Bumblebee is all like “How can they let him do this? The maniac!? The horror!”. We understand you, Bumblebee. Your expression is our expression.

This movie is bullshit. We all knew it would be pretty much bullshit. What we hoped is that it would be fun bullshit, like the first one, and not a Grand Trial of Bullshit like the second one. I used to say that Revenge of the Fallen was as good as the first, making up for the lack of Spielbergian wonder with somewhat bigger scope and better action (that forest fight? come the fuck on). After a few repeat viewings, mostly due to being the father of a spritely young lass who inexplicably loves Transformers, I changed my mind. Revenge of the Fallen is a poorly written mess with a few redeeming qualities that shine out in spite of themselves. Dark of the Moon, the anticipated and hyped as “the best one we’ve made”, is pretty much the same mess. Which is odd, considering they ditched the ultimate shitty overpaid and overused writers, Orci and Kurtzmann, in favor of ONE WRITER, Ehren Kruger, who has never written a good movie. You’d think there would be less scattershot shitty humor, less random digression, and a more cohesive overall story due to there being one voice. You would be foolish to think so. Transformers as a whole is too big a property to leave in any one person’s hands, which is why I tend to forgive Michael Bay for some of the excesses but certainly not all of them.

But let’s get into why Transformers: Dark of the Moon is a failure and a damning mirror held up to the current state of pop entertainment. After all, for every glimmer of hope like the box office returns and thus future viability of a piece of shit like Green Lantern, there’s a Transformers-like movie waiting to make more money than Evangelism off our ignorant, spectacle-seeking asses. I mean, I’m not any better. I was going to see Dark of the Moon no matter what. I am a sucker for big crazy spectacle in movies. I can even forgive otherwise silly movies that bring the big thrills (the first Transformers springs to mind). So this is surely not me hating on people who go see this movie and make it a success, my dismay is more resigned than that. But please, let no one try to convince me that Dark of the Moon is a good movie. It is not. You may like it but movies are narrative entertainment and Dark of the Moon is to narrative what Michael Bay is to automobiles.

It is not Shia Labeouf’s fault.

First of all, Dark of the Moon does what both its predecessors tried, with varied success, to do. It tries to be two movies, one about the large-scale story of the Autobots and Decepticons and US military and the other about Sam Witwicky as he goes through the everyman benchmarks of the average, mythological Young White Male lifecycle. In the first movie, it was about a teenage boy and his first car and first girlfriend. That was the “heart” of the film and its odd nostalgia actually worked when it wasn’t derailed by hot Aussie hackers and Anthony fucking Anderson. The second movie is about commitment, both to the lady in your life and causes, and it was also about college and roommates. See, they are trying to background Sam’s “average” life with CRAZY FUCKING ROBOT ALIENS and they progressively do it for no reason. Since Dark of the Moon‘s story is Sam’s first job and finding his place in the world, we have to go through another 90 minutes of bullshit until he finally gets to be central to the world he actually belongs in. He even knows it this time, which I found refreshing even if it does still follow the Campbellian model (the second movie, bragged its writers, was the “resisting the call” chapter… fucking hell).

Anyway, the plot (for Sam) is that he has to find a job to keep his girlfriend, impress his parents, etc. He’s a hero, with a medal as he’ll tell us fifty fucking times, but he isn’t allowed to be part of the action. I had sincerely hoped that Sam was going to be some kind of government liaison this time. Instead, that role is played by Patrick Dempsey who is a liaison (and representative of evil big business, his base is even the Trump Tower) to the Decepticons and is interested in Sam and especially Sam’s girlfriend. Dempsey is fun in the role, giving us an idea of some bizarre mirror Sam. This theme of twisted mirror images plays out throughout the movie, actually, and is the one attempt at nuance I think it bothers with. More on that later.

As Dempsey (an the Decepticons) plot their evil plot, Sam is inevitably brought back into things. The Decepticons want to beam Cybertron to Earth in what has to be the most dumb fucking evil plan in the history of evil plans. It is simpler than the Revenge of the Fallen plan, so I’ll give it that. And oddly, like the plan in the previous movie, it makes Megatron out to be a bit of sympathetic villain. Which… what? I’ll talk about Megatron soon, don’t worry. What they do to his character in Dark of the Moon is ludicrous and one of my favorite things about it.

The evil plot relies on a bunch of dominoes falling over just so. It’s actually kind of a clever plot but it throws the movies’ continuity into fuckaree since Megatron apparently has been on Earth for 10,000 years or something while Sentinel Prime, his secret evil partner in crime, crashed on the moon with the necessary teleportation tech in 1961. Pretty big gap there, smart guys. How long do Transformers live anyway? It’s nonsense.

That said, the weirdly hexagonal-structured ruin of Cybertron is pretty visually striking and makes for a weirdly schizophrenic moment where you want to see big crazy shit like this but you also know it makes no sense as delivered. But I mean, this is a movie custom-tailored to appeal to stupid people who probably don’t know what gravity is besides a song by John fucking Mayer who is probably fucking Rosie Huntington-Whitely right now. And I don’t say that because I like John Mayer.

I say it because look at her. You would if you were John Mayer.

Rosie Huntington-Whitely plays Carly, the “new girl”. Unlike Mikaela, the movie wants us to believe, she is loving and supportive and likes Sam for the manic idiot he is. Well awesome. She is also fairly harmless in the movie, meant mostly to be eye candy. However, Bay paradoxically likes his eye candy to talk (which, okay then) so Carly has many lines and even a heroic scene where she convinces Megatron to fuck over Sentinel while he sits there being emo and flicking robo-insects off himself while Optimus and Sentinel fight over the fate of everything not 40 feet tall. Somehow, Megatron finds my heart with his “are you here to surrender?”… he is like that drunk on the corner that has a few war stories and delusions of grandeur as well as a colorful dance if you’ll only offer some pocket change. Megatron is that guy in this movie, when he isn’t the Poacher from Rescuers Down Under.

Seriously, this is his vehicle mode now. If it looks familiar congratulations, you’ve watched a better movie than Dark of the Moon and it featured a proto-Jar Jar Binks frill-necked lizard.

And if you thought I was kidding about this absurdly genius new Megatron, observe the toy version with detachable (I don’t actually know if it is) hipster-scarf.

Soon… soon there will be memes of me with black framed glasses.

We first see Megatron as stock footage of African fauna all alert to a strange presence foreshadows the coming of big old Megatron. Though you can’t see it in the above picture, Megatron’s new weapon is a Mad Max-inspired sawed off shotgun. Do you think I am fucking with you? I am not fucking with you. They really decided that Megatron should be a post-apocalyptic badass in this movie. It’s insanity like that which redeems Dark of the Moon enough that it’s still interesting to write about.

Of course, even Optimus has a shotgun in this movie. Mirror images, remember?

Which brings me back to that shit. The idea is you have Dempsey’s character as a sort of super-Sam who inherited his relationship to the Decepticons from his father and has been given all the fruits of his treachery which he flaunts tiresomely. Then there’s Sentinel Prime, the dark mirror of Optimus who was leader before him and yadayada. The more deliberate mirror is Megatron who is now a big truck like Optimus and saves Optimus’s life right before one-armed Optimus axes him in the face in what has to be the most perfunctory of all the perfunctory robot deaths in this trilogy.

I mean, I felt something when the music swelled and Shockwave (Soundwave?) put Bumblee on his knees to execute him while Sam watches. But Ironhide’s death was like whatevs, rust gun (even though Ironhide gets a badass standoff with Sideswipe against a couple of apparently Haitian Decepticons (they have dreadlocks, I mean fuck)). And yes, I just did a double parenthetical side-note. I’m pretty sure Dark of the Moon also gave me cancer.

So even though there are two movies before this one, the threequel spends 90 minutes setting up the Sam plot and the Autobots plot until they begin to coincide when the Decepticons finally get their invasion on. That’s when Dark of the Moon becomes a pretty fucking cool alien invasion movie for about 15 minutes. They are downright mean, too, showing people getting slaughtered and buildings knocked over. The problem is: we’ve seen this too many times in 2011, let alone during the L.A. final battle in the first movie.

Even the ship designs echo Skyline.

With Chicago, the arbitrary staging ground of the big Cybertron teleport plan, which no one worries is going to destroy everything in a giant gravitic maelstrom, all locked up like a fortress by the Decepticon gunships (which look like Battle: Los Angeles alien ships), it falls to commandos and the outnumbered Autobots to stop the evildoers and, as Optimus says in his one true badass moment, “kill them all”. Of course, Optimus spends half the siege tied up in a bunch of cabling after unwisely flying at it. ‘Course, he also gets to kill Soundwave (Shockwave?)’s stupid fucking robohydra thing so I guess there’s that.

The big siege has many interesting and technically awesome action sequences. There’s the building falling over, the wingsuits worn by the soldiers led by Josh Duhamel, etc. Sam gets to kill Starscream which is actually kind of bitchin’. Bumblebee murderkills Shockwave (Soundwave?) in typically awesome Bumblebee fashion. Seriously, they give him all the coolest robo-fu. They also gave Optimus his trailer, filled with cool weapons like swords and shields and “flight tech”.

Of course, they never learned from the second movie’s huge mistakes in the Egypt fight where they continuously lost track of various robots, doubled ones we’ve seen die already, etc. Because we’re cutting to several other threads all throughout, we pop back in on the Autobots and Decepticons with weird chunk missing. Half of them get captured somehow. Optimus remains tangled up for like 20 minutes. Things like that. It’s insane because these are several-stories-tall fighting robots. They can’t really be stealthy. They can run and gun, but the movie offers no clarity and has them here and there whenever convenient.

These movies are so militaristic that I feel a bit dirty watching them.

The final battles are more a showcase of the American military’s giant bullet-spewing dick than it is the culmination of three movies worth of epic robot battling. This is a double-edged sword for me. In the first movie, I appreciated the idea that the robots were vulnerable to some human technology. In the second movie, it just got fucking dumb with the Navy somehow magically getting an army to the exact spot they needed to be within seconds. These movies mythologize the sexing prowess of the US armed forces more than anything else. The third one is no exception except for when it adds in awesome little parts about the tactics of fighting these things. NEST, led by Duhamel’s character, are played as a fairly potent organization with plenty of working knowledge about how to get shit done and fight the super powerful Decepticons.

It’s nice to have that element but it’s too often at the expense of the transformers themselves who continuously seem like the guest stars of their own fucking movies. I used to defend the inclusion of so much “humanity” in the movies but that sort of fell apart after realizing that even the first one could eliminate half its human characters from the movie and lose nothing but bloated running time. It is the same here. While entertaining in themselves, playing demented and eccentric characters, the trilogy’s plethora of bit players and cameos are a really strange and nonsensical artifact of whatever mystical and, I’m sure, frightening process was involved with turning this shit into movies.

I really want to know more about the choices behind some of this, I really do. I think an amazing behind the scenes documentary is waiting to happen. Or a tell-all book. And I wish I was involved with the productions so I could make them. I mean, look at the “humor” in these movies. Ken Jeong? Alan Tudyk being a gay Dutchman superhacker manservant for no reason? The “little” robots who seem to be ostensibly around to make kids happy but are always possessed with cynically adult “comedy” underpinnings. I mean, there’s Wheelie humping Megan Fox’s leg in Revenge of the Fallen and now even Wheelie has a sidekick in apparently Rasta-inspired Brains whose LED dreadlocks spew smoke while his face is like a Picasso-does-Bob Marley caricature. How is this shit supposed to be funny or endearing for kids? The adults who laugh at this might be too ironic for their own good or borderline retarded. Either way, most of this humor is anything but humorous and situation comedy scenes pad the movies out like they’re Ray-Winstone-bot.

So Dark of the Moon is about what you’d expect. It’s got a bunch of stunt casting, stupid humor, awesome CG effects and large-scale destruction. It’s also got one of the worst stories, in every contributory sense of that word from character development to narrative logic, that you’ve ever paid $10+ to see and hear.

And it will make hundreds of millions of dollars.

Advertisements