Transformers: Dark of the Moon: 6 (out of 10)

The most important thing you have to know about Transformers 3 is that it's significantly better than Transformers 2. No, this was not a high bar; but honestly, if it had been worse, I would have recommended that you run screaming. Instead, I suggest to you that this is a good action movie that plays nicely to Michael Bay's strengths, and is perhaps his best work since The Rock.

I do have to admit, most of the actual components of the movie are pretty questionable. The live-acting ranged from "adequate" (Shia LaBeouf, John Turturro) to "slumming it" (John Malkovich, Frances McDormand), with just a touch of "incompetent" (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). The characters were weak, even by the standards of summer action movies. The plot holes were profound, both internal to the movie and in terms of basic physics. It was padded, and could have easily lost 30-45 minutes of footage through responsible editing (perhaps leaving out the entire prologue). The dialogue was forgettable. The "extraneous" characters of old movies were more annoying than ever. It was still difficult to tell the 'bots apart. The story was still more about the humans than about the 'bots. And so forth.

But that said, the movie did a whole lot right. The plot may have been weak, but it was epic, relevant, grounded in the style of Transformers episodes of years past (specifically The Ultimate Doom), and it mostly held together. The relationship between humanity and the Cybertronians (both sides) was actually fairly interesting and finally felt established. The movie didn't spend much time in the "wacky" humor genre, unlike its predecessors, and was much better for it. The robots seemed like characters this time, and (slightly) less like plot contrivances. Overall, most of the "garbage" from the last movie was taken out, and replaced with more action scenes.

And oh, what action scenes they were! The special effects were more self-assured than the previous movies, even as their scale increased. Transformers would change forms regularly and without undue focus; this made for less jarring and more interesting action scenes, and allowed for the robots themselves to seem more like characters than simple plot contrivances. Beyond the technical marvel, the fight scenes mostly to hold together, and some of them even evoked scenes from the original Animated Movie. And the entire last 40 minutes in Chicago, even if didn't hold up to much scrutiny - that is why we watch Michael Bay movies! Sure, it may not have made a lick of sense; but the action was good enough to make up for that.

Given my fascination with these characters, perhaps I should talk a little bit about the individual 'bots. Optimus actually had a personality this time, which was interesting. Bumblebee was important but under-utilized, a bit surprisingly. The Wreckers didn't irritate me, nor did the two mini-bots. I admit to geeking out a little bit about Leonard Nimoy as Sentinel Prime. Shockwave was less well-utilized than Darth Maul, but just as cool. Soundwave turned out to matter as a character, hooray! I'm shockingly okay that Laserbeak spoke. And the Nameless Decepticon Hordes... well, I'm okay with them, I suppose, but it'd be nice if the Autobots got some too.

In short: this was the best of the trilogy by any standards. In terms of a summer blockbuster, it was fun; in terms of real cinema, it wasn't so great. And if, like me, you're a Transformers fan, this is as good of a movie as we're likely to get.

Some other points:

  • While I didn't really care for the "it's so hard to get a job" element of the plot, it didn't actually ruin the movie.

  • I really can't get over how awful Carly was. She was a bad character, her actress was horrible, and the repeated reminders of "haha, you don't get Megan Fox anymore!" were blatant and annoying. Yes, she has quite a body, and Bay did a good job of showing it off. That's not enough.

  • What happened to the Twins from the second movie, anyway? I'm happy they're gone, yes; but given how important it was that the Autobots were few in number, you'd think that having ~20% of your numbers just "missing" would be worth noting somewhere.

  • A note on expectations: I have found that surviving movies like this is really dependent upon keeping your expectations in check. The first movie initially looked promising but worthless; it turned out to be acceptable and stupid. Score! The second movie looked to be terrible out of the gate, and it turned out to be even worse that; but I had gone in with such low expectations that it at least didn't hurt too much (at the time). So when it came to this third movie, my expectations were simple: "it's got to be better than number two, yes?".
    This modest goal was easily met.

  • Since I mentioned Michael Bay's earlier work in that first paragraph, I should note that his best movie is still Bad Boys, and that the rest of his body of work falls far below that early effort.

  • I saw this movie in IMAX 3-D. The IMAX part was worth the trouble; the special effects were worth the screen real estate. The 3-D, though, didn't add anything to the movie, though it didn't seem to take anything away either.

Rating: 6/10