Bad Movies: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Most of the works I've ascribed the label "bad movie" to haven't always been truly abysmal, just commercial products somewhat lacking in insight, passion, or originality. Transformers: Dark of the Moon is on a different level of bad. Sure, it's another slickly produced movie. And it's loud, obnoxious, and incredibly stupid. But director Michael Bay has managed to turn what was originally a glorified TV commercial selling a popular toyline into an advertisement promoting the US military. Now obviously, this isn't the first time toys have been used to extoll militarism, but this is about as naked and crass an effort as I've seen from contemporary Hollywood. The Autobots carry out the dirty work of the US government, like entering generic Middle Eastern countries to wreck their illegal nuclear weapon sites. They're under constant supervision from their military handlers, who keep them under lock and key. Americans can sleep well, knowing that their badass army officers command less than a dozen giant robots ready to quash those dirty savages. Imagine how the GI Joe movie would have turned out had Bay directed it.

As with the last two films, the Transformers aren't the stars of their own movie. The humans are. Unfortunately for us, the hero of all the films is the unbelievably annoying Sam Witwicky, played again by Shia LaBeouf. He spends his day whining to his girlfriend about how the world doesn't recognize what he did for the Autobots. Naturally, his girlfriend (who is no longer Megan Fox) is sexy, smart, gainfully employed, and willing to prop his wounded ego. They also have no onscreen chemistry.

Walter Cronkite and Bill O'Reilly both appear in the movie. Thankfully, not together. Archival footage was used of the former, so at least he has a good excuse.

Buzz Aldrin also makes a cameo playing himself. But even his participation can't lend any credence to the complete mess the film makes of lunar geography. What's funny is that the error is proudly written into the film's title.

Some of the Transformer designs start to approach the uncanny valley, or are at the very least confusing in appearance. What's with all the hair? One of the Autobots sports something that resembles Albert Einstein's messy coif.

This time around, the idiot political figure is Frances McDormand playing a short-tempered Secretary of Defense. You know she means business when she doesn't like to be called ma'am. She must be a lot of fun at reunions. And like her predecessors, she automatically distrusts the Autobots. No wonder she and John Turturro's character (the rough equivalent from the first film) get along so well.

I'm glad that Ken Jeong is getting work these days, but this was just awful. His big scene has him pulling down his pants in front of Sam in order to retrieve some important information on him. Naturally, someone has to walk in and get the wrong idea. Asian guy the butt of insensitive queer jokes? Yay!

And then there's Leonard Nimoy playing former Autobot leader Sentinel Prime. Yes, he quotes Spock from Star Trek. I'd like to think that Spock would not have been impressed.

If you've seen the other films, you know what to expect. The action is discordant and confusing, with the sound turned way up. The robot movements still have no solidity and weight to them. I watched this in 2D, and can't fathom being able to tolerate it in 3D. There's plenty of mass destruction - this time Chicago takes the brunt of it. It's a jumble of action sequences that are difficult to place, and harder to recall. The climax of the story is a three-way assault on the Decepticon (the evil robots) HQ from the military, a couple of irregulars following Sam, and the Autobots that went on way too long. It often felt like the characters were running around with no sense of direction, and bumping into each other at random intervals. Towards the end, there's this fight between Sam and a Decepticon collaborator played by Patrick Dempsey that felt completely gratuitous. You know what would make watching a city-wide robot war more exciting? Watching two thoroughly unlikable humans duke it out.

There's an unintended parallel between Autobot leader Optimus Prime's rejection of his home planet Cybertron for Earth, and Jake Sully's rejection of Earth for Pandora in Avatar.  And they're coming from opposite points of the ideological spectrum.

The end of the battle was in no way heroic, except that it's presented, without a hint of irony, as heroic by the movie.

We've come a long way from the 80s cartoon for kids. Or put another way, the cartoon grew up with its audience. Under Bay, the franchise has morphed into a thoroughly unpleasant film series that celebrates its nastier impulses as moral righteousness. I suppose its tremendous popularity can be blamed on the current zeitgeist. Or maybe Michael Bay is an idiot savant, and Transformers is a presage to a near future when we celebrate the regime's glorious robot warrior race.