CALM DOWN, DEAR, IT'S ONLY A TRANSFORMERS MOVIE. CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS
Fzzzzt. Know what that was? That was the sound of the Dumbass Apocalypse: it happened on June 28, A.D. 2011 and was the moment at which Earth's artistic and intellectual culture just waved a white flag and gave up. What's the point? What's the point in developing an artform like cinema over more than a hundred years if this is what it's going to be used for? Much like the nuclear pioneers who wept when they saw the devastation their work could unleash, one suspects the Lumiere Brothers would, if they could have seen through the decades and witnessed a screening of Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, have smashed their lenses and burnt their stock and cried out "We cannot allow this to happen, mes amis!" Never mind the Terminator's Judgment Day: June 28 2011 was our judgement day: we looked upon it, we found it good and that was it. As Private Frazer was wont to say: "We're doomed."
This is indeed what a hundred and twenty years or so of innovation, imagination, technical miracles and artistic genius has brought us to. Not to the new Kubrick, Kurosawa, Hitchcock or Welles: not to the heights of dramatic expression of the human condition. Rather it has brought us to a 154-minute behemoth of clattering, infantile stupidity in which, once more, giant metal things beat each other up, blow everything up, or both, with absolutely no human involvement or participation. And this time, joy of joys, it's in 3D. If, as Charlier Brooker once opined, the first one was like "being pinned to the ground while an angry dishwasher [defecated] in your face for two hours", then this one is like climbing into a dishwasher which is then beaten up by several other, bigger dishwashers. For two and a half hours. Where to start?
The basic thrust behind Transformers: Dark Of The Moon is that in 1961 the Americans tracked a UFO that crashed on the moon and the whole aim of the Space Race was to get there and salvage it before the Russians did: Armstrong and Aldrin were under top secret government orders to explore the wreck and bring back whatever they could find. They brought back five pillars which, when aligned with the hundred others already in the possession of the evil Decepticons, will create a space bridge that can bring the devastated planet of Cybertron to within Earth's orbit where it can be rebuilt using humanity as slave labour. Only Shia LaBoeuf and his new girlfriend, together with the remaining good Autobots (now used for allegedly covert missions on Earth to protect humanity from itself) can stop them.
Shia LaBoeuf is again a dull cardboard cutout where a leading man should be. He kind of got away with having the screen presence of a spanner in the Indiana Jones movie but he doesn't here. Incredibly, he even manages to be uninteresting when up against new love interest Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, a Victoria's Secret underwear model with no acting experience and, having made this film, still has no acting experience. She is absolutely dreadful and can only have been cast as a further snub to poor Megan Fox who I'm actually starting to feel sorry for. To be written out of the franchise in a casual one-liner is bad enough, but to have been replaced by someone whose entire job description consists of standing around in her pants must hurt. I usually like John Malkovich but he's actually very annoying here - can he or Frances McDormand really need the money that badly?
But it's a Transformers movie and people don't come to see "acting" or "characterisation": they come to watch robots turn into trucks and helicopters turn into robots and skyscrapers toppling and things blowing up and things going bang and eighty-foot alien robots beating the crap out of each other. It's like the opening of Team America: World Police, where the heroes save the day at the expense of a million casualties and the levelling of a major city. In this instance it's Chicago that bears the Götterdämmerung brunt as the Autobots and Decepticons fight it out in the streets for the last hour or so of the film, merrily massacring the population and destroying most of the city centre. There's no narrative reason why they couldn't have done this in Antarctica or the deserts of Wyoming or New Mexico, except that wouldn't have been anywhere near as cool! and awesome! to put on screen.
And it has to be said that if you just want your trucks and robots and gunships and helicopters and collapsing tower blocks and mega-explosions and deafening soundtrack, then go ahead because it's big. It's noisy. It's absurdly long and insanely loud and the final stretch makes the Pyramid-trashing apocalypse of Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen look like your local corner-shop's CCTV feed on a slow day. But if you want any trace of humanity, any vestige of wit or intelligence, subtlety, thought, coherence or style, forget it. You might as well stay at home and smash yourself round the head with a toaster for two and a half hours. The 3D is entirely unnecessary and just manages to make something utterly incomprehensible into something slightly more incomprehensible; they needn't have bothered.
How the hell did this happen? How does it work? Despite a reported (though disputed) budget of four hundred million dollars - even if it's only half that, it's an absolutely obscene amount of money - and the wholesale trashing of Chicago, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon is boring. With no actual humans on screen to care about, it's nothing more than a CGI cartoon and no more based in reality than Finding Nemo or The Flintstones. It's badly written (basically alternating scenes of Shia and Rosie being embarrassing with scenes of stuff being destroyed), atrociously acted (or in Rosie's case, not), with cretinous comedy relief scenes - there's a scene in a gents lavatory that's positively imbecilic - and a love of destruction, devastation and pyrotechnics that is frankly worrying in a grown adult.
The answer is simply that every time they do a Transformers movie they need to top the last one: they need to be louder, longer, more spectacular, with more robots and more explosions and more crashes and more destruction. The first one was rubbish but it didn't have anything to live up to, so it could fail on its own terms. The second one had to be bigger and better, and now they've had to up the stakes yet again. What the hell are they going to do for Transformers 4 - put the whole of the Milky Way at risk? In truth it won't matter because no-one actually cares. Michael Bay is incapable of making the viewer give a damn about what's happening on screen. He can dazzle, up to a point, with his gosh-wow visuals, but that's all he's got: without any human involvement there's no emotional connection. And merely piling on the gosh-wow visuals for hours at a time doesn't make up for that; it just gets exhausting. You can blow up as many skyscrapers and spaceships as you like, I literally don't care.
In the meantime, of course, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon will take a gazillion dollars at the box-office and sell a gazillion DVDs in the run-up to Christmas, thereby justifying the morally repugnant expenditure and making sure they'll do it again, even longer, even noisier, and even less coherent, which it turn will take even more money and so on until we pass through the Event Horizon Of Dribbling Idiocy. The really depressing thing about these movies is that they are popular. Even though they are moronically stupid, witless, unreasonably long, completely incomprehensible, po-faced and have a ludicrously inflated sense of their own importance (GI Joe, the other franchise based on plastic toys and breakfast TV animation for pre-schoolers, was also rubbish but at least knew it was rubbish: it knew it was nothing but a camp pantomime and played it accordingly, whereas T1, T2 and now T3 all operate under the delusion that they're Proper Films), people go to see them and people buy the box-sets over and again. It's your own fault. The Dumbass Apocalypse is upon us. Fzzzzt.