film noir shockingly subverted gender stereotypes
Nihilism stared down in Alexei Balabanov's bleak look-back to Russia in the Nineties
Baz Luhrmann's Fitzgerald-spawned epic is busy and brash and big - but great? No, except for Leo
Not quite the perfect classic, Visconti's movie is a halting monument to Sicilian decadence
Fine filmmaking and decent performances work hard to redeem an infantile musical
Documentary paints the legendary Cream drummer Ginger Baker as an irresponsible genius
Some subtleties lost in adaptation of Mohsin Hamid's bestselling plea for understanding
theartsdesk recommends the half-dozen top movies out now