A funny thing happened on my way to pan Michael Bay’s midsummer mega monster mash “Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon.” It turned out that I liked about half of it.
Strangely that would not be the gargantuan 3-D final hour of demolished Chicago skyscrapers, impossible Special Forces stunts, flying glass, metal tentacles, and super-powerful interplanetary robots that could think of no better disguise than the cab of a truck. The evil Decepticons want to turn the human race into slaves, doomed to change out the 5W-30 every 3,000 miles for the rest of eternity. The Autobots with their Earthling allies fight to preserve the most essential human rights –like the right to have a girlfriend who’s 100 times out of your league.Apparently against the good judgment of the entirety of the filmgoing world, I enjoyed the buildup that leads to that final hour of phony spectacle. Over the first hour or so, this film finally tastes the high-speed anything-goes comic sensibility that the previous entries miserably failed to find. It isn’t smart or gleaming enough to be true screwball, exactly, but it gets lost completely, admirably, in its own lunacy. This time the lunatic is on the grass (and if the band you’re in starts playing different tunes, I’ll see you on the dark side of the moon).
The joys of the film, too, are not solely found in its overwhelming touches of humanity (yes, joke). They lie in its willingness to stretch technology. Take even the first shot in the film, among its best shots, and it should be nothing – a simple establishment shot of deep space. But it looks like a DEEP SPACE that goes on FOREVER. Say what you will about Bay’s macho posing – he shakes the most out of the 3-D experience. In this long prologue, the “camera” defies gravity to move in and out of an alien spaceship as well as the mechanics of the robot inside, as if they are one.
Things go south when shifting gears and trying to manufacture emotion. The integration of human physique with CG landscape is splendid, the integration of human emotion less so. Shia LeBeouf is considerably better at adventure and comedy than convincingly portraying his emotional bond with a classic seventies muscle car. He is only slightly better with his improbably stunning girlfriend (Rosie Huntington-Whitely, who replaces Megan Fox). Like so many other unemployed college graduates out there, Sam Witwicky has taken solace in the warm glow of a lingerie model. Even better, it’s a lingerie model who doesn’t mind him eating Cheetos on the couch all day.
So is this a better film than the other “Transformers”? How could it not be? Someone bothered to edit this one, for once. Rarely have so much skill and so much technology been put in the service of so much idiocy.