Here's the link to the published version of my review in my column at The Richmond Examiner:
Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)
Merely two years ago, Michael Bay released the disastrous sequel to his original Transformers film. The film had a mixture of problems including the plot, characters, visual effects, editing, and the obsessive length. Now he brings us the third part of the trilogy, and having seemingly learned nothing from the last film, allows just about all of the same mistakes to be made yet again.
This third entry opens with a brief explanation from Optimus Prime (Voice of Peter Cullen) explaining how there had been a war between the Autobots (fighters for freedom) and the Decepticons (fighters for tyranny). In a last chance effort to win the war, the Autobots launched a secret weapon aboard a ship, but this ship never makes it to its destination and instead ends up crashing on Earth’s moon in 1961. This was supposedly the event that triggered the space race as both the United States and the Soviet Union knew that an alien ship crashed there.
In present day, we find Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) dating Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) while attempting to find a job. He eventually lands one in the mailroom of a corporation run by Bruce Brazos (John Malkovich). It is here where he is confronted by a fellow employee, Jerry Wang (Ken Jeong), who knows of Sam’s involvement in the alien incidents. Not long after, Sam is attacked by a Decepticon, causing him to seek out the help of Optimus, who has recently found out about the crashed ship on the moon. Optimus and his crew recover the ship’s cargo, the consequences of which turn out to be an all-out battle with the Decepticons for control of Earth.
Again we have a film that has a lot of events, but very little in the way of plot. The plot in this case is just an excuse to let the Autobots and Decepticons brawl for an extended amount of time while shooting and blowing things up in the process. This leads to some very tiresome action sequences culminating in approximately the last 45 minutes of the film where we once again have a seemingly endless and badly edited sequence of fighting robots.
In typical Bay fashion, his belief being that people only have an attention span of about half a second, we get scenes of incomprehensible action where it becomes hard to tell what’s going on, which made it rather hard to care after a minute or two. It even got to the point where it became hard to stay awake as when you’re spending about 45 minutes not caring about the situation, it becomes very tedious (though there was a bit of well-done set design for a sequence involving the destruction of an office building being torn apart through the middle).
Also making it really hard to care were the flat characters and the complete lack of character development. Any of these characters could be replaced with any other character and you could still make the same film, and yes, that includes the robots, though from some of the acting, it became hard to tell the difference.
Speaking of the acting, it would be interesting to learn how talented actors like John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, John Turturro, Alan Tudyk, and Leonard Nimoy got mixed up in a project like this where they are seriously underutilized. LaBeouf is not particularly bad here, but his characterization does become one bland note pretty quickly. If the character had been allowed to develop a bit, perhaps we would have gotten to see a different side of the character for once.
With all of these problems though, “Dark of the Moon” does come off a little better than its predecessor, mainly because it does a slightly better job with its set up than the previous film had done. It’s an interesting notion that the entire space race was in response to an alien spaceship crashing on the moon, it’s just unfortunate that the writer, Ehren Kruger, doesn’t really do anything with it beyond providing the excuse for the overly-long final action sequence.
That actually brings us to another point: the film is far too long. As mentioned, earlier, one of the major issues with the second film was its obsessive length, so what does Bay do? He decides to make the third film even longer. At two and a half hours, the paper thin plot is not nearly enough to sustain the film for such a bloated length. As with the last film, there was a large amount of superfluous footage that could have been cut out to bring this down to an acceptable length.
Having to stare at the bland CGI for this long only increases the tedium. The design of the robots is not really an issue, it’s mainly the fact that they never really feel like they’re there, as if most of the film is a bad cartoon. This lead to several scenes where you could just picture the actors yelling at or trying to interact with a green screen, which only served to take me further out of the film.
Overall, while “Dark of the Moon” may be a slight improvement over the second film, that’s not saying very much as it pretty much has the exact same issues. During the final battle, I was even reminded of another terrible film from earlier this year with similar problems, “Battle: Los Angeles,” and that’s certainly not a good thing. At this point, it looks likely that Bay’s latest effort will be joining it on the worst of the year list. Perhaps now Bay will finally put his toys away and start trying to make something good again. 1.5/4 stars.