The 20th Best Movie I Saw This Year: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

How amazing is it that I saw fifteen movies worse than the third Transformers this year? Boggles the mind.

But let's press onward to my appropriately exclamation point-laden review of Transformers 3: We Have Almost No Understanding of Lunar Cycles.

This movie is exactly what a Michael Bay movie is supposed to be to be – fast-paced, exciting, and packed with some of the most spectacular action sequences you’ve ever seen. The weighty, exposition-heavy storytelling is gone, replaced by characters doing things for no logical reason because we don’t have time to talk about it there are things to blow up! Lots of things, in fact: by the end of the movie, most of Chicago has been leveled in Bay’s constant hunger for bigger and more extensive explosions. I’m not complaining. When it comes to spectacle, action directors should always go for the jugular.

That doesn’t mean that the movie isn’t impossibly silly. I mean, even if you accept the premise of talking robots from outer space that transform into cars and fight other talking robots who also turn into cars as totally logical, it’s still impossibly silly.

As we start the movie, the Autobots are kept mostly secret by our government, even though they’ve now blown up a good portion of the planet at one time or another from their battle with the Decepticons. The Autobots discover… y’know, I can’t even get into it. It’s too silly. Here’s an actual paragraph from the Dark of the Moon Wiki:

The Autobots assist the United States military in preventing conflicts around the globe. After learning of the top-secret mission to the Moon, the Autobots travel there to explore the Ark. They discover a comatose Sentinel Prime – Optimus' predecessor as leader of the Autobots – and the Pillars he created as a means of establishing a Space Bridge between two points to teleport matter. After returning to Earth, Optimus uses the energy of his Matrix of Leadership to revive Sentinel Prime.

You see? Why on earth does Michael Bay think we need all this backstory? Does he worry that if he’s not true enough to the original canon, the Transformers nerds will be angry with him? It’s a movie based on a Saturday morning cartoon from the 80’s! The only thing anyone remembers from those is Law and Order telling them to properly douse their campfires.

For all its effort, though, the movie makes little use of all this mythology. There’s plot, but it’s all just there to speed us along to the next big action sequence, or to shoehorn in another eccentric, fast-talking character. Nothing that happens in the movie happens for any other reason. So why is there so much backstory? Everything that happens in this movie is just a massive plot device to get more angry space robots onto earth to fight the space robots that are already here, preferably in an area that they can do as much damage as possible.

The first scene of the movie is indicative of everything about the movie to follow. We meet the new girlfriend (Victoria’s Secret supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whitley) of our hero, Sam (Shia LaBeouf). The camera tracks smoothly behind her at waist height as she climbs the stairs to their bedroom, wearing only her underwear. She’s standing on extreme tiptoe the whole time. Why? Is she sneaking upstairs quietly? No, it’s because the camera’s following behind her and it’s important that her legs look as good as possible, logic be damned. 

Sam is still in bed, because he doesn’t have a job. Sam is a bright, well-spoken fellow who knows lots about computers. Why doesn’t he have a job? Because… something something Transformers something. It’s not important. How did he manage to get a girlfriend as attractive and supposedly smart as Huntington-Whitley (when they meet, she is employed, impossibly, a political aide for the British embassy. You can tell she’s smart because she’s wearing glasses) with no job ? It doesn’t matter! He has no job and a very smart beautiful wealthy girlfriend and let’s just move on!

As the movie starts up and Sam continues his job hunt, we’re treated to a series of camera-mugging performances by the very best camera-muggers in the business. John Malkovich! Ken Jeong! And here’s John Turturro again! Who can win this weirdness contest? (spoiler alert: Jeong definitely wins. At one point in a scene, he actually starts eating paper.)

And then the explosions start.

Why did I enjoy this movie, where characters stand in carefully-arranged triangle formations whenever they look at things, as if posing for an album cover? Because this movie doesn’t need realism to be good. In fact, realism would only hurt it. This movie understands what Transformers 2 didn’t: that we’re here to watch people shoot machine guns at giant robots from collapsing skyscrapers, and everything else is pointless.

Is it a bit sad that after the movie, I said “hey, Rosie Huntington-Whitley was pretty good!”, then realized that I couldn’t recall her actually saying or doing anything at any point in the movie? Sure. Can I recall any aspect of the plot, including what the “Pillars” were or why they chose to destroy Chicago instead of a different city? I cannot. My description of the plot would go something like this: Tiptoe? Job hunt. Ken Jeong acting crazy! We’re going to the moon! Secret alien technology? It’s a trap! Explosions! Robot worm! Collapsing skyscraper! City in ruins. Robots thank humans for helping even though they mostly just got in the way. Credits.

I don’t know how much effort the writers of this movie put into crafting a grand new Transformer universe, but I can promise them it was all in vain. So, Mr. Bay, if there is a Transformers 4: Now The Earth’s Core is an Autobot, Too! (and this film made well over a billion dollars at the box office, so I don’t see why not) then please, please, please back it down some. Give us fighting robots and explosions and Shia LaBeouf shouting at things and Tyrese Gibson shouting louder and models pretending to be actresses, but don’t bother with all the mythos and the grandiose statements and the rewriting of history to fit your needs. 

We don’t need it. I promise. I mean, look at the box office numbers for Real Steel this fall. It’s pretty clear that America is more than willing to show up just to watch robots fight.