THE FIRST 10 MINUTES OF DARK Of The Moon might be the best of the Transformers trilogy (which is its own kind of judgement if you consider that it features zero actual Transformers).
It’s a cleverly woven mix of archive footage and digital trickery that builds an alternate history of the moon landings: JFK learning of a UFO crashing on the moon, NASA racing the Russians to the surface, Nixon congratulating Neil and the boys – who then slip away into the lunar shadows to investigate a lifeless Autobot ship.
It’s an extended version of the original film’s Mars Rover riff, anchoring the film’s coming extravagances by plugging its fictional tech into real-world science. But any suggestion that it signals a change of tack on the part of director Michael Bay is washed away as we pile back into the life of SamWitwicky (Shia LaBeouf), nervous loveable loser with an impossibly hot girlfriend (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, making Megan Fox look like Meryl Streep).
Sam’s enjoyable but familiar routine – LaBeouf sweaty and fast-talking, a Woody Allen action man – triggers what’s essentially a re-run of the first two movies: the Autobots and Decepticons scuffling to retrieve a powerful Cybertronian technology, with a big, meaty fight at the end.
Originality isn’t the film’s strong suit. But then, as every kid who’s rolled out the Autobots in his bedroom knows, the game is always the same, it’s only the details that change. And since Transformers isn’t a character piece (unless you count Sam’s excruciating comic scenes with his parents), a new rotation of dazzling effects and explosions is exactly what’s called for.
Technically, it’s a gobsmacker. Along with several shots of near-pornographic polished-car leering, there’s the most intricate and sustained combat scenes the series has featured to date – intense, SFX-heavy robo-rucks with deafening scrapyard acoustics.
The movie seems desperate to outdo its predecessors and, come the extended, 45-minute climax, Bay loads every moment with exhausting import: fluttering flags, inspiring cries of freedom and jaw-jutting marines staring defiantly into the sunset. And the fact that 45 minutes is too long for any climax, however epic, is offset by the chance to watch oft-underused Autobot leader Optimus Prime smash furiously through the Decepticon ranks on the way to his traditional showdown with big bad Megatron. T
hat’s Dark Of The Moon all over – an unchanged formula delivered bigger, harder and louder. The only thing that’s stripped back is the disc itself, a film-only deal ahead of a bumper edition down the line. Bay’s use of 3D was influenced by James Cameron; looks like he’s picked up the Avatar man’s habit of double-dipping, too.