Given enough money, almost any filmmaker could deliver a big, loud, silly popcorn movie about giant alien robots beating the living crap out of each other, but it takes the special talent of director Michael Bay to make such a movie totally repellent.
Bad luck comes in threes, as they say, and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” proves no exception. Bay takes everything that was awful about the first two films and makes it worse. And longer. And louder.
Where to begin? The product placement for Fox News? The jingoistic opening bit where we learn which Transformer robots are the good guys because they shoot up some Arabic-looking people? Not that any of this is surprising, since Bay consistently liaises with the Pentagon, getting to play with all their expensive war toys in exchange for the military getting “input” on the script. (Bonus points if you guessed there will be a giant robot talking solemnly about defending freedom from tyranny.)
You’ve got at least 60 minutes straight of nonstop explosions, screaming, metal-on-metal pile-driving, 532 destroyed automobiles and something composer Steve Jablonsky calls “music,” all ramped up to tinnitus-inducing volume levels. You’ve also got a lead actor, Shia LaBeouf, who’s so freaking hopeless that he doesn’t even sound like the same character from the first “Transformers” film, forgetting to lose his phony “Noo Yawk” accent from “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.”
Then there’s Bay’s nasty habit of introducing his actresses butt first, in leering low-angle shots designed to appeal to the peep-up-skirts crowd. As LaBeouf himself has noted, “Mike films women in a way that appeals to a 16-year-old sexuality,” i.e., his camera has a hard-on.
Sexy is fine, but Bay casts actresses as nothing more than props to place on LaBeouf’s arm, pure fantasy fulfillment for his geek-boy audience. Megan Fox, tired of being treated like an object, bailed on the series; in her place is Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, a Victoria’s Secret lingerie model who presumably was more pliable.
Perhaps you’d like to know about the story? So would I. Basically, you’ve got the good Autobots trying to save humanity from the evil Decepticons, who want to enslave mankind by lining up all their Horcruxes or something. There’s some nonsense about the Apollo missions to the dark side of the moon actually involving the retrieval of alien technology, but the plot has more holes than Blackburn, Lancashire.
Perpetual dweeb Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) inexplicably has an even hotter girlfriend than before, Carly (Huntington-Whiteley), despite being unemployed and constantly whining about how having alien robot friends doesn’t land him a cushy Homeland Security desk job, and sending abusive-boyfriend signals every time Carly talks about her cool boss (Patrick Dempsey). But then again, Sam’s mom jokes about her son’s penis size (seriously), so you can forgive the poor boy for having “issues.”
Not that Bay ever had an ear for good jokes: The humor in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” mostly involves calling people “dickhead” or “bitch,” or giving the little comic-relief robots “ethnic” accents — Scottish and “jive” African-American — which will seem funny maybe if you’re under the age of 10.
“Transformers” also continues the Bay tradition of filming action sequences with such speed and lack of editing continuity that it becomes impossible to tell what’s going on. The much-hyped 3-D mostly consists of rubble flying out of the screen at the audience every 10 minutes or so.
What truly makes this a Michael Bay film, though, is the sheer tastelessness of taking the memories of the Sept. 11, 2001 World Trade Center attack and trivializing them as just so much fodder for a brainless popcorn movie. I bet you think I’m exaggerating; well, how else can one view a climax — set in an actual American city, Chicago — which features burning skyscrapers, billowing clouds of smoke and terrified crowds running through the streets in panic? One glassy tower gets cut in half and topples over entirely, as people try to escape certain doom by jumping out the windows.
Ah, but it’s just a movie, right? Have the supermodel kiss the dweeb, cut to Old Glory flying tattered in the wind, cue some lame whitebread alt-rock ballad on the soundtrack, roll the credits, and sit back and watch the hundreds of millions of dollars in ticket sales. Yesterday’s tragedy is today’s trash.