Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Never forget what I do for you all. I won’t be so melodramatic as to say I no longer fear death or anything, but I can certainly see a certain appeal as compared with watching Transformers: Dark of the Moon. I’m not an absolutist highbrow cineaste who eschews and lambastes pure popcorn movies, but Michael Bay makes action, T&A, and stuff getting blowed up real good absolutely stultifying.
Where X-Men: First Class retroactively inserted the mutants into the Cuban missile crisis, Michael Bay’s latest eyesore inserts the Transformers into the space race and the moon landing. A ship called the Ark escaped the warring planet of Cybertron with some mysterious advanced technology guarded by the then-leader of the Autobots, Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy). I was as surprised as anyone at first, given that Nimoy was the voice of Galvatron and half the voice of Unicron in the original, animated Transformers movie, but so it goes. It crashed on the Moon in 1961, triggering the space race, which culminated in Apollo 11 recovering samples and so on.
This is where we come to the first major error the movie presents: Apollo 11 hides its investigation of the alien crash site with the ruse that it’s moved to the dark side of the Moon, and has fallen out of contact with Earthbound observers. Except the moon is tidally locked to the Earth; the exact same side faces the Earth at all times, so if Apollo 11 landed on the Earth-facing side — which it did — it would never not be facing the Earth and thus be out of contact. If the Ark crashed on the facing side of the Moon, it would have been visible to ground-based telescopes.
But we press on. Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) wants to recover Sentinel and what was lost on the Ark, while the evil Megatron (Hugo Weaving) wants the same thing, but only because he can’t recover and revive Sentinel himself. Then there’s the Director of National Intelligence (Frances McDormand, playing way below her level), and now-Lieutenant Colonel Lennox (Josh Duhamel) as the American military liaison to the Autobots.
Of course it wouldn’t be a Michael Bay Transformers movie without Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf). Last time he was dragged kicking and screaming into saving the world, while here he’s being kept kicking and screaming out of saving the world, or of getting any job more important than mail clerk in a company run by Bruce Brazos (John Malkovich; cf. supra in re McDormand). A job which, it turns out, he wouldn’t have had if it weren’t for the boss (Patrick Dempsey) of his new girlfriend, Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley).
Most of this Sam-centric action takes place in Washington, DC, but it’s a DC replete with skyscrapers and a highway entrance for Interstate 88 leading to Aurora. Along with the aforementioned physics blunders, there’s really only one conclusion to draw: this movie holds its own audience in the direst of contempt. With scads of money flying around to computer-generate so many things out of thin air, these are geographic small-potatoes. I understand if it’s easier to shoot the whole damn thing in Chicago, which the final act serves to level, but it’s just not that hard to swap out highway signage in post-production, nor is it that hard to make a city look like DC. To not do these things just in passing sends the clear message that Michael Bay believes you as an audience member are simply too stupid or undiscerning to care.
To be honest, I stopped keeping track of all but the most glaring of errors very early on, and some of the worst would probably constitute spoilers, though I’m not sure to what extent it’s possible to spoil a rotten egg. Suffice to say, the movie isn’t even consistent to its own internal logic, let alone to any external one. Yes, the set pieces are meticulously constructed, but the production outside of those is slapdash at best. I lost count of the number of erratic or contradictory cuts and edits I saw. More attention is paid to continuity and story in a pornographic movie, despite the similarity of purpose in stringing the audience along from one orgiastic visual to another.
Which brings us to Huntington-Whiteley’s performance. I’d never have thought it possible, but Michael Bay managed to find someone worse than Megan Fox to replace her. He found her when he was directing a Victoria’s Secret commercial, and reminds us of this by introducing her while she’s wearing a dress shirt and little else. Carly is supposed to be an accomplished diplomat and adept curator of her boss’ automobile collection, but she’s never actually shown to be particularly clever. Even if the script had provided the opportunity, I’m not sure Huntington-Whiteley could effectively string together and present a coherent thought. She is explicitly on screen to be ogled — the script says so directly in almost so many words — with lips that practically leak silicone and the magical ability to not endure so much as a makeup smudge while LaBeouf gets scuffed and bruised left and right.
The only other notable female character is McDormand’s, who goes out of her way to refuse the term of address “ma’am”, despite the fact that this is, indeed, correct. The message is clearly communicated almost word for word: women in positions of power are not “real women”. It makes me weep for Blanchett’s Marissa Wiegler in Hanna, who was powerful, confident, and undeniably feminine.
But really, you’re going to expect anything less than misogyny from Bay by now? If you go at all, it’s for the visual spectacle. And it’s here that… well, that the movie really disappoints. The 3-D is supposedly superlative, with pull-quotes from an impressed James Cameron to that effect, but to be honest I could barely notice it except for the all-too-many times Bay simply threw something at the audience. The action is meticulously rendered, which the slow-motion shots make clear, but they’re unimaginative at best. The best are the highway scene — which amazingly brought me to a new appreciation of The Matrix Reloaded — and the two appearances of Shockwave’s driller — a mechanical worm that can only disappoint the ecchi audience with broken promises.
Even if you cut out the awful story and writing between the set pieces, this thing is about an hour too long. It’s an active insult to its own audience from the opening, which literally does the least it can get away with. Malkovich, McDormand, Turturro, and even Duhamel and LaBeouf should be ashamed to even be associated with this unmitigated dreck. Buzz Aldrin I can only chalk up to the onset of Alzheimer’s Syndrome. Bay should be ashamed as well, but I think it’s clear he’s far beyond that sort of thing.
Worth It: not by any stretch of the imagination.
Bechdel Test: fail. I wish I could go even worse.