When you look back on your life, you’ll remember the big moments. Yet, life isn’t really big moments. It isn’t weddings and birthdays or that time you got drunk and attacked a cop. Life is the long stretches in between all of that. It’s the hours you spent driving to the wedding, or the beers you drank with your friends before throwing the punch. If life is what happens between big moments, then Transformers: Dark of the Moon is lifeless. It contains only big moments and none of the in between. It’s no way to tell a story. For the big moments to make any sense, you have to know how you got there. You’ll walk out of Dark of the Moon with a firm idea of who won in the end, but no real idea of the journey the film’s characters took to make their victory happen. Maybe you won’t care.
You won’t care because even though you’ll have no idea how Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and his soldiers got up in that building to fight Decepticons, you’ll be too busy being wowed by what happens while they fight them to worry about it. There’s too much exploding, too many robots transforming, too many long and lingering shots of a pretty girl posing, or smart people hacking, or comedic characters behaving comedically, or giant buildings falling, to really stop and realize that actually, none of this seems to fit together.
It’s not an accident. I feel confident in saying that Transformers director Michael Bay knows he’s missing most of his story’s connecting tissue, and somewhere along the way decided we wouldn’t care and he didn’t either. It’s as if this is the perfect expression of what he’s been going for all along and never quite achieved with his other, comparatively life-laden films. Because of that it may be tempting to call this movie dumb, to accuse it of pandering to people without the soul or subtlety to stay with something smarter. I can’t do that. Movies for dumb people spell everything out for them, and even though Dark of the Moon seems crafted primarily to stimulate a series of easily reached pleasure centers and nothing else, it still asks a lot from its audience.
In the process of skipping over all that life stuff to show us only those high-interest moments, the movie asks us to fill in those between bits on our own. Bay trusts that his audience is capable of doing that, he trusts that the people watching will have enough imagination to fill in all those missing, boring parts without him. He doesn’t seem to think he has to show you the flights of stairs Sam Witwicky climbed to get to the top of that building with his soldier pals, or the heaps of smashed girders and concrete they must have had to crawl over on floor twenty-six to make it up to floor one-hundred and twenty-seven. He’s too busy showing us all the robots they get to fight once there, and trusts that people watching will be smart enough to figure out on their own what it must have taken for them to find their way to the top.
Is it bad storytelling? It would be if this happened accidentally, but if you’ve seen Bay’s other movies, you know this is a style he’s been working towards for awhile. It’s no mistake that he’s made a movie without all those life parts, this is what he’s always wanted, it’s just taken three Transformers movies for him to get there. Because of that there’s almost no point in telling you what this movie’s about. You already know. There are robots. There are things for them to demolish. They fight. You’ll have fun watching this and won’t even remember that the plot involves alien technology hidden on the dark side our moon being brought to Earth to cause trouble, let alone think about Sam Witwicky newly graduated from college and struggling to get a job. Sorry Shia LaBeouf, you are no longer needed in these films.
It all works, after a fashion. It’ll never be as good as the first Transformers, when there really was a story to tell, when it really was a movie about life, wrapped around the relationship between a boy and his first car. The best movies do what Bay’s doing here and make it feel like a part of life too. This is not one of the best movies, it’s the best of what we’re left when you remove all substance, and what we’re left with is infinitely better than the middle ground tread by the previous Transformers film. Dark of the Moon has taken out all the bad jokes and the boring stuff to give us two and a half hours full of nothing but the biggest special effects any movie has ever offered in stunning 3D, and it’s doing it better than any other movie has before.
Gone are most of the incomprehensible shaky cam effects of the previous movie, in a movie that’s nothing but action, Bay seems determined to give us action we can actually follow this time around. He succeeds in that. You’ll know whose head Optimus Prime just ripped off, when he rips it. You’ll know to clap when the battle’s won. You’ll believe there’s a gigantic building falling over in front of you, and in a summer movie that’s pretty good. I still wish the robots weren’t designed like gigantic piles of animated garbage, I wish the movie had time to give them all personalities before killing them off and asking us to care about it, but that’s just never going to happen. Michael Bay is no longer interested in that kind of Transformers film.
Sure it’s far too long, a little exhausting, and it doesn’t really seem to contain any actual characters let alone a story for them to be in. Those of you worried whether Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whitely would be able to replace Megan Fox should have remembered that. She’s not in this movie as an actress, she’s a posable action figure for Michael Bay to slide his camera over. The robots are only set pieces, the men primarily placeholders who stand and fire guns. More than either of the previous films, this Transformers 3 feels like an ultra-violent version of the two-dimensional cartoon it’s based on. I think I’m almost alright with that, when it’s done this well, in this kind of summer blockbuster. We’d probably all be happier watching another movie like Inception, but as long as those movies still get made, I guess there’s nothing wrong in sitting down with a Transformers: Dark of the Moon, once in awhile.
To find out whether you should see this movie in 2D or 3D, read our To 3D Or Not To 3D: Buy The Right Transformers: Dark Of The Moon Ticket.