The dirty little secret I have is that I am addicted to Michael Bay movies. There are only three that I think are any good at all (The Rock, The Island and Transformers), and almost every one falls completely apart by the end, but I find myself dragged back into the theater every other summer to bear witness to what I think is a distinctly American mode of filmmaking. Bay’s movies exist unto themselves, each one further building a wholly coherent auteur’s body of work that contains near-constant explosions, sometimes incoherent camera work and a larger-than-life sensibility that finally married successfully to source material for the larger-than-life robots from outer space saga of the Transformers films.
Being drawn into a theater to watch his latest opus, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, was akin to popping a needle back into that old familiar spot, or lighting up for that perfect crack high that was missing from an addict’s life before a relapse. I know Bay’s movies are no good for me as a serious lover of cinema – they are possibly some of the least competent in the realm of actual filmmaking prowess made on a major budget – but I can’t help myself. I’m hopelessly devoted to this batshit spectacle and Bay has me hooked. Is Transformers: Dark of the Moon a great movie? No. Is it a great Michael Bay movie? Not only is it a great movie for that director, it may be his greatest work. It is very possibly the culmination of every fetish he has embellished over nine previous features.
Shot in 3D, using much of James Cameron’s crew and equipment from Avatar, the film actually looks pretty damned good. The CG work by Industrial Light and Magic is astounding, and I’d expect no less. After making three of these movies, they better have realistic looking robots down pat. I think it’s also the first instance where the majority of Bay’s action set pieces are edited together with an attempt to actually convey movement within space and maintain coherence. Astonishing, I know.
Anyway, the movie again follows some annoying human characters, Shia LaBeouf as Sam Witwicky primary among the, as the world’s fate rests on the outcome of an ancient battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons, led respectively by Optimus Prime and Megatron. I’m not going to go into the mythology of this universe at all – there are countless websites nerdier folks than myself have devoted to all-encompassing information on the subject – but the story picks up where we last saw Sam and the Autobots, and the robots have begun collaborating with the U.S. government in covert operations to rid the Earth of threats from the Decepticons.
It turns out the reason behind the space race of the 1960s was to get to a crashed alien vessel before the Russians, and that once there, they found the remains of the first Autobots humans had ever encountered. Now the Autobots go to the Moon, find the ship and recover their original leader, Sentinel Prime, who will help them rebuild their home planet if he can get a portal he invented to work with only the remaining pillars that survived the crash. There’s betrayal, toilet humor and everything else you would expect based on the first movie (and less of the awful stuff that overloaded the second). I enjoyed myself.
The final battle sees most of the city of Chicago utterly destroyed, and starting with a chase on the highway and culminating with the total collapse of a skyscraper. It also lasts for the last third of the movie, which was something most action movies had let fall by the wayside until Rambo a couple years back and 13 Assassins earlier this year. The final third of an action movie – a true action movie – should always be total destruction, with damn near everything in the environment laid to waste, and all of the bad guys blown up real good. Bay understands that; he gets it. And, unlike the previous movie (this is a major improvement in my opinion), it doesn’t mostly consist of a foot chase in a desert. That already makes it about a million times more interesting. Thanks, Bay.
Now, I know, I know, for those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, or care in the slightest, I highly recommend you stay far, far away from this movie. You will never ever want to see this. For those of you like me who are sick in the head and are compulsively drawn to giant outsized spectacle like flies to honey, then you may just have a good time, forget everything for a few hours (it’s really, really long) and then leave the theater without ever having to think about this movie again. Or, if you’re really, truly like me, you’ll think about it more than you probably should and make the acknowledged mistake of begrudgingly telling people you like it and recommending it to them.
A word about the 3D. This is the best live action 3D cinematography I’ve seen. Better than Avatar, and better than the genre films My Bloody Valentine, Drive Angry, Resident Evil: Afterlife and Piranha, all of which were shot in 3D as opposed to converted in post-production. I can see how the additional effects can be helped in films like this by the utilization of 3D as a further implementation of spectacle, and I’m supportive of it. Genre films are fit for the technology and action movies seem to comply as a bill of sale for me. I still don’t care for its use as pervasive as it is, and I have very little interest in seeing most things released in 3D, but for Bay, it is what it is. What it is is pretty good.
You guys know what to expect. Loud ‘splosions, crappy music (at least one track by shit-tastic ‘band’ Linkin Park), and sunlit caressing of fetishized automobiles and bad actresses (here the honor goes to the truly awful Rosie Huntington-Whitely), both chosen purely for visual aesthetic and given little else to do other than look pretty. I enjoyed myself, and even at its bloated run-time, it’s still smoother and faster a machine than the previous film and has about 90% less racism (and absolutely no swinging truck testicles) in its anthropomorphic automobile/robots. So, go at your own risk, relapse, let the candy wash over you and get your brain fried. This is the best worst movie out right now – no faint praise for lovers of good bad flicks. And hey, even worse, you could always be stuck watching Battle: Los Angeles.