Directed by: Michael Bay
Written by: Ehren Krueger
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Patrick Dempsey, Francis McDormand, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Alan Tudyk

The words “awful,” “atrocious,” and “abysmal” don’t come close to describing TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON, the third and, for now anyway, last entry (let’s not call it a “trilogy”) in the toys-to-animated-series-to-summer-blockbuster franchise directed by Michael Bay (BAD BOYS I and II, ARMAGEDDON, THE ROCK) with the usual mix of offensive ethnic-based humor, complete disregard for the barest semblance of character or coherent storytelling, and, of course, the best visual effects a generous $200 million-dollar budget can provide. Those same visual effects, seamlessly blended with live-action and practical effects will be more than enough to offset DARK OF THE MOON otherwise crippling deficiencies, deficiencies amply shared by the third entry’s predecessor, TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN, but that’s nothing general moviegoers don’t already know (or know, but choose to ignore).

Apparently aiming for the ADD-challenged demographic, Bay once again gives us not one, but two prologues, one an exposition-heavy voiceover narration by Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), the noble leader of the freedom-loving Autobots as he takes us through the last, dying days of his homeworld, Cybertron, due to the cataclysmic war with the tyranny-loving Decepticons, and, in the second, the crash landing of an alien spacecraft, Cybertronian in origin, on the dark side of Earth’s moon. In a retcon typical of long-running comic books in the Marvel or DC universes, Bay and screenwriter Ehren Krueger posit a decades-long government conspiracy tied to the discovery of the Cybertronian spacecraft, initially by NASA, later by the Soviet Space Agency, making the U.S./U.S.S.R. space race nothing more than an attempt to reach the alien spacecraft and retrieve advanced Cybertronian technology first.

Twenty minutes into an incredibly overlong. over-indulgent 154-minute running time, TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON finally catches up with human hero-protoganist Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) in Washington, D.C. Three months out of college and jobless, Sam takes  whatever comfort he can from his new romantic interest, Carly (former Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, giving the non-performance of the year), a former British Embassy employee Sam met on a visit to the White House to receive a medal for his efforts in defeating the Decepticons. Carly now runs a classic car museum for Dylan (Patrick Dempsey), an ultra-wealthy businessman who Sam rightly sees as a threat to his monogamous, if still unserious, relationship with Carly. With his parents, Ron Witwicky (Kevin Dunn) and Judy Witwicky (Julie White), in town for a visit, Sam scrambles for gainful employment.

All that, unsurprisingly, is mostly superfluous, but definitely secondary, to the seemingly endless war between the Autobots and the Decepticons. The Autobots have allied themselves primarily with the United States and with the Decepticons lying low, the Autobots help the U.S. military take down Middle Eastern terrorists (or at least that’s what it looks like they’re doing). The discovery of a part from the Cybertronian spacecraft alerts Optimus Prime of the ship’s presence on the dark side of the moon. Once again, a race erupts between the Autobots and the Decepticons to retrieve something or other on the alien spacecraft that can finally turn the war in favor of whichever side obtains said alien object (or objects).

Between Sam’s personal and professional travails, the latter of which leads to a tangential connection to the Autobot-Decepticon, and Bay’s inability to edit down exposition-heavy, redundant scenes or restrain his penchant for ethnic-based humor (the latest batch of Autobots have nonsensically picked up a variety of accents), it takes the better part of 90 minutes to slide the human, Autobot, and Decepticon pieces into place for the final robot-on-robot and sometimes robot-on-human battle (until the next final battle), this time moving the epic-length battle to Chicago from Egypt in the last film and Los Angeles in the first. From there, it’s Bay at his best (or his worst, depending on your perspective): massive mayhem meant to top not just the second film’s climax, but also every other blockbuster in recent memory.

To Bay’s credit, filming in 3D (some scenes were shot using native 3D cameras, others post-converted) has added a smoothness and calmness to his usually frenetic, impossible to follow visual style. Bay keeps the shaky cam action and zip pans to only a few shots, usually to heighten or underscore a particular effect or emotion. As a result, spatial relations between human characters, their environments, and the robots, are significantly easier to follow than in TRANSFORMERS or TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN. Visual effects, specifically the Autobots and the Decepticons, have been honed over the last five years into near-perfection. Add to that a near-seamless blending of live-action, practical effects, and computer animation, and the result is nothing if not immersive, if only on the most basic visceral level.

Based on just the TRANSFORMERS franchise, Bay’s callous disregard, even outright hostility toward the basics of storytelling, compelling characters, compelling storylines compellingly told, not to mention acting (even from name actors like Francis McDormand, John Turturro, John Malkovich, and Alan Tudyk in superfluous supporting roles), can’t be denied. While not completely accepting the harsh criticisms that made TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN a favorite example among critics and bloggers on how not to make an enduring tentpole, Bay argued that the ’08 writers’ strike forced him to go into production with an unpolished, if not unfinished, script. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have that excuse this time out. In fact, he has no excuse at all. And neither does screenwriter Ehren Krueger. But just because they don’t care doesn’t mean we shouldn’t care (we should).

1 out of 5