If Michael Bay were a magician, he'd be one of those guys who shows you one trick but before you have a chance to appreciate it, he'd quickly show you a bigger one. And while you were still absorbing that trick, he'd try and top it with an even more eye-catching one until eventually he would resort to hitting you over the head with the entire magic set. So it goes with his movies.
Bay's brand of wham-bam film-making (Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, the Transformers franchise) haven't made him a darling of the critics but his success with the popcorn audience ($1.5 billion to date) has granted him the licence to keep on pushing the pyrotechnic envelope in his own inimitable fashion.
The key shot In Pearl Harbor (2001) for example, is a bomb's-eye view of the destruction of the USS Arizona. It’s one of only four 100% CGI shots in that film and as such it has real impact. Fast forward ten years and Bay's mantra of More is More reaches its apotheosis with the third instalment of the Transformers franchise as the director hits us over the head with his entire box of CGI magic tricks.
Given the general awfulness of the second Transformers movie, the bar wasn’t exactly high this time around. And Transformers: Dark of the Moon starts off promisingly enough with a conspiracy theory prologue involving the Apollo XI mission for which even Buzz Aldrin makes a brief cameo. But Bay has never been strong on exposition (to say the least) so we’re soon confronted with a mish-mash of convoluted storylines which renders the narrative pretty incoherent. We know it’s all leading up to a showdown between rival alien robots but first we have to wade through various sub-plots involving our young hero (LaBeouf), his new gal-pal (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) and her hunky boss (Patrick Dempsey); assorted macho histrionics with square-jawed army guys such as Tyrese Gibson and Josh Duhamel; and unnecessary cameos from actors (Frances McDormand, John Turturro, John Malkovich) who should know better. Meanwhile the ear-splitting, chrome-crunching (and all in 3-D) sequences continue as the Autobots and Decepticons transform themselves into various objects including presumably (though I may have missed it) the kitchen sink.
Yes, there are some spectacular sequences, particularly as the streetscape of Chicago is being levelled, but as a cinematic experience, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is unrelenting, incoherent, over-long (154 minutes!) and over-reliant on three classic Bay tropes: the all-action, heavy metal sequences that assault your senses; the pre and post battle reflective sequences, often seen in slo-mo with a Coldplay-type soundtrack; and the ham-fisted, light relief sequences, often involving wisecracking robots or quirky human characters.
And while we’re at it, even the non quirky human characters come off badly in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Shia LaBeouf has little to do but run around like an angry teen, while the acting performance of Victoria’s Secrets model Huntington-Whiteley has to be seen to be disbelieved. Suffice it to say that she makes erstwhile Transformers eye-candy Megan Fox look like Meryl Streep.