Transformers  Dark of the Moon

Transformers  Dark of the Moon

Michael Bay’s third shot at his giant shapeshifting robot franchise continues to drag its knuckles. Kim Newman looks in vain for the awesome fun

from our September 2011 issue

Transformers  Dark of the Moon
US 2011
Director: Michael Bay
With Shia LaBeouf, John Turturro, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Patrick Dempsey, Kevin Dunn, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Ken Jeong, Alan Tudyk; voices of Hugo Weaving, Leonard Nimoy
154 mins | Cert 12A


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

US, 1961. NASA discovers that an alien spacecraft has crashed on the dark side of the moon, and President Kennedy authorises the Apollo programme to investigate.

In 1969, the Apollo 11 crew find the ship, piloted by Sentinel Prime of the planet Cybertron, leader of the Autobots in their battle with the Decepticons, who has been deactivated while leaving Cybertron carrying a mystery weapon that could turn the tide of the war.

Present day. Having twice aided Autobot Optimus Prime and his faction against the Decepticons on Earth, Sam Witwicky is struggling with ordinary life. His high-earning girlfriend Carly works for tycoon Dylan, who helps Sam get a lowly job at a firm where he comes across a Decepticon plot to murder survivors of the space programme.

When Optimus Prime learns the truth about the moon missions, he retrieves Sentinel Prime, his mentor, from the moon and revives him. Sentinel Prime reveals that the weapon he has created is a vast teleportation system, and that he has done a deal with the Decepticons to ensure the survival of Cybertron at the expense of the Earth. In collaboration with Megatron, leader of the Decepticons, and Dylan, a human traitor, Sentinel Prime activates the teleport system, which threatens to bring Cybertron into Earth’s atmosphere. The Autobots and their human allies assail the Decepticon stronghold in downtown Chicago. Sam’s team shut off the teleport, while Carly manipulates Megatron into attacking Sentinel Prime. Optimus Prime destroys Megatron again.


The Michael Bay-Steven Spielberg Transformers franchise, based on the Hasbro toys and their 1980s cartoon spinoffs, has managed three relentless instalments which consistently deliver state-of-the-art special effects (this time, inevitably, in 3D) that contrive to be less engaging than the baggiest mutant dinosaur suit ever worn by a Sumo wrestler trampling a scale model of Tokyo.

The strangest decision was embedding the selling-point business about feuding races of giant shapeshifting automata in a Disneyish youth comedy. The first film was built around a love triangle between everyman foul-up Shia LaBeouf, his supremely hot girlfriend (Megan Fox, unceremoniously written out and replaced by posh British underwear model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley here) and his sentient car Bumblebee (a best bud/pet substitute like Herbie, not a temptress love rival like Christine).

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

It now seems that even Michael Bay found so much fault with 2009’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, a big enough hit to make this third instalment mandatory, that he has opted to rein back certain tendencies perceived to have warped that sequel. Though it still seems odd there should be a chunk of the story devoted to the LaBeouf character’s workplace troubles bolted into the first third of Dark of the Moon, comedy relief is mostly confined to human guest stars (Ken Jeong, John Malkovich, John Turturro, Frances McDormand – all quite dreadful, for Bay has no comic touch).

A long prologue revealing the secret history of the Apollo programme, which later yokes in the real Buzz Aldrin (who went the same self-fictionalising route in the 2008 children’s animated film Fly Me to the Moon), delivers frissons as the 1969 crew encounter a crashed spaceship on the dark side of the moon (which is not the same thing as the dark of the moon, of course). Amid the wearisome clanking, space-wasting human characters (LaBeouf takes all the knocks in reviews, but at least he’s got more presence than Josh Duhamel or Tyrese Gibson) and monotonous robot carnage, Bay stages well-conceived if derivative action licks (some peril in a tilting skyscraper expands on Spider-Man 3 and Cloverfield) and one of the new mechanical monsters – a burrowing giant worm – is an impressive creation (if similar to creatures from Dune and Terminator Salvation). This time, the approach is tougher – we see anonymous extras vaporised and robots ‘bleeding’ red coolant when savaged, and LaBeouf has a hated human rival he can duke it out with in the ruins. Patrick Dempsey has to carry the burden of explaining a nonsensical plot as an evil, car-collecting accountant in league with – but still weirdly surprised by the treachery of – a race happy to call themselves the Decepticons.

There ought to be a way to make a live-action film about giant shapeshifting robots that’s either a) fun or b) awesome or preferably c) both. After three tries, it’s blatantly evident that Bay can only just about manage b) long enough to provide the shots needed to cut into a trailer. Indeed, the ‘coming attractions’ for all three Transformers pictures are outstanding, which might well be the reason why - given the low expectations of a Michael Bay film based on toys and cartoons - the films themselves still manage to be disappointing

See also

Attack the Block reviewed by Michael Brooke (June 2011)

Serious mischief: Tom Charity tracks Joe Dante’s anarchic streak through a 40-year career of filmmaking (October 2010)

Lost and found: Mothra: Kim Newman on a pioneering Japanese monster movie too wonderfully weird for America (September 2010)

Pearl Harbour reviewed by Geoffrey Macnab (July 2001)

Coyote Ugly reviewed by Mark Olsen (December 2000)

Last Updated: 10 May 2012