The latest film in the Transformers franchise starts promisingly with an alternative history/conspiracy plot about the Space Race and the 1969 NASA moon landing. What unravels is then a familiarly convoluted and busy spectacle film about yet another clash between the rival robot alien Transformers involving their human allies, with Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) once more coming to the rescue on the side of the Autobots. Director Michael Bay and his production team have put an extraordinary amount of work into the CGIs, 3D and sound design, which may have been extremely effective if he calmed down his trademark rapid editing to allow the audience to actually focus on what is going on. Unfortunately this rarely happens. There are a couple of good scenes later in the film – an exciting skydive and an inventive sequence set inside a building about to topple over – but they are too little too late and then followed by an unengaging lengthy finale that obliterates any good faith.
In other words, Bay has delivered another empty spectacle that is overlong and mostly tedious. For a film centred on action set pieces it contains a lot of dull exposition and the humour is either cheesy or very simple innuendo, based around the fact that Sam’s new girlfriend Carly Spencer (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) is attractive in the most conventional sense. And we’re not talking fun, cheeky ‘Nice beaver’ à la The Naked Gun innuendo here either, we’re talking about stuff that Benny Hill would have dismissed as banal. The performances are yet again on the same level as pantomime theatre with lots of shouting, Gilmore Girls-style rapid dialogue and characters making ‘amusing’ asides to themselves.
If nothing else Transformers: Dark of the Moon may one day becoming a teaching tool to demonstrate how ideology is expressed through mass entertainment cinema, in the same way that English students are encouraged to read tabloid newspapers to learn about persuasive language. The hyper-conservative agenda in this film is so pronounced that it almost renders parodies like Team America: World Police redundant. Like the previous films in the franchise, it positions the military as the good guys who know what’s best while the government characters are all bureaucrats who stand in the way of what needs to be done. Soldiers are good ol’ country boys while the government, which in this film is firmly identified as the Obama Administration, gives in to the enemy to allow ‘them’ to take over the planet. Not only does this film resurrect old Cold War red menace paranoia to paint the villainous Decepticons as Commies, but it also evokes a lot of contemporary xenophobia towards a vague notion of what lies in the Middle East. The final touch is just how gleefully and violently the Autobots kill their enemies. Since when were the good guys so driven by revenge and a desire to extract as much suffering on the bad guys as possible?
Maybe this is all meant to be a self-reflexive exercise in superficial spectacle. Just as some commentators have argued this is the case for Sucker Punch, perhaps they will also for Transformers: Dark of the Moon using the way it repeats the famous Jurassic Park ‘Objects in mirror are closer than they appear’ visual gag as evidence. Early in the film when John Malkovich’s character makes a crack about a visual and visceral betrayal, it does sound like a deliberately self-aware moment. Is it all an elaborate post-modern joke? Otherwise, we have to accept that Transformers: Dark of the Moon is little more than a ‘leave your brain at the door’ film for audiences with the dubious ability to stop themselves from thinking. The problem is, such films still need to be exciting, engaging and entertaining and not boring, annoying and embarrassing.
This review has already received a lot of attention and many people aren’t happy with how I’ve responded to the film nor with how I’ve discussed its politics. I’m more than happy to discuss this film critically with people who disagree with me, but the conversation has to remain respectful. It will also help if you’ve actually seen the film.
So please don’t post aggressive and insulting comments as I won’t allow reductive crap like that through. The fiercely anti-intellectual tone of some of the comments really doesn’t do anybody any favours either.
Perhaps take a look at the way I approach film criticism before getting so worked up as you may simply find that my style and taste don’t match yours. If that is the case then you can just move on and not worry about what I have to say.
Wow you really are drinking your own magic water…. I had heard weeks ago how the critics where going to trash this movie and cars 2, (and here you are doing both)….. I guess you did need that pedestal after all. I may not have seen this one yet, but I have seen Cars 2 and your review is compared to a holier than thou preacher who builds himself up by trashing other…. Great Movie…. Terrible review!!!! I give you less than 1 star!!!!
Owen Glieberman from EW pegged it when he said the critics would hate these movie for their own self importance
That’s a lot of ellipses and exclamation marks James.
Thanks for not threatening to kill me and thanks for bringing to my attention that article by Owen Gleiberman, ‘Do critics pick out certain movies to bash?’ It’s a curious idea, but I’ve certainly never been invited into any secret meeting where the critics plot what films they want to take down. I do like the way Gleiberman describes the critical mauling of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen as an example of critics trying to ‘transform impotence into power’. However, maybe it was just a case where the vast majority of critics really didn’t like it? It could be that innocent.
I sometimes have wildly different opinions to other critics, but I’ve never felt that means there is some conspiracy and that I am the only critic who speaks the truth.
For the record, I was really expecting to enjoy Cars 2, but I didn’t. I didn’t trash it, I just gave it an average review.
I didn’t think much of the first film and skipped the 2nd but I have to say that this review increases my inclination to see part 3. Even if it is as lame as I expect it sounds like it may have an ironic charm. Why can’t Michael Bay ever use his prodigious skills to make Shinola…?
Hi Dan – I think ironic charm is a stretch I’m afraid. If the original film didn’t do much for you then parts two and three really won’t (and no, I wasn’t a big fan of the original either).
I still adore The Rock so as much as I haven’t enjoyed most of what Bay has done since, I’ll always be fond of him for making that film.
If in that case, it will have already been used in a number of other films such as Iron Man 2, The Borne Ultimatum, Green Zone, and plenty of other movies.
But on the other side of the spectrum, there are movies that are supposedly the complete opposite of this, especially like Avatar (thought there was use of mercenaries instead of military, but it still conveyed a militarial oppression with addition to cooperate corruption). I think you are half right on it being somewhat gov’t corrupt bias and more towards military, I think it is somewhat overlooked. The Decepticons are supposed to be “cold-war commies”, as it fits their characterizations well in the mythos itself. Forgive me for dwelving into the fiction of Transformers, but I thought I might explain it a little better (if not only a tiny bit more). Decepticons are based off of a superiority as they are faction of the Transformers race that believed only the strong should survive and in peace through perfect accord (simular to communism), whereas the Autobots believe in a ideal of freedom and prosperity through unity with other civilizations. They go about it in a civil war over ideals (the ideals can be contrasted in both of the other films like when Optimus faces Megatron in the 1st film, a clash of ideals as the Autobots are persecuted by the humans and the Decepticons). If you pay attention to humans reactions to cybertronians like Sector 7’s obduction, you could get a little of their motivation as to why they distrust other races and would rather rule over them. Otherwise, that’s all I can say for now, since if this were made in the 2004 – 2008 era, it would have referred to the Bush Era. Simple as that, frankly.
I’d guess they’d do that as soon as they saw an entire city get raised to the ground and find a chance to end a brutal war that is millions of years old upon on final clash. They are supposedly in a “blackhawk-down” situation, so brutality of it all would be related to a need of desperation in all of this. But to keep it all summarized, this is an action film so it is going to be exaggerated in emotion at times.
Sensational comments Tony and thanks for providing that background and insight into the broader Transformers mythology. It sounds like the characters have always contained a political subtext, like most aspects of popular culture of course. I’m always fascinated by how such subtext surfaces during different eras since films are always very much a product of their time. In the case of this film I found the assertion of its ideals a lot more overt than usual.
In reply to you previous response. I would never threaten to hurt anyone over their opinion. I am an overall movie buff, tracking box office and reviews. I just have been so frustrated with the movie backlash…. Check out weekend warrior @ comingsoon.net June 24-26 They said Cars 2‘s Reviews would be mixed at best,( not they are mixed)
It has been Predicted that these 2 movies would be poorly reviewed (nobody assumes that for the other target because it’s the last in the series, and would be inappropriate). I really enjoyed T2 and Cars 2 a lot. So pardon me for feeling that your reviews fall in line with the secret society and not mass audience appeal, where cinema score gives Cars 2 an A- and so do I. I have my ticket for T3 and will pay my $16. get back to you and let you know what I think.
Did you really post a comment to deflect negative attention? This is a great write up on a film that is bound for mixed reviews, but mostly negative reviews. I think it is fair to pick on anything you’ve written about just as it is anything you’ve written about this film. There’s some awesome stuff in your write up, and I dig it. I’m not expecting an amazing film when I see this. I fully expect this to go into the new film genre dubbed Bay Noire. The plot never works, the jokes are too stale to really get a laugh above the age of fifteen, and the action sequences drag on to the point of redundancy. At the basic core of Bay Noire is an action movie, but the issue is they all have their eyes set on being summer blockbuster masterpieces. They’re marketed that way, the film’s pretend to mirror that basis, and they fall flat on their face everytime. I suppose all I can really say is don’t complain about negative attention, because if this review could be even more negative and analytical it would be better than it is. You should want people to hate you for hating a film, don’t cower from negative attention. That’s not what journalism is about at all.
Well I have been thoroughly disappointed with these Transformers films. I can’t believe how after 3 movies a majority of the Autobot and Decepticon cast is still underdeveloped. This is juvenile storytelling at its best. I’m not a fan of the art design either.
The only saving grace for this franchise is the ILM studio effects. Making giant robots look real is the greatest technological achievement. But I think it’s clear by now that Michael Bay can’t make a good movie to save his life, with or without flashy surprises.
Meh… I enjoyed the first two and this one I hope is no different
but you didn’t answer one thing though. Is it better than the 2nd ?
@James – if you enjoyed the second film then I’m pretty sure you’ll also enjoy this one. Maybe the broader public will too, but I’ve never felt it is the job of a critic to second-guess or reflect box-office. I call it like I see and try to say something analytical.
@Lavender – Just to clarify, negative attention and contrary responses to my reviews don’t worry me as I welcome robust debate. This is far from my best review so I’m not especially protective or defensive about anything I have written here. However, I’m not going to approve comments that are simply filled with personal abuse. I really want to maintain a decent level of conversation, since that’s what my regular readers expect, so I will delete comments that are simply hateful rants. There are so many other places on the internet where people can indulge in that sort of thing if that’s what they’re into!
@TFLegend11 – yes, as well as not liking the story I find these films bland to look at.
@Matthew – I though this new film was on par with the second one, but I gather that the general consensus is that it’s a little bit better. Then again, I’ve also spoken to people who think I’ve gone easy on this film and that it’s the worst one yet!
Well I do respect that you take the time to respond to people such as me. I hope that you truly disliked these films. I still feel that critics and people alike tend to get on the “lets trash a movie” bandwagon & it breaks my heart how nasty it can get on the blogs. I use critics to help me figure out where to spend my “limited” hard earned money, but will stand up for a movie regardless of what any say, if I like it. Over on EW they have a Mater Hater article going on that is getting out of hand… People should remember that you can be critical without resorting to name calling…. I Thank you for not allowing such low brow blogging on your site. I hope this standard is upheld even if they agree with you, and for that I’m bookmarking this site. I am curious to see if you buck the trend, and do honestly review movies. Remember it’s OK to disconnect your brain from all it’s stress and just have a good mindless banger. It doesn’t take brains to ride a coaster, but it can still be a really awesome experience. thanks for your time today Thomas
Stop reading into it so much and just let go enjoy the action movie. Are you now so full of yourself as a mediocre movie critic that you cant enjoy a movie meant to take you away from your mundane life to a world that could only exist on the movie screen? I think critics often forget what movies are really about and what they mean to an audience. I pity the childhood you never had.
Luke, are you aware that you are insulting a complete stranger over the way they’ve responded to a film you are yet to see? Are you also aware that you’ve arrived at a blog about film criticism and demanded that its author not read into a film?
For the record, I love action films when they are exciting and engaging. If they are not, then I’ll say so when reviewing them. Sorry if you find that upsetting.
And my childhood was fine. I have moved on though.
Nice review, and very well spoken; thank you.
The original Transformers series had an obvious “don’t let this happen to earth, kids” anti-war vibe to them, because their civil war left their home planet in ruins.
To wit, the series revolved around Decepticons finding and stealing energy on planet earth, because the Transformers had depleted their own sources of energy and were now, essentially, dying out, thieving remnants of a once powerful empire.
I note how all 3 of Bay’s movies have side-stepped these obvious and timely themes, opting instead for an allspark that generates life out of nothing and giving the robots limitless energy and weaponry. Bay has pulled a political 180 degrees to emphasize the necessity of war and so on. A twisted adaptation, as far as the spirit of the source material.
It feels as though the hobbits are hunting down the Nazgul… for the fun of it. It is so backwards, it feels asinine.
I haven’t seen this movie and I won’t ever. Yet I enjoyed your review for its attempt to decipher the appeal of the Transformers movies and what is actually the subtext.
I enjoy mindless action movies as much as anyone (thought the last Fast and Furious was great, for example) but I’ve increasingly developed an aversion to Michael Bay’s film-making. Quite simply he makes movies that promise far more than they deliver and despite the technical accomplishments leave a really unpleasant taste in your mouth.
I suffered through Pearl Harbor and Bad Boys 2 and the first Transformers before I stopped to ask myself why I was subjecting myself to infantile humor, misogyny, unrelenting violence and zero character development in the name of entertainment. I wonder why so many do. And Spielberg’s ‘involvement’ is even harder for me to understand.
Sad that a director with Bay’s influence within the industry only seems interested in developing the technical side of filmmaking, while the truly important elements, like character, storytelling, suspense and, dare I say it, heart are entirely disregarded.
Which means actually he has not learned much of anything from Spielberg as a mentor.
@Barry Craig: Thanks for pointing out the way the mythology of the original Transformers series has been re-interpreted so dramatically for these three films. It’s fascinating the way popular culture can appropriate these stories to suit various agendas. But that’s how ideology works and we’ve got to talk about it.
@Julian Gaynor: Thanks also for supporting the necessity to discuss subtext. I love action films too, but have also developed an incredibly strong aversion to Bay’s films for the reasons you’ve mentioned.
Not sure I see the problem with a hyper-conservative agenda behind a movie once in a while… Yes, its not very classy, but I doubt you would providing the same criticism if the film had an ultra liberal, pro Obama, US military is made up of east coast “sophisticated” starbucks coffee drinking hipsters. Would you?
I’m not sure Hollywood films with a hyper-conservative agenda are exactly a rare beast, but I see your point. I dislike anything with a grossly simplistic and crude agenda so that’s my main issue with the politics in this film.
I would actually be fascinated to see the film you described, since ‘ultra liberal, pro Obama’ and ‘”sophisticated” starbucks coffee drinking hipsters’ are such massive contradictions in terms.
On the other hand, hipsters annoy me so maybe I wouldn’t want to see it after all.
I didnt see any hyper-conservative agenda here. Im a Conservative myself…however, lets be real….military leaders always clash with politicians. Just because they did so in this movie doesnt make it a conservative movie. Its a fact most politicians just dont understand what it takes to get the job done militarily, and military leaders always clash with politicians on how to get the job done. Politicians have to deal with….well, politics and looking good, whereas military brass only care about their soldiers and winning the battle or war. In the movie, if anything, I saw equal grace to Obama as well for awarding Sam a medal, and him bragging about it….and then the lighthearted comedy when Sam was interviewing for a job and bragged about his medal to an office made up of Republicans. That was great.
As for the movie itself…I thought it was a great action movie…lots of eye candy. Too many people overanalyze movies, and no different here. I read above how the original cartoons dealt with a civil war and the struggle to find depleted energon. If you read the books, you would know what the struggle is, and that the fight for energon is alive and well. There are just things that dont translate to a movie. Character’s thought processes cannot be translated onto film. In the books however, the All Spark is what gave life to all Transformers….but energon was needed for continued life. The Decepticons tapped into an evil energon source that gave them extra power over regular energon. There were other issues at hand that got explained better in the books, obviously.
As for the 80’s cartoons….again…who cares what adults see as the underlying message of civil war and depleting resources. I was 14 yrs old or something when transformers came out…and all I cared about was watching good triumph over evil. Kids dont care about underlying messages…it was a cartoon.
Glad you enjoyed the film Nick. Maybe very young kids don’t care about subtext in films like this, but I’m not writing for kids and this film is pitched at a broad audience.
There are plenty of people who do care about the sort of analysis I’ve done here including myself (obviously) and my regular readers. Then there are those people who leave lengthy comments debating me on what I’ve said. People like that seem to be the ones who care the most. And of course, they are most welcome here.
I was hoping to see the Autobots actually campaign and solicit donations for Obama, but alas, it seems Bay is a racist.
well, I would like to make a comment, with of course no harsh bashing or one sided opinionated blather, However, I find it quite simply funny how one could watch a movie and with a couple of sentences and elegant word-ology, thing they can grasp what it takes to compose a work of art and creativity into a 250 page manuscript and then production material for viewers such as myself and yours truly. Simply put, Michael Bay produces material that is exciting, and of course may not appeal to all audiences. But lets just let the box offices speak for itself. And people are watching it cause its simply good to see robots destroy each other. One can find lots of political and social subtext, as you stated, in many film alike and different. but really, just like you have a political disposition for one side, so may Bay. And last time I checked everyone has that right. Including you. so don’t hate the guy for voicing an opinion or statement that may or may not be there.
Thanks for confirming that it’s OK for me to express my opinion on my own blog Mark, that’s much appreciated. I’m glad you enjoyed my word-ology so much, but I’m not sure why you think I hate anybody.
Also, box office is completely irrelevant to most film critics. I certainly couldn’t care less how much money a film makes as that’s got nothing to do with how I analyse and discuss cinema.
I think its a pretty good review. I saw the movie last night but it was a major disappointment. It simply Sucked!
The movie was less about giant robots and more about a dumb looking guy and his bad acting girl friend.
1-1/2 stars for this movie? Really?
I do not know what is worse is that author did not understand the film or that he is trying to position himself as the ultimate truth.
First of all the movie is called Transformers not Robohamlet so I do not know who on earth told ya it has too be a perfect drama. And the cast of characters does not consist of Oscar winning actors with an impressive resume of drama roles.
Yeah the film makes emphasis on visuals and I do not see a reason why it should not.If you did not bother to pay attention to the level of detail used to portray robots and environment I am sorry but it is not a problem of Michael Bay.
Ofc autobots kill their enemies cause those are enemies who are willing to take awaytheir lives and the lives of people they sworn to protect. Optimus had a tough thing to do kill Sentinel prime who was his hope in many ways. It is natural that he had to cloud his mind with rage to do that. Thanks God you noticed that, shame that you did not do another small step to notice the detail that when Optimus charged he covered his face with a mask so no one could see his rage even though usually his face was opened to emotions…
If the film is that dumb and primitive, then why did not you answer the simple question it put “Where were you when America was taken ove by Wall Street?” In what way did you fight for your country when president was economical with the truth pushing America into the war with Iraq? The list of questions goes on and on…
And sure it is too much of you to ask what is common between actions of Megatron near monument to Lincoln and Obama becoming president…
The sad and bitter truth is that there is nothing wrong with the film. It is your lines of review that are soaked with “Coldwar” mindset and blind zealotry to propaganda fed by media…
Yes it is Michael Bay’s and probably Steven Spielberg’s fault that they did not include manual with explanation what was meant. Yes they are guilty to believe that you willthink while watching,sadly enough that did not happen…
You were right in one thing you graded your review as 1,5/5 which is reasonable since you made an attempt to watch the film but was overwhelmed with hatred for the reason known only to you…
Well the special effects we’re mindblasting! The story is simple, but the action is SPLENDID, a must see if you are a Transformer fan…this review of 1 1/2 starts, does not do any good to this movie! Go and see for yourself…
@Usman Khan: Ha ha! Brilliant comment: ‘The movie was less about giant robots and more about a dumb looking guy and his bad acting girl friend.’
@RawieElnur: Yes, really. I may have been too generous I know.
@dmitr: Wow! Thanks for all that. That was a very funny parody of the way so many outraged fans have been responding. I love the idea of Robohamlet and I had a good chuckle at how you told me off for apparently claiming to tell the ‘ultimate truth’ and then you say, ‘The sad and bitter truth is that there is nothing wrong with the film.’ That was funny on a number of levels. Keep up the good work!
@RK: I think you’re right. My review does not do any good for this film. I’m going to somehow have to live with that.
As I said before. It had been predicted two weeks ago that the critics would hate this movie, and as reflected by Rotton tomatoes, they all did. I believe they lost respectability for this one as the Rotten Tomatotoes bloggers and cinema score gave this movie a solid A. (as do I). Maybe you guys just don’t understand your importance if the aspect of thing. It’s not about you, it’s about the entertainment. This movie was one of the most fun escapist popcorn and candy flicks of the year. The 3D when the movie slows down enough to admire it (which is rarely) is phenomenal. I was wired for an hour after I left the theater. Now that’s entertainment.
BTW debating the political and philosophical points of this movie is like debating the religious aspects of an amusement park.
James, I’m glad you enjoyed this film as a fun escapist film, but I did not. I found it dull and monotonous. For that reason, plus the issues I hard with the film’s crude ideology, I gave it the review that I did.
I try so hard to respect other points of view, but you are completely wrong with your amusement park analogy. That was a ridiculous thing to say. You clearly only want to read a certain type of review that validates your response. If you aren’t interested in what film critics have to say then stop reading them and most of all stop telling them to change how they approach cinema. Clearly my approach and that of many others is not for you so please move on before you start embarrassing yourself.
Thanks for reading my post and answering.
There is a small correction though it is not about me or Transformers. It is about you and how you and I bet an average American look at things. I do understand that it is better to notice questionable jokes and search for any flaw ignoring what in fact is happening around.
Of course it is better not to notice the story of the pilot who landed airbus on the water,saved peoples lives, was given a medal and then made a public confession that he is not paid enough money to have a decent life. I agree that from perception point it is better not to notice how young Americans who went in debt to pay for their education in college or university have no job at all or paid a low wage which will force them to dedicate themselves to repaying debt through the long period of life.
We are the ones to choose in the end and it is about us to pick which “truth” we accept and promote.
An interesting point that once again went past: if Transformers movie which is pure entertaining in its core with hundred of millions invested in it is bothered of reminding those facts so maybe there is a problem in American society?
But in the end there is still a thing we would all like to dodge. Despite of the race, nationality or belief we all will be analyzed and judged by upcoming generations. I am not optimistic enough to say that their opinion will be positive and who knows maybe the question “Where were you?” will haunt us right to the end.
So yes, it starts with what we define and accept as the “truth” and what it will be like at the end.
Thanks for that dmitr, I think.
Are you attributing the decline of America to my inability to enjoy this film? That’s my best attempt at understanding what you are trying to say. You’ve succeeded in confusing and even slightly scaring me.
Also, you do realise that I’m not American don’t you?
These questions are rhetorical by the way.
Got it in one there Thomas, this film is nothing more than a highly polished turd.
“Are you attributing the decline of America to my inability to enjoy this film?”..haha that’s what i got from reading that as well.
@dmitr…have you considered that you may be looking into this a little too deeply? I don’t think anyone can (or should) judge a person’s ideologies through a movie review.
thomas, i think you’re just being contrary and overanalytical. the purpose of a fantasy/action movie is to be a “spectacle” and dark of the moon is just that, an awe-inspiring spectacle. transformers movies are geared towards the fans of the franchise; and michael bay has given the fans the fix we need. in the instance of this movie, i feel the level of objectivity you use for your analysis should be lowered a bit.
I’ve never been told to be less objective before!
I’m not being contrary and over analytical jbeezy, I’m critiquing the film in the way that I see fit. The purpose of this film may be to simply be spectacle, but that doesn’t give it a free pass for its crude ideology. Plus, the purpose of film criticism is to examine things like ideology especially when it’s so imbedded in a film that will be so widely seen.
Besides, I think this film fails as a spectacle film. I actually like spectacle films as a rule as I explain in my article Spectacle is not the problem; mediocrity is’, which mentions the previous Transformers film.
I don’t understand all this negative feedback your getting for your review Thomas. I think you get it spot on. It’s an overblown, tedious, offensive mess that spends two hours setting the stage for an epic battle scene that blows its load in the toppling high rise. After that it becomes the same unintelligible carnage. There are so many things wrong with this film (the cringe-worthy attempts at humour, the inconsequential involvement of John Malkovich’s character and Sam’s parents) and the fact that the battle, while visually spectacular, is arduous and far from fun. I gave it a rating of 1 star.
Some really good Transformers mythos info here in the comments. Additionally, great Dark of the Moon review. It was one of the more distasteful, boring, loud, crass and outright rubbish movies of any year. I just reviewed it a few days ago with my 8 year old nephew and even he looked out-of-it, and started fidgeting and playing with his toys halfway through. That says it all.
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