Transformers: Dark of the Moon is a stunning apotheosis of many sorts – of supersized CG spectacle, of cruel and cavalier carnage, of sexist T&A and militaristic fetishism, of narrative inconsequentiality and crass stereotypes, and of size, scale and over-over-over-the-top juvenile orgiastic cartoon mayhem. It’s a 157-minute pinnacle of contemporary mega-budgeted blockbusters that’s simultaneously atrocious and astounding, overflowing with bad taste, dim-wittedness and cacophonous aesthetic overload, and so totally surpassing its aggro-testosterone dictates that it plays out like an assault or, more precisely still, like a final conquering salvo. In its extremeness, Dark of the Moon proclaims its – by which I mean, director Michael Bay’s – domination of the mainstream action landscape, with the film, in its astonishing excess, throwing down the gauntlet with the arrogant ferocity of a work that knows it can’t be bested at its own game. Promoting jingoism and heroic platitudes and yet also salaciously reveling in death and destruction, Bay fully embraces his role as directorial commander-in-chief, driven by no ideology but to proffer consumer-grade apocalyptic warfare designed to both satiate young boys’ bloodlust and arouse their libido, all with the box-office bottom-line as the true, guiding ambition.
With Dark of the Moon, 3D saves Michael Bay from himself, forcing him – in a manner similar to the wretched Revenge of the Fallen’s IMAX-customized centerpieces – to partake in relatively prolonged, smoother camera movements and less editorial franticness as a means of avoiding blurriness. When married to copious slow-motion, the effect is a visual lucidity that surpasses almost every previous Bay effort. With the plot (especially during the first tedious hour) wholly beside the point, his images take on an almost abstract splendor, be it of men freefalling from a Chicago high-rise, a serpentine mecha-monster (like a techno-variation of Dune’s sandworms) tearing through Trump Tower, or hero Sam (Shia LaBeouf) floating through the air as his Autobot BFF Bumblebee transforms from roadster to humanoid and back to roadster all while he’s riding inside the ‘bot. The fact that such car commercial-slick style is in service of ogling Megan Fox replacement Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (Bay introduces the Victoria’s Secret model-turned-actress via a close-up of her ass, to convey her prime eye-candy purpose), or of evil Decepticons incinerating innocent humans with no pity, makes the film more than a tad noxiously infantile. But as a feast for the senses, it handily accomplishes its gonzo goals, enlivened by Amir Mokri’s TV ad-shiny cinematography and Steve Jablonsky’s grandiloquent score, both of which seamlessly mesh with a cast of A-listers (John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, series mainstay John Turturro) overacting their hearts out, and a script that places a premium on screaming.
If morally dubious – oh, alright, reprehensible – and dumb as steel, Dark of the Moon at least goes mercifully light on the intolerable banter of Sam’s parents, though Julie White’s mom (the most grating character in a franchise overrun by them, including Ken Jeong’s typically crude gay caricature) still gets in a crack about the size of her son’s penis. Yet Bay only cares about humans insofar as he can turn them into machines, as evidenced by a late tracking shot of LaBeouf leaping and sliding through an urban battlefield with Autobot-ian grace. Similar disinterest is shown to the story, which involves the first Apollo moon landing, Buzz Aldrin (looking confused in a cameo), JFK (resurrected through CG wizardry), and the heroic Optimus Prime’s attempts to prevent nemesis Megatron (along with another traitorous, fire engine-red ‘bot voiced by Leonard Nimoy) from enslaving the planet. Like the rest of the metal-on-metal insanity, this hodgepodge of revisionist U.S. political-history elements – which includes Megatron sitting in Honest Abe’s Lincoln Memorial chair, and 9/11-esque metropolitan demolition – exhibits no coherent or sincere beliefs except that more is everything. It’s a stew of adolescent-hormonal sex and violence whose pleasures arouse not guilt so much as mouth-agape shock and awe, culminating with a jaw-dropping hour-long bout of robot-combat madness that, fulfilling the wildest wet dreams of Transformers and action-movie fanboys by realizing the genre’s full potential for titillating amoral nastiness, solidifies Bay as the conquering Decepticon despot of our awesomeness-above-all-else modern cinema.