‘Dark of the Moon’ lacks cinematic integrity

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Justin Wood

jwood9@radford.edu

After the bewildering, and tedious “Transformers: Rise of the Fallen” it seemed implausible that Director Michael Bay could really pull up from the nosedive, neither talented nor genuinely interested enough to make that happen.

Cautiously pleased to admit, something did indeed change between now and 2009, as “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is easily more watchable than its immediate predecessor. That doesn’t mean that the now traditional bloat, excess, bouts of fidgety boredom, and terrifyingly fascist politics are absent. All it means is there’s a little less.

Like the previous two, the film follows a strict formula. As expected we are treated to the continuing mundane exploits of Sam Witwicky. It’s pretty basic stuff: our protagonist is out of college and struggling to land a job since almost all of his life experience up to this point has been dodging homicidal sports sedans.

Again Shia LaBeouf sweats sarcasm trying his hardest to make these moments entertaining, doggy-paddling uselessly against the sledgehammer intelligence of the script. LaBeouf has comic timing and charisma, occasionally managing to hold interest but it’s still a struggle to sympathize with Witwicky’s predicament.

Still, at least this time the writers seem to try to tell an actual story, parading Sam past cameo after embarrassing cameo by talented character actors. John ‘In the Line of Fire” Malkovich is orange. Frances “Fargo” McDormand is cold. John “Barton Fink” Turturro does that character he plays in Adam Sandler movies. Sigh.

Only 50 percent of the Transformers part of the movie makes sense so I won’t bother summarizing. Besides when does the second half ever need summarization? Every one of the films spends the second half trying to outdo its own set pieces in increasingly complex and messy cartoon action sequences.

Watching the film in 3D, I was pleased to see the action was improved, the extra dimensionality able to organize and sort out the animated junkyard piles punching, shooting, and disintegrating into metal flakes, usually a visual cacophony that makes the mind and the butt numb.

Swooping around the giant gleaming towers of Chicago as they are shredded and punched apart by an invading Decepticon army is sometimes impressive but often as you watch millions of studio dollars flushed down Michael Bay’s toilet brain you are reminded that his vision is really only thanks to hundreds of talented animators and artists who play second fiddle to a girl who wears high heels in a war-zone.

Mostly, save that the cost of this disposable movie could end world hunger, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is harmless. The only place the film stands out as a criminally evil is its politics. The Decepticon invasion of Chicago isn’t entirely played for laughs here; in an attempt to play things grittier Bay shows the initial invasion in a dark “War of the Worlds” inspired massacre. Faceless citizens actually get vaporized and the villain talks about labor camps for humans.

The Decepticons are recast from drooling supervillians to goose-stepping Nazis, and the shift is effective. Midway through the film however, if your brain is still engaged to the part of your mind that performs critical thinking, your jaw should drop at a choice on the behalf of Bay and his Autobot ‘heroes.’ Glazed over in the space of a second, the Autobots defend a choice so morally bankrupt and startlingly fascist you can’t help but sit stunned through the rest of the flashy smashy bits.

While most critics seemed relieved that Bay hadn’t tortured them as badly as in 2009, I couldn’t really get past this storytelling decision. Bay has always parroted right-wing Iraq War parables of sacrifice and moral justification but never has the result been so frightening.

Maybe it isn’t Bay’s thoughts on rationalized loss of life that is really the scary part. Perhaps it’s the chilling moral that if you drown your messages in enough sparkly robot carnage and lingering shots of looming supermodel cleavage, people won’t even remember the messages are there.