Two years ago, roughly to the day, I sat here writing the review to Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. After much denial and sobering up I concluded it was a total mess of a film bereft of any coherent plot or an even more coherent visual narrative. Now after watching the third instalment in Michael Bay's surprisingly controversial trilogy, I find myself in a familiar predicament, torn between the self ordained film critic in me and the geeky fanboy who can recite every single line of the original animated Transformers film from 1986. Suffice to say I'm conflicted...
The story yet again follows the saga of young Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) as he and his Autobot friends, led by the iconic Optimus Prime must stop the evil Megatron from taking over our planet and enslaving the human race to rebuild the Transformers' home world, Cybertron. Despite the fact that basic plot line would be enough for any cinema goer to go see a Transformers film, Mr Bay and his writers decide to fill the gaps of robot carnage with silly sub-plots like Sam's first job post-university (good luck there, pal), his relationship with new girlfriend, Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, replacing the departed Megan Fox) oh and a new moon conspiracy and yet more government cover-ups the U.S. government seemingly failed to tell the Autobots in the previous two films.
To his credit, and perhaps he's just caught me on a good day, Mr LeBeouf actually came off rather well this time round, mimicking the sincerity his character had in the original Transformers film, and thankfully gone of some of the sheer idiotic moments found in the disastrous sequel. He moved the film along and realised he shouldn't try to upstage his CGI peers. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley on the other hand, though pretty to look at, was abysmal and shouldn't have been anywhere near a film of this scale and box-office clout.
Quite rightly one shouldn't be expecting her to win any Oscars due to her limited experience and the purpose of her being there at all, but really she makes her predecessor look like she's capable of starring in Jane Austin adaptations. One thing I really want explained is how Sam Witwickey manages to get together with these amazingly beautiful women, cause that dorky charm can only get him so far surely.
One utterly bizarre point that should be made about a portion of the support cast, is that for around 20 minutes of the film with Frances McDormand, John Malkovich and the returning John Turturro present, it felt as though I was watching Transformers directed by the Coen Brothers - if Steven Spielberg is reading this, that's surely an option for the next one. Thankfully their slapstick humour and dialogue which went along with their presence mostly worked and didn't hinder the film's attempt to be properly darker this time round.
However, as with the last two films, they probably could've cast Jedward in a couple of roles and it wouldn't of mattered a damn - total lie - as the human cast was as ever upstaged by the sheer magnificence of the Transformers themselves. For the first time in three films it felt like Optimus Prime was the true hero of the film, and delivered some awe-inspiring, albeit extremely cheesy, lines as well as really giving everything in the fantastically choreographed fight scenes. Bumblebee was as likeable as ever, Megatron had more screentime and demonic purpose as should have had since the films began, Starscream finally got his scene-stealing moment, Soundwave actually had a role. The newest addition, Sentinel Prime (voiced by the great Leonard Nimoy) was perfectly executed and his substantial role in the film isn't something I'm not going to spoil in this review.
Though the film was yet again needlessly too long, Michael Bay's set pieces are some of the biggest and most impressive you'll probably see in a cinema this summer and quite possibly the best I've seen in 3D to date. Any fan of the franchise who wants nothing but robot carnage, I can promise you the whole final hour is essentially one colossal action scene where the city of Chicago gets levelled to kingdom come - where we see both robots and humans get killed on a level the Terminator franchise could have only ever wished for. Even more, unlike Revenge of the Fallen, Bay actually scales the camera back so you can actually properly see all the set pieces this time round and tell the difference between which robots are Autobots and Decepticons.
Whether you like him or loathe him, one thing we can all agree on is that Michael Bay's films are less than subtle. And so is his pro Americanism which could somewhat alienate a portion of his global audience for all the wrong reasons - oh I can't wait to hear what Mark Kermode and Roger Ebert say about this one. Quite why the Autobots: bringers of peace and justice, and self placed protectors of mankind, would only ally themselves with the American government and help do their dirty work in the Middle East certainly raises some hairy ethical questions. The devastation of skyscrapers in Chicago also feels at times like Bay's answer to the 9/11 film he never had a chance to make - yet. Perhaps I'm reading too much into it but it's certainly something to ponder once you see the film for yourself.
It could have been fantastic, it could have been the best action movie ever, it could have been the film my six year old self has been crying out for up until this very moment. Unfortunately due to most of the same (but not all!) pitfalls of Revenge of the Fallen - long running time, a needlessly convoluted plot, some terrible dialogue and the presence of people who can't and shouldn't act, that right minded critic in me feels the film is simply okay, at best. However, who doesn't want to at least experience the finale to the most critically dividing, controversial, offensive, loudest, most action packed and ambitious sci-fi trilogy to come out of Hollywood since the Star Wars prequels? Hmm, perhaps I just answered my own question there...
Transformers: Dark of the Moon is in cinemas everywhere now.