From what I hear, I am not the only one who has a hard time appreciating Michael Bay’s filmmaking. His past two Transformers movies have had the balls (wrecking or otherwise) to take on something as mind-punchingly stupid as a race of genocidal alien robots that turn into cars – something not even native to their own planet – without a drop of shame. But fearlessness alone can’t make a film work, and his films are also plagued with needlessly complicated plots and forceful character development that ends up not working at all. The results have been mixed to put it kindly.
None of these issues are addressed with this third, potential trilogy-capper Transformers film, subtitled Dark of the Moon; and yet it is unquestionably the best film in the series. In fact, I’ll even go so far as to say, without extenuating reservations, that I liked it.
What did he get right with the third film? All of the sudden, the editing of the the Transformers movies, which went from frantic in the first film to unintelligible in the second, has slowed down to an acceptable speed. Now, I can follow the action on screen. Maybe Bay is just adjusting to 3D, a format that takes more effort and time from eyeballs to adjust to, but any reason that leads to coherrant filmmaking is a good reason.
No one is happier about this change than me. Ever since the first film opened four years ago, I’ve been trying really hard to get on board with this franchise because, despite my film school degree, I can still lose my shit over movies this obscenely awesome. It was there, just hard to find hidden under a messy cut of micro-second shots.
But as Bay pulls back the curtain to better show off his strengths with big-budget action, it also brings his weaknesses closer into the light. The biggest issue with Dark of the Moon is how unrelentingly long it is. The movie only even starts after forty-five minutes of Shia LaBouef running around Washington DC trying to find a job and putting up with his wacky parents. At two-and-a-half hours, there’s no reason this first act can’t be almost entirely cut out – not just because it’s dead in the water, but also because the movie somehow has four acts.
Of all these acts, the second two are the ones that this movie needs to be focused around. Bay is trying to end his trilogy as dramatically as possible, with what is practically a War movie in which the appropriately-named Decepticons try to enslave humanity because, you know. But by relegating the actual combat to less than an hour of the film, it feels underdeveloped. Trailers show off warships droning over downtown Chicago and laserbeaming humans, but we never see the actual assault go down.
But this brings up Transformers greatest strength – its visual effects. There’s more to a good movie than its eye candy, but at some point you just have to let your jaw drop to appreciate the computer generated pornography on display in this film. With a devilishly voiced digital turkey vulture or a gyrating metallic slug that boa-constricts a skyscraper, it’s just cool.
The Transformers films have always been plagued by a lot of issues, issues that I haven’t even touched on in this review (plot holes, questionable morality and uninspired sophomoric humor are just a few). But the simple truth is that these things just don’t matter in a film like Transformers. There will always be room for improvement, but none of the series’ shortfalls have compromised its ability to honor one constant truth: It’s awesome when big robots fight other big robots.