Based on a line of toys/cartoon in the ‘80s: Autobots = good robots, Decepticons = bad robots. Ok, now you’re all caught up. Let me assure you, nothing strikes fear in the heart of a film critic more than the phrase “In Association with Hasbro.” And after Transformers (boring) and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (repugnant), Transformers: Dark of the Moon could have used the tag line “Abandon hope all ye who enter here.” So imagine my surprise that the third installment was…kind of not bad. I’d almost call it a return to form, you know, if the series ever had a “form” in the first place.
The film actually opens with a fairly clever sequence tying Kennedy’s decision to ramp up the space program to a Transformer-caused disturbance on the moon (hence the subtitle). It’s an interesting montage of actors mixed with historical footage that gives the film a weight which none of the others possessed. Director Michael Bay (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, The Rock) is known, and widely criticized, for his brand of mindless, overblown (though commercially successful) action films. And while he has always subscribed to the theory that “bigger is better,” this time out he’s toned things down a notch. Of course, where Bay is concerned, “toned down” is relative term. After all, this is still a movie about sentient robots punching each other.
But many of the problems from last time have been fixed. Previously, he mistook “speed” for “action” resulting in action scenes that were a frenetic mess of constant movement. Even exposition scenes were filmed in this manner. The action scenes are no longer impenetrable and his non-stop camera swooshes have mercifully ceased. He’s even refrained from speeding up the “transforming” instead choosing to spotlight many of the changes in slow-motion thereby preventing the kaleidoscopic effect of the last film. And the story this time is far superior to Revenge of the Fallen. He even had Tom Kenny change the vocal styling he used for Wheelie, so the character no longer sounds like a warmed-over racial stereotype.
Now, before this starts to sound like an unmitigated success allow me to, um….mitigate. The film is still at least a half-hour longer than it needs to be. While the action scenes are fun, they tend to become exhausting as they blow past the twenty minute mark. The climatic action sequence was almost 40-minutes long. True, the story is better but all that means is that it rises to the level of “serviceable.” And, of course, it still stars Shia LaBeouf. It’s easily the strongest of the three films, but that’s a lot like being the most talented Kardashian.