I can sit here and tell you that Transformers: Dark of the Moon is an incredibly stupid movie, but you probably already know this. I can tell you it's a cacophonously loud, visually exhausting onslaught, the likes of which few have ever seen put to screen before, but again, I assume you already know this. I can tell you that this is a soulless endeavor from top to bottom, bereft of such trifles as plot, acting, human emotion, or really anything besides violence, painful attempts at comedy, and awkward attempts at sexual pandering, but once more, I have to assume you already know this.
I assume these things because one can only presume you are someone legitimately interested in a Transformers movie. The only people who would seemingly be interested in another Transformers movie are people who have endured Michael Bay's two previous attempts at putting Hasbro's toyline through his unique brand of cinematic meat grinder, and somehow find yourself ready for more. By that logic, you must know every one of these things, because in this regard, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is absolutely no different than its predecessors.
If Dark of the Moon does hold one bit of distinction over the previous films in the Transformers series, it's that over the course of its 154 minute assault on the audience's senses, at no point did I find myself restricting the urge to claw out my own brain. Whereas the last sequel, Revenge of the Fallen, was an abortive catastrophe the likes of which society is still trying to recover from, Dark of the Moon is endurable. Sufferable, even. That is, of course, damning with faint praise, but given that all anyone seems to want out of this series is a movie that doesn't resemble a still-born, half-developed fetus laying miserably on the screen, then I guess you can chalk this one up in the victory column.
I'll also assume that you already know the history of the Transformers "plot" up to this point, such as it is, and will spare you any lengthy recaps of the various misadventures of Shia LaBeouf's Sam Witwicky. Even if you don't know entirely what's going on, this latest script by Revenge of the Fallen co-scripe Ehren Kruger does more than its share of clumsy, yet painstaking exposition through obtuse dialogue and haughty narration by one Optimus Prime (once again, Peter Cullen). So often will actors and/or computer-generated robots stop to explain one thing or another at great length, that it's no wonder the movie is so bewilderingly long. Then again, without these helpful reminders of why anything is happening ever, none of this nonsense would make a lick of sense.
Not that it really does anyway, mind you. Things are explained, but they're still moronic-sounding. But let's assume you're already on board with the whole "alien robots that turn into cars for some reason" thing, and that you can even buy that the U.S. government is now employing Optimus and crew to tackle some secret missions on behalf of freedom, justice, and the American Way. Thank God the Autobots didn't end up in Iran, right?
This time around, the freedom-loving robot cars are all atwitter after discovering a big honking conspiracy pertaining to the original 1969 moon landing. Turns out that the whole thing was a big ruse to get some men up onto the moon to check out a wrecked Autobot spaceship. This ship contains some peculiar technology designed to open space portals and allow stuff to teleport around. Also, a big, cranky Autobot known as Sentinel Prime (voiced with appropriate crankiness by Leonard Nimoy).
Oh, and then there's Sam, now fresh out of college and seemingly no worse for the wear after his bout with death last time around. He's replaced his previous mouthy brunette vixen with a blonder, sweeter, and more inexplicably sweet on him vixen (Victoria's Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who is about what you would expect from a Victoria's Secret model now tasked with acting). His parents, who apparently have nothing to do except follow their adult son around the country, needle him incessantly to get a job, so he gets one as a mail clerk at a major aerospace company. You think they might be involved in this crazy space plot somehow? Right.
The Achilles heel of the Transformers movies--yes, there are several, but this is the primary one--has always been the interaction with humans. One can only presume that concepts like emotion and the human soul are frightening to Michael Bay and his explode-first, ask-questions-never filmmaking policies. He seems infinitely more comfortable manipulating the computer-generated automatons his special effects wizards have devised than any of the actors on set with him. So it is of little surprise that the sections with Sam and his new girlfriend are nothing short of excruciating. There are, thankfully, precious few of them. Huntington-Whiteley's purpose is mostly to act as an object of constant peril, a thing for the big, strong men to run after and rescue repeatedly. When she is stationary, it's usually only for Bay to take a minute to sleazily pan the camera over every curvacious inch of her body.
The scaling back of the "human drama" has resulted in two things: all those scenes of emotionless expository dialogue coming from and for the benefit of new side characters--including Frances McDormand as a hard ass CIA operative, John Malkovich as Sam's weirdo boss, Patrick Dempsey as a slithery corporate honcho, and Ken Jeong as Ken Jeong wearing glasses--as well as a great deal more robot-on-robot action. The latter is especially true in the film's final hour, which is simply a relentless assault on the city of Chicago by an army of the Decepticon bad guys. The big issue with the action in these movies has always been that deciphering between the different robots as they fly around shooting and punching one another has always been exceedingly difficult. This is still a problem here, albeit somewhat less so. Perhaps robot fight choreography has just come a long way since 2009, but at times, I almost understood what I was watching.
That near-coherence will be welcome news to those who enjoy Bay's method of eye-fucking the audience with whatever explosively phallic object he can find. Now he has 3D to heighten that eye-fucking experience. He mostly uses it to good effect, though this is not the 3D revelation some would hope it to be. Most of the film's best special effects shots probably would look equally great in 2D, but regardless, they do look great. The CG is top flight, including one particular shot that easily ranks as one of the coolest special effects moments I've ever seen in a film. It's exciting, breathtaking stuff.
Because of exciting scenes like that, for almost a solid hour, you almost buy into Dark of the Moon's brain-dead, rah-rah robot battling. As the Autobots come charging in to fight the vile Decepticons (who seem legitimately threatening for the first time in this series as they frequently disintegrate humans into piles of bones), there's almost a little bit of thrill there. At a certain signature Michael Bay moment, Optimus Prime stands in front of a torn American flag whipping in the wind in slow motion, and as the camera pans up and around, the robot who is also a truck delivers a speech on freedom, loyalty, and honor. It's hypnotic how perfect it all is. Then a Linkin Park song kicks in, the credits roll, and suddenly you snap to the realization of what you've been watching for almost three hours.
And that's a bad movie. I can say definitively that this is the best of the Transformers movies, but that it is also not "good" by any definition that I understand. For fans of the previous films, I'm sure the first part of that sentence was enough to justify a trip to the theater. For those who despise the first two movies, I'm sure the latter portion reenforces your justification for skipping it. As I said at the beginning of this review, you already know pretty much everything you need to know about Transformers: Dark of the Moon simply by virtue of it being what it is. I am offering criticisms of this film because it is my job to do so, but nothing I say is going to force you to deviate from your previous trajectory. You made your choice long before you ever laid eyes on this article. To you, I simply say godspeed, whichever way you choose.