Based on the cartoon series from the 1980’s of the same name, the first in the modern day Transformers franchise was released to quite a fanfare and substantial backing from toy line Hasbro. Not only did it blast a relatively unknown Shia LaBeouf into super stardom, it garnered director Michael Bay worldwide loathing from the masses. The main reasons being from hardcore fans of the original animated series feeling that he strayed much too far from the source material, and it’s also rumoured that he wasn’t all that fanatic about the cartoon in the first place. But there’s no denying that his movies make money; despite receiving many negative reviews from critics, Transformers grossed $708 million worldwide. Naturally a sequel was born, and that was even more critically annihilated, yet it went on to earn a massive $836 million. In 2011, the third entry in the franchise was released.
An impressive pre-credit sequence sees the basic plot line revealed: in the 1960’s, NASA detected a crash landing of a ship on the moon. It turns out to be that of The Ark, an Autobot (for those that haven’t seen the others, these are the good guys) craft piloted by the great Sentinel Prime. On it, the ship contained items that were said to have been the key to winning the great war of Cybertron, the home planet of both Autobots and Decepticons (bad guys). Jump to present day, and the Autobots are helping humans in their conflicts. But when Optimus Prime, the leader, discovers that the humans have been hiding information and vital pieces of the ship that could have saved Cybertron, he demands answers from Secretary of Defence Charlotte Mearer (an unusual casting choice of Frances McDormand). She reveals the true intention of the mission to the moon in the 60’s. Optimus and Ratchet (another Autobot) travel to the moon, as you do, to bring back Sentinel Prime who has been in “sleep mode”. But his return triggers a series of events that bring the biggest threat yet to mankind, and it’s up to the ever knowledgeable Sam Witwicky (Shia “Even Stevens” LaBeouf) and the rest of the Autobots to save us. Megan Fox sits this one out, and British model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley takes her place as the love interest, but she serves no real purpose other than eye candy for the audience and, bizarrely, Bumblebee.
It goes without saying really that if you’ve seen the first two, you know what to expect from this one: explosions, flash cars, a stunning actress who never seems to get dirty during the battles, and explosions. Bay acknowledged that there were many flaws in the second movie, and that he’s learned from his mistakes. What is apparent is that he’s tried to connect the audience more with the characters in the first half, attempting to put emotion into the mix with scenarios such as Sam’s struggle as to whether help the Autobots or stick with his girlfriend. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work and adds unnecessary minutes to an already inflated runtime. John Malkovich is reliably brilliant as Sam’s boss, but in the grand scheme of things wouldn’t have been missed character wise if he was absent. Shia remains entertainingly watchable as the leading man, and I can see him appearing in more ‘serious’ dramas soon. He’s really advanced as an actor, and I’d love to see him in more challenging roles. Maybe his skill is the reason why newcomer Rosie Huntington-Whiteley comes across as a discarded blow up doll, or it could simply be because she’s not cut out to be an actress. But hey, no one wants to see her act! They just want her face, legs and chest in as many scenes and in the least amount of clothes as possible. As previously mentioned, Frances McDormand seems slightly out of place, but it’s good to see someone attempting something that they wouldn’t usually be associated with.
Fortunately, the second half is absolute mayhem. Once Bay has the ’emotional’ aspect out of the way, he returns to what he does best: be a pyromaniac. The skilfully choreographed battle sequences keep the adrenaline pumping for almost a solid hour: a length of time almost unheard of for single set pieces. But it’s all out war, and delivers countless moments that more than make up for the dull and over-long first act and a half. Megatron takes a back seat to a more menacing foe, whilst Optimus and the gang kick more metal ass than ever before. And this review wouldn’t be complete if I didn’t mention the terrifying Decepticon known as Shockwave. Without question, this is the scariest robot in disguise of them all. The massive snake like ‘bot brings genuine threat to the equation and is responsible for what is quite possibly the best action scene of the year.
For a UK age certificate of 12A (equivalent to a PG-13 in the US I believe), it really pushes the boundaries – humans are obliterated mercilessly, skulls drop from the sky and Chicago is all but destroyed in scenes that are worth the ticket price alone. The swear count is also questionably high, with occasions of curse words that really don’t need it.
The bottom line is, if you disliked the first two, this won’t be the movie to change that opinion. Of course it has its flaws, but if action, girls, guns and giant robots beating each other to scrap metal is your thing, step this way: Transformers: Dark Of The Moon is everything a summer blockbuster should be.