Critical Mass: 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' gets thrashed (who knew?)
The reviews for "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" prove that there are actually three certainties in life: death, taxes and the reality that critics hate "Transformers" movies. So it's not saying much that the film also known as "Transformers 3" is probably getting the best reviews in franchise history -- or that they may contain more positives than the notices for the Tom Hanks-Julia Roberts dud "Larry Crowne."
Some damn Michael Bay's film about Autobots and Decepticons with faint praise or backhanded compliments; others with good old-fashioned fulminations. At least one, Marshall Fine, decided it wasn't even worth the time to watch and put pixels to screen. But perhaps that was too hasty, considering how much fun some reviewers are having in chopping up the bots.
The Times' Betsy Sharkey delivers one of the more positive assessments, praising -- at some level -- the use of 3-D, star Shia LaBeouf and the film's humorous touches. "Don't get me wrong, the franchise remains as much an endurance test as a movie," she writes, "but at least a better Bay has delivered a leaner, meaner, cleaner 3-D rage against the machines."
Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune gets straight to the point, calling "TF3" "a work of ineffable soullessness and persistent moral idiocy." Still, he's able to glean some pleasure from watching his town's famous skyline get roughed up in the film's final battle sequence: "To be sure, the Chicago section of 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' is more involving, if only on a spot-the-partially destroyed-landmark level, than everything preceding it."
Fellow Windy City dweller Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times, however, has no mixed feelings. He pulls no punches with an opening salvo that says "Transformers" is "a visually ugly film with an incoherent plot, wooden characters and inane dialog. It provided me with one of the more unpleasant experiences I've had at the movies."
And then there's Lou Lumenick of the New York Post (that bastion of subtlety itself), who equates Bay with the Antichrist and the film with the apocalypse. It is "guaranteed to strike worldwide audiences deaf and dumb with a cunning combination of a brain-dead script, lousy 3-D, ADD-addled edits, a pneumatic underwear model and a lot of things blowing up very, very loudly."
Speaking of said underwear model, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley -- who replaced Megan Fox as the female lead after some much publicized bad blood between Bay and Fox -- isn't faring as well as her costar LaBeouf is, on the whole. (Again, that's setting the bar low.)
Writing in London's Daily Mail, Baz Bamigboye defends the chops of the actress who compared Bay to Hitler: "Never thought I'd find myself sticking up for the ungracious Megan Fox who appeared in the first two Transformer pictures, but she's a helluva better actress than the comely Rosie Huntington-Whiteley who comes to this movie direct from a Victoria's Secret runway."
Not everyone blames Huntington-Whiteley for her on-screen shortcomings. Instead, it's back to bashing Bay, as Yahoo's Will Leitch does with aplomb. "Bay has distilled not just human emotion out of the filmmaking process, but basic human function: If you were to tell me Rosie Huntington-Whiteley was an entirely CGI creation, with sporadic blinks tossed at random to simulate human activity, I'd be hard-pressed to argue with you."
But in the end, does all the critical sturm und drang really matter? Some reviewers, such as Rolling Stone's Peter Travers, are resigned to acknowledge it does not. Before undertaking his own cinematic post-mortem, Travers states: "Bay believes that you can indeed kick a dead horse forever and the profits his bot epics rake in prove him right. He's laughing (at us) all the way to the bank."
Hey, at least it'll make more money than "Larry Crowne."
-- Scott Sandell
Photo: Optimus Prime is shown in a scene from "Transformers: Dark of the Moon." Credit: Paramount Pictures