You won’t hear me say that Michael Bay hasn’t grown as a filmmaker. Transformers: Dark of the Moon expands to a brain-numbing 154 minutes, leaving the 2007 Transformers (143 minutes) and the 2009 Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (149 minutes) in its digital dust. All three films are the cinematic equivalent of a street mugging, only the mugging is over faster. Bay himself is on the record as liking Dark of the Moon better than Revenge of the Fallen, so that should tell you how rank it really is. The only positive thing I can say about this 3D Hasbro theme-park ride disguised as a movie is that it deepened my appreciation for James Cameron and his handling of robots in The Terminator 1 and 2 and his use of 3D in Avatar. Bay is a master bungler, grinding a promising plot into hamburger. What if the robots were discovered by Apollo astronauts on the 1969 moon landing? What if the good Autobots were the only thing separating us humans from world domination by the badass Decepticons? What if Bay had the talent to put flesh and blood on the story hidden in the bowels of Ehrten Kruger’s script? He doesn’t. Despite having the finest technical talent at his disposal, Bay just flails around like a kid in a 3D candy store watching bots morph into cars and back again and battle each other like dueling refrigerators. Bay believes that you can indeed kick a dead horse forever and the profits his bot epics rake in prove him right. He’s laughing (at us) all the way to the bank. In the words of Sentinel Prime (voiced by Leonard “Spock” Nimoy — what!), the risen leader of the Autobots and a daddy dearest figure to the heroic Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Got it. In Bay speak, that means the few movie critics left should shut the hell up and let Bay get down to the business of metal porn. It’s not happening. Here’s what you’ll get to see for your overpriced ticket.
See Bay give his hero, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf, get another job — fast!), a new hottie. Megan Fox, got the boot, reportedly for comparing Bay to Hitler. So in comes British model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley for Bay to drool over. If a director could be jailed for using a camera to have carnal knowledge of an actress, he’d be doing life. The pair couldn’t be duller. LaBeouf only lights up when he reunites with Bumblebee — that’s his car.
See Bay use his magic on actors. By that I mean his uncanny gift for making talent look talentless. Sam’s boss, John Malkovich, appears in orange makeup that makes him look like an Oompa-Loompa, spouting jokes that die on his tongue. It made me heartsick to watch Oscar winner Frances McDormand, as the national director of intelligence, sparring with a hunk of metal. It’s a mark of Bay’s flair for the obvious that when a scene calls for McDormand to be nervous, he has her bite her nails. And what of Transformers newcomers Patrick Dempsey, as a slimebucket, and Ken Jeong, as an alien groupie? They should fire their agents. Returnees Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson have it worse — Bay treats them like scenery. John Turturro, playing FBI agent Simmons, counters by chewing said scenery until you can’t not notice him. I fully expected him to transform into a hambone.
See Bay devote the entire last third of the movie to a bot battle that damn near destroys Chicago. But for every moment that works — a Decepticon named Shockwave wrapping itself around a building like a boa constrictor — comes thudding repetition that made me want to plead for mercy. “Make it stop!” were the words that ran over and over in my head. Transformers: Dark of the Moon — high on any list of the worst blockbusters ever (move over Green Lantern, you’ve been bitch-slapped) — is a movie bereft of wit, wonder, imagination, and any genuine reason for being. Watching it makes you die a little inside. Is this the future of movies? God help us! Michael Bay, you’ve done it again.
Peter Travers’ Latest Videos
• The 12 Must-See Summer Movies — Plus Five Unheralded Gems and Five More to Skip
• The Complete Archive: Over 20 Years of Peter Travers’ Movie Reviews Now Online
• Get more news, reviews and interviews from Peter Travers on The Travers Take