The Stinkers of 2011 – Transformers 3D: Dark Of The Moon

Inevitably there were some rotten films in 2011. Some, I was alert enough to avoid like the plague and spare myself the harm: Twilight for example, or Mars Needs Moms, or Hop, or Apollo 18. Others, I somehow managed to subject myself to: Russel Brand’s Arthur springs to mind. Brand’s charmless pasquinade of English eccentricity coming off as a mentally subnormal Mick Jagger lookalike managed to push Anti-UK xenophobia back another century and smashed up the Batmobile in the process. Still, I can’t quite muster the energy to rattle off a full Bottom Ten of terrible films. I’m sure you saw the ones you hated the most.

That being said however, I have a particular axe to grind, and whilst I may as well be bellowing into the abyss, I may as well as get it off my chest.

Let’s go back, let’s go way back.. Let’s go all the way back to 1984, Surrey, England. A rather excitable carrot-topped 7 year old is to be found sat in front of the sitting room telly in his tartan pyjamas and dressing gown. Wacaday’s been and gone and He-Man’s just finished, so it’s not long before it’ll be time to turn over to Saturday Superstore, but just then before he gets up to press the big “1” button, something quite magical happens.. This:

Of course the little ginge was me, and as I sat there entranced by these cars and planes that could magically turn into fighting robots with axes and chain maces for hands, I instantly fell in love.

Now, it could well be that you’re sat there in the 21st Century sneering at the judgement of a small child from 30-odd years ago, but so it goes sometimes. Other kids had Star Wars (remember that?) but My Thing was Transformers. Yea, Bandai tried to con us with Gobots, but you can’t just tell kids that a windscreen is a face, where are the eyes for starters?? Don’t even get me started on Rock Lords. . . I would save up all of my pocket money to get my hands on the little toy blighters (not Bumblebee though – he was rubbish). I dutifully went to see the cartoon film in ’85 and wept as Optimus died (spoilers!); I even recall co-ordinating one birthday party’s presents, Cartman-like, so that I might hope to have all of the Arialbots to combine into Superion.
For several years I would get the Marvel comic delivered with my parents’ newspapers – woe betide the paperboy if a Friday breakfast was Transformers-light. Little did I realise it at such a tender age, but on a weekly basis, I was enjoying some of the finest science fiction / pulp storytelling and mythology building, courtesy of the inestimable Simon Furman. Yes, the cartoons were just glorified toy commercials, but Furman’s work rounded the Autobots and Decepticons into fallible personalities, just as nuanced as their human counterparts.

There does of course come a time to put away childish things, and once Transformers UK reached its 200th issue in early ’89 I decided it was time to cancel my subscription and give away all the comic books. After all, Warhammer 40,000 looked Far more grown up (tragic isn’t it?) Still, that intense five year first love affair had left an indelible mark – one that still has me getting irrationally excited by anything with a fearsome looking robot in it: be it an album cover, a work of art (graffiti normally) or, would you believe, a multi-million dollar movie franchise that boasts some of the biggest explosions recorded on film.

So yes, I’ve wasted all of your time up until now with my Harry Knowles-style confessional autobiography to establish one vital, important fact. I bloody LOVE Transformers.

Which of course brings us to the Paramount / Dreamworks / Hasbro car-wreck (literally) that is Michael Bay’s Transformers.
The first one was pretty good in retrospect, it seemed to be in keeping with the stories from the 80s, cosmetic adjustments aside. We got to see the Cybertronian War come to Earth and we got to see giant robots punch each other in the head for a couple of hours, so that was a result. Whilst slight and brainless, it also felt like it was laying the groundwork for a larger, epic storyline that would be delivered in the sequel.. Transformers 2 though, oh my, what a mess, what a disappointment! I wrote a review at the time which you can find on this site, and I desperately tried to convince myself that it was not that bad, choosing to enjoy the effects and ignore the flaws, but really the film was an affront to pretty much everyone who went to see it – I mean, the trailers had made it look like a fantastically epic adventure, but instead we got lazy racism, bad humour, and giant clanking robot testicles.
Audiences continued to flock to the spectacle but were equally vocal about what a hollow, trashy, and offensive film it was.

When the inevitable threequel was announced, Michael Bay, Shia TheBeef and many others went to great pains to proclaim that this time it would be different – there had been a writer’s strike last time; this one would go much deeper into the Transformers mythology; the crap humour and racism had been excised; we’d concentrate on the robots more than the humans. It’s be this, it’d be that, it’d be everything you wanted from a film called Transformers.
It Would Be Awesome.

Trailers can often be misleading, and Bay’s team have a disturbing knack of putting exciting ones together. It would take a cold heart to deny that this looks like a fun time is to be had in the cinema:

3 hours of robot carnage – of interplanetary war, of Cybertronian Armageddon: cool fight scenes, human peril and robots in disguise.
Sadly however, the truth was quite another story altogether.

First off, Shia’s character Sam is the most hateable human being in the entirety of cinema’s existence – whining about how he only got a medal for “saving the world” and resenting his rent-free unemployed residence in the home of a sexually adventurous lingerie model. Sympathetic protagonist or relatable hero he ain’t, and from the first scene of his bile spewing rhetoric, you can’t wait for him to get crushed underfoot by a malevolent mechanoid.
The other humans don’t fare so well either – said aforementioned model seemingly lacks the ability to say words in her mother tongue, the tedious unfunny parents are back, the shouty US Marines are more of a cypher than actual characters, and indie alumni like John Malkovich & Frances McDormand really have no excuse whatsoever.

As if the dead eyed human tedium wasn’t bad enough, there is a full NINETY minutes of seemingly interminable mugging to camera before anything remotely of interest happens. When it eventually does, none of it makes any sense, and nobody cares. The film can’t even be bothered to follow it’s own internal logic, just blindly stumbling from one incomprehensible blender-fart of a set piece to the next without any regard for the laws of, say, storytelling, basic physics, audience interest, or entertainment.

One pleasant side effect of the (near-inscrutable) 3D stereoscopic presentation of this film was that it HAD to slow down the action to give people’s brains time to process exactly what was happening on screen – for several moments in the film, you can indeed work out vaguely what is supposed to be going on, but Michael Bay just can’t help himself and the next flash frame we’re off up some girl’s skirt, laughing at a tiny robot making sex /fart jokes, or just happily dribbling out the sides of our mouths. If this is indeed “Fucking The Frame” then maybe Bay should try taking the frame for dinner first, lighting some candles, putting on some Alexander O’Neal, and taking his time for once, rather than rutting away innefectively like an ADD-afflicted teenager dry humping a puddle of motor oil whilst listening to Nu Metal cds.

What is possibly the most offensive aspect of the entire franchise to this lifelong Transformers fan is just how completely and utterly fucking dickless the Autobots are. Admittedly, they’ve taken a pasting in the past, and one had put it down to narrative tension, but this is the third (and supposedly final..until the B.O. receipts came in) installment, so it should be their time to shine. But no as ever, Optimus and his gang are just as ineffective as ever, paying fealty to their draconian human overlords and perpetually apologising for their own existence.

The Big Hero Moment of the film was teased in the trailers and it was a shot that every Transformers fan wanted to see – Optimus riding into town with a jetpack on his back and flaming swords in each hand: taking names, chopping limbs and cracking skulls… But in the actual film, that isn’t the end of the story, no he keeps on flying along like Frank Spencer on rollerskates, totally out of control and ending up tangled in a mess of wires, mumbling apologies and thank yous as some nameless droids cut him free and the grown ups get on with the important business of saving the world. Seriously, if you can’t allow the Hero of the film to behave like a hero, then why are we even here? Give the guy some dignity for chrissakes.

Although disappointed by the film when led by the nose to see it in IMAX 3D over the Summer, I figured I could have just been having a bad day and decided to give it a second shot when the bluray came out. It was about an hour into the film that a “hilariously” orange spray-tanned John Malkovich could be seen threatening Bumblebee with karate chops. Like everything else in this film, it was stupid, pointless, devoid of any logic or narrative, and basically quite boring. It was at this point that the wife & I decided to turn it off and watch Spooks instead.

So, Congratulations Michael Bay, over the course of three films you have manage to make me hate the things I loved – I would rather watch an over-wrought British facsimile of 24 than endure another minute of your mindless dreck. I’m sure you couldn’t care less, and will happily rest easy in your mansion built entirely out of dollar bills and bikini thongs, but it is a sad day indeed for an individual such as I who was once so passionate and enthusiastic about the ongoing exploits of our Cybertronian allies.

Transformers 3: Dark Of The Moon is without a doubt the worst film of the year. Avoid it at all costs.

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