Review: ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’

1. I walked out of "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," staggering, dazed, perhaps even limping. The first two "Transformers" films existed solely to assault the senses, but "Dark of the Moon" pulverizes them. My neck was sore, my legs shook, my synapses fried. If nothing else, Michael Bay knows how to take you on a ride. This ride is empty, brainless and quite possibly evil -- I am no expert in theology, but I'm pretty sure evil looks a lot like "Transformers 3" -- but you cannot say it is not a ride. This ride punches you in the face, shreds your frontal lobes and repeatedly kicks you in the groin, it sucks out any sort of soul you might have remaining and it should probably be regulated by the FDA or the ATF (not sure which), but it is certainly a ride. It honestly felt like I'd just done 15 rounds with vintage Tyson. Pregnant women are advised against seeing "Transformers 3," but then again, so is everybody. This film will make you feel like American entertainment is dead, spent, a vein no longer able to be tapped. It is nonstop sensation toward the ultimate, logical endpoint of death. Twelve hours after seeing the film, I am still mostly unable to feel my legs. Or love. Or hope. Anything, really. Also, I think the movie might have jarred loose one of my fillings.

2. Stung by the criticism of the last film -- and it's actually quite remarkable that Michael Bay is not immune to criticism by this point; if he is expecting someone to say something nice, he's in for quite a wait -- Bay pulls out all the stops in "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," like he only gets to make this one more movie the rest of his life and has to fit everything in this one. This movie is almost three hours long, people. All the Bay signatures are here -- slow motion shots of women's legs and hard metal, with equal fetishization; a teenage-level of engagement with planet earth and its mores; those endless flapping helicopters -- but heightened to the point of absurdity. You think Bay was trying to blast your brain through the back of your head before? "Transformers 3" ends with an action sequence that's nearly an hour long, just non-stop relentlessness for the sake of relentlessness. Even the parts of the scene that work feel like a 2X4 to the skull.

3. One of the unending questions about Bay is whether or not his skill -- and it is a skill, like being able to blow up a bridge is a skill, or being able to mix the chemicals for a lethal injection is a skill -- inherently comes with the shocking idiocy attached, or whether they can somehow be separated. The thing I never understand about the "Transformers" movies is that you wouldn't think they'd have to be so stupid. Bay can construct a compelling action sequence when he wants to, and there's no question he can keep your attention, even if it's by prying your eyes open and spraying Lysol into them; one would think these powers could be used for good rather than evil. But man, is this movie ever stupid as sh-t. For its nearly three hours running time -- nearly three hours! - there is not a single moment of recognizable human behavior, no point where you say to yourself, "Oh, now there's something a human being would do, when faced with a similar situation. I have seen a human do that before." Bay has distilled not just human emotion out of the filmmaking process, but basic human function: If you were to tell me Rosie Huntington-Whiteley was an entirely CGI creation, with sporadic blinks tossed at random to simulate human activity, I'd be hard-pressed to argue with you. It's probably for the best that Bay lacks the ability to relate to homo sapiens in any feasible way; this sort of cinematic pyromania is best limited to fighting robots, where it's safe and contained.

4. As for the action sequences, there's two pretty great ones: When someone sits Bay down, injects him with sodium pentathol and makes him focus, he's capable of inserting logic and scale into his pure spectacle. The first involves Bumblebee, which is Shia LeBeouf's car, I guess, "transforming" in mid-air, with LeBeouf still in the car, and then transforming back by the time the car lands. The other is particularly excellent, in which a new evil Transformer, whose basically a mean giant shapeshifting earthworm, tearing apart a Chicago building while humans run back and forth within trying to stay alive. When Bay remembers to put people in his action sequences, small specks in the massive frame, the film almost seems manageable; there's an almost poetic sequence when various soldiers jump out of a plane and fly through downtown Chicago. But then two robots start fighting each other again, and we lose any sense of what's going on, who's fighting whom, what this is for, why this is happening, and the brain starts bleeding again. The problem of two massive robots fighting each other in such a huge way that no one can tell what's going on has been a problem for three films now, and it hasn't been solved. No one seems to care, so, you know, why should i?

5. Bay's "humor" has often been compared to that of a 14-year-old boy, but I think that's being unfair to 14-year-old boys; it's closer to that of someone with a serious mental defect who also is just starting to learn the language. (Of all the Name Actors in the film, only the great Frances McDormand salvages her dignity; do what you can to forget John Malkovich is in this.) The fight scenes remain confusing and deadening; the plot shifts in and out of focus, with scenes half-written before charging forward onto the next one; the false gravitas and nationalism idiotic at best and offensive at worst. This is soul-crushing, brain-rotting drivel to an infinite degree, expertly produced and displayed the way only the truly cynical can pull off. Future generations will look back at this film and see, again, why the American empire was doomed to fall. This movie is actively making the world a worse place to live. I am certain Michael Bay considers it his masterwork. He's right. God help us all.

Grade: C-