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Movie review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

The latest Transformers movie has spectacular special effects, but little concern for its human characters.

In this scene from the third Transformers movie, the Decepticon Mothership invades Chicago.
In this scene from the third Transformers movie, the Decepticon Mothership invades Chicago.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Director: Michael Bay
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Patrick Dempsey
*

There is an automated character in Transformers: Dark of the Moon called the Driller. It's a giant metallic worm-cum-super-drill, two city blocks wide and six blocks long, and it consumes everything in its path. Overground, underground, at street level, or straight through entire buildings like a knife through butter, there is nothing that the noisy, soulless Driller can't turn into pulverised mush within seconds. As such, the Driller is not just the star robot (he is a "Decepticon", and controlled by the villainous Shockwave) of Michael Bay's third, and $195 million budgeted (Dh716m), instalment in the Transformers franchise. He is also very much a metaphor for the movie itself - perhaps even for the entire series - always crashing, smashing and devouring, moving ever onwards, omnivorously, unthinking and unfeeling at every turn.

Dark of the Moon, however, starts off with mild hints of intrigue that last for at least 15 minutes (the film, it must be noted, is more than 150 minutes long and somehow manages the tricky feat of moving at a breakneck pace while seeming nonetheless interminable). In a surprisingly ambitious pre-credits sequence, we learn of the huge civil war that once engulfed the home Transformer planet of Cybertron. We learn, too, of how a life-saving "ark" spaceship, filled with the secret of hope to all future Transformer civilisations, crash-landed on the moon in the early 1960s. And we also learn how JFK himself (shown in fake flashback via a hopelessly synthetic CG mannequin) ordered sizeable increases in Nasa's Apollo Program solely to get US personnel on to the moon to investigate the crash site.

So far, so curious. And then, however, enter stage left franchise hero Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) and his new girlfriend Carly (Huntington-Whiteley). Ignore, for a moment, the fact that the former underwear model Huntington-Whiteley (replacing the axed starlet Megan Fox) struggles with basic lines such as, "Do you want some money for lunch?" Ignore, also, the fact that LaBeouf's highly agitated and broadly hysterical "schtick" is beginning to wear thin (he's been around Transformers for three movies and five years now - what's left to be surprised by?). The pair, nevertheless, are illustrative of what's wrong, and has always been wrong, with the Transformers movies: namely, they don't care about people. Instead, Sam and Carly are given phoney dramatic dilemmas (he wants a job; she wants emotional security) while being mostly asked to stand back and watch the giant robots smack each other to pieces across deserts, boulevards and Russian power stations.

Bay is perhaps aware of this disconnect more than anyone. And he does, on several occasions here, try to insert the human players directly into the centre of the ho-hum metallic mayhem (the nasty Decepticons want to use the secret of the ark spaceship to control the world; the good Autobots want to stop them; battle ensues). Plus, he allows supporting players such as John Malkovich, John Turturro and Patrick Dempsey plenty of time to gamely chew their cameo roles. But, inevitably, this movie is about giant shiny special effects clashing with other giant shiny special effects. It's loud, it's chaotic, and it's hardly cinema as we know it. But the Driller would be proud.

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