This week it’s fashionable to chastise American moviegoers for dropping $180 million on Transformers: Dark of the Moon, never mind that the rest of the world seems equally willing to spend 154 minutes watching robots explode. It’s an easy target for sneering hipsters who resent the masses for not sharing their love of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou.
Look, folks. Transformers isn’t hurting you. It’s not going to emerge from your closet in the middle of the night and belt you with a sockful of quarters. It’s not going to hold down Wes Anderson and mercilessly pummel him until he promises never again to pick up a camera. It’s not going to launch whipping mechanical tentacles to drag you out of your free trade coffee bar and force a pair of 3-D glasses onto your head.
Which is my way of saying that, yes, I saw Transformers: Dark of the Moon. And shut up.
I was pleasantly surprised by Michael Bay’s first Transformers film. It was fluff to be sure, but well-produced and enjoyable fluff. I skipped Revenge of the Fallen, partially because of its minstrel-show automatons, but mostly because even the people who like movies about exploding robots said that it didn’t have enough exploding robots.
This was not a problem with Dark of the Moon. The final third of the movie was a running battle through the streets of Chicago. And I’ll admit that the chief appeal for me was the opportunity to see Chi-Town take its lumps for the sake of the summer blockbuster.
3-D suits Michael Bay. It not only plays to his visual strengths, but it forces him to eschew hyper-active editing in favor of establishing spacial relationships. And, of course, it allows him an additional dimension in which to fetishize his female stars. The very first shot in the modern-day section of Dark of the Moon is a lingering embrace of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s panty-clad hindquarters. Walking up a flight of stairs. Bay knows what he likes.
One thing that I liked about Dark of the Moon was the lengthy alternate-history sequence that saw the ’60s space race recast as a struggle to capture the remains of a Cybertronian spacecraft. (Amusingly, the real-life Buzz Aldrin showed up too.*) Between this, X-Men: First Class‘ mutant spin on the Cuban Missile Crisis, and Doctor Who‘s own Apollo 11 moment, it’s been a summer for divergent timelines.
Another famous spaceman, Leonard Nimoy, lent his gravelly voice as Sentinel Prime, former leader of the Autobots. And there were not just one, but two references to The Wrath of Khan, including a wicked twist on Mr. Spock’s classic “needs of the many” quote.
The human characters in Dark of the Moon were a strange lot. What I’m saying is that John Malkovich was in it, and he wasn’t the weirdest person on the screen. He would’ve needed a tiny John Cusack inside his brain to match up against the Bizarro World scenery-chewing of Frances McDormand, Alan Tudyk and Ken Jeong.
Yet the most off-putting person had to be Shia LaBeouf as ostensible hero Sam Witwicky. I don’t know what happened to Witwicky in Revenge of the Fallen, but Dark of the Moon had him pissed off and put upon, even though he managed to swing a huge Washington, D.C. loft apartment and a second smoking-hot girlfriend. I find myself wondering whether Michael Bay made a deliberate, subversive choice to make the good guy a douchebag, or whether LaBeouf showed up on the set that way and Bay said, “I can work with this.”
But, let’s face it, no one is going to see Transformers for the humans. Some days, you just want to watch Chicago blow up. That’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Don’t look at me like that.
*Yes, from the Apollo 11 mission to chatting with Optimus Prime.