If there’s one thing Michael Bay is not, it’s apologetic, so it was surprising to hear the director claim that he was disappointed in the narrative quality of his second Transformers movie, 2009’s Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and promise to improve that aspect in the franchise’s third installment. Now that Transformers: Dark of the Moon is here, it’s hard to see where exactly Bay thinks things have improved: Moon is just as convoluted and assaultive as Fallen (as well as 2007’s original Transformers), with extraneous plot threads that lead nowhere and a similar narrative device as last time (a long-dormant, previously unmentioned super-important Transformer) driving the action. The picture may now be in 3D, but the characters are still entirely one-dimensional.
And really, no one goes to a Michael Bay movie for a fascinating story and well-rounded characters; even Michael Bay doesn’t go to a Michael Bay movie for that. So why, then, does Moon spend a good 90 minutes jumping through unnecessary plot hoops just to get to the point where the good Autobots (led by Optimus Prime) are pummeling the evil Decepticons (led by Megatron) with the fate of Earth at stake? Everyone knows that’s where things are going to end up, and spending two and a half hours going over the same tedious plot points just feels sadistic. The action in Moon may be repetitive and punishing, but if it were pared down and packaged in a lean story that got right to the point, it might at least be passably entertaining. As it is, Moon wastes tons of time on detours about hero Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) getting a new job working for an eccentric boss (John Malkovich), the Decepticons making shady alliances with corrupt humans and Sam worrying that his new girlfriend (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) might have eyes for another guy.
None of this stuff particularly matters, nor does it play to Bay’s strengths at staging large-scale action sequences. When the movie’s climactic battle, a showdown on the streets of Chicago, finally does arrive, though, it’s a drawn-out slog, as dozens of characters take what feels like hours attempting to destroy the all-important doodad that’s essential for the Decepticons’ evil plan. Bay actually tones down his frenetic shooting style a little as a concession to putting together coherent 3D images, but the action is still often jumbled, and the robot characters are still difficult to tell apart.
The truth is that Bay didn’t need to “improve” on the second Transformers movie, because he delivers the same experience every time anyway. Hiring the likes of John Malkovich, Frances McDormand and John Turturro for supporting roles doesn’t improve the writing, nor does it make Bay any more interested in showcasing good acting than he is in ogling Megan Fox replacement Huntington-Whiteley (who succeeds at her modest mandate of standing around and looking hot). Moon has the same nonsensical plotting, headache-inducing visuals and lame attempts at comic relief as the other Transformers movies; clearly, nothing has changed.