Hey, it turns out we went to the Moon in 1969 not to deal the Soviets an embarrassing Cold War smack but to grab a crashed UFO. Transformers: Dark of the Moon tells us this. (The ship crashed on the dark side, of course, otherwise just anyone would be able to see the thing up there making a mess.) There are some awesome, goosebumpy moments as we see the iconic imagery of that first Apollo landing retuned to an unfamiliar story, as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin deviate from the public script to climb over a lunar rise, stare in awe at the sight before them, and climb into an honest-to-Spielberg alien spacecraft to have a look around.
If for a moment one might forget that this is a Michael Bay flick, what with all the genuine wonder and dread on offer in these first few minutes of Dark of the Moon, one will be instantly reminded. For the director cuts from the lunar surface in 1969 to a woman’s barely clad ass in our collective face. I’d say Bay was making a sly joke about the Moon and mooning, except he’s not sly, and that wouldn’t make the moment forgivable anyway. It’s just, you know, a woman’s ass. Right in the camera. Because that’s what Michael Bay (those other two Transformers movies) does.
He just can’t help it. In another scene, Bay, with the collusion of screenwriter Ehren Kruger (The Brothers Grimm, The Skeleton Key), invites us to “look at the curves.” Someone onscreen is talking — pointlessly, as it turns out — about a classic car, but the camera is on “actress” Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (Victoria’s Secret underwear catalogs), who never goes anywhere, it seems, dressed in less than fuck-me pumps and an evening dress better suited to serve as a handkerchief. One must almost wonder why Bay didn’t just get a “hot” supermodel-turned-“actress” to replace Shia LaBeouf (Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps, Eagle Eye), so he wouldn’t have to decide whether to focus on her or on the giant alien robots beating the shit out of each other. He could get it all in one shot and get over with shooting his wad.
Cuz when the camera is not on Huntington-Whiteley’s body, or on LaBeouf’s slack-jawed dumbfoundedment as “hero” Sam Witwicky, it’s on the “good” Autobots and the “bad” Decepticons, who continue fighting their alien civil war right here on Earth. (The mysteries of giant alien robots who think Earth internal-combustion vehicles are “cool” and all speak with male voices — and cartoon Earth accents — remain unsolved.) The crashed ship on the Moon was an Autobot secret weapon, designed by the Autobot Einstein, and by gum, the Autobots are gonna get it back. Which will, natch, require some more endless warfare with the Decepticons.
It’s like the whole movie is on amphetamines. Dark of the Moon is high-speed orgies of random bloodless ultraviolence — seriously, how many the fuck innocent bystanders must be dead after the freeway-battle scene? — with some jingo-jism stirred in for an extra kick: The Autobots are America’s friends, and are totally down on illegal nuke projects in the Middle East. (Take that, Middle East! Too bad you didn’t find your own giant robot best friends!) You can tell the Decepticons are bad because they hate freedom and stuff, and also because their leader blows the head off the Lincoln Memorial and then sits in Abe’s marble throne. Why not just have the bad guy say baseball sucks, apple pie is gross, and tell a yo-mamma joke?
Also too: You can feel Bay’s erection poking out of the screen when dudes in combat fatigues shout stuff like “Notify the 101st Airborne!” and “All right, demo team, let’s crack steel!” Later, the American flag will billow in the breeze in that glorious-on-film golden hour of sunset-or-sunrise — it doesn’t matter which, because all the other action around it will be taking place in the bright glare of the midafternoon sun. And we’ll know everything is right and fine with the world and America still has the biggest dick (except for the giant alien robots) because the giant alien robots chose to destroy an awesome American city like Chicago. Sure, Chicago getting destroyed by giant alien robots kicking the snot out of one another is a small price to pay for… something or other. Just getting to see stuff get blown up, maybe. Stuff getting blown up is always awesome, no matter what.
It’s probably a bonus that it’s impossible to care one whit — one whitwicky? — about any of the characters here. Not the humans: Sam shifts from being a whiny loser to an obnoxious asshole at the drop of a Decepticon. His “superhot” supermodel girlfriend makes Barbie look like Stephen Hawking. Not the robots… except I do wonder, How could the Autobots not realize that the guys calling themselves the Decepticons were bad news? Because if I cared, then all the arbitrary and casual racism, sexism, homophobia, and general idiocy might bother me, on their behalf. But it doesn’t. If I could tell what was going on in half the actiony bits, I might fear for the safety of everyone involved. But I can’t, so I don’t.
I do worry, however, for the likes of poor Frances McDormand (Burn After Reading, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day) and Alan Tudyk (Astro Boy, 3:10 to Yuma), doing their best to muster the last shreds of their dignity in roles that don’t leave them much room for that. (Patrick Dempsey and John Malkovich have clearly both learned how to stifle shame, having already appeared in, respectively, Made of Honor and Eragon.) Leonard Nimoy (Land of the Lost, Star Trek) gets it the worst: as the voice of that alien Einstein, Sentinel Prime, he is forced to regurgitate one of Spock’s most famous lines, and make it mean exactly the opposite of what it meant.
Most illogical. And pretty frakkin’ infuriating, too.