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Transformers: Dark of The Moon

The first ten minutes of Dark Of The Moon might be the best of the Transformers trilogy (which is its own kind of judgment if you consider that it features zero actual Transformers). It’s a cleverly woven mix of archive documentary and digital trickery which builds an alternate history of the moon landings: Kennedy 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 modified approach on the part of director Michael Bay is washed away as we pile back into the life of Sam Witwicky, nervous loveable loser with an impossibly hot girlfriend (a different one, although it barely registers – it’s depressing to think how easily Megan Fox could be transplanted back into the movie, the sum of her individuality accounted for in a couple of line changes).

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 Cybertonian technology, with a big meaty fight at the end.

Originality certainly 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 so Michael Bay gives us a variation on the persistent Autobots versus Decepticons format, the same general arc filled in with all-new set-pieces and a few new faces. And as we can all agree, past Labeouf’s excruciating comic scenes with his on-screen parents, that Transformers isn’t a character piece, a new rotation of dazzling effects and explosions is exactly what’s called for.

Technically it’s enormously impressive. Amid several scenes of near-pornographic polished car leering, there’s also the most intricate and sustained combat scenes the series has featured to date – intense, SFX-heavy pounding with deafening scrapyard acoustics. The movie seems desperate to outdo its predecessors, and come the extended, 45-minute climax Bay loads every scene 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 weighty, is offset by the chance to watch often underused Autobot leader Optimus Prime smash furiously through the Decepticon ranks on the way to his traditional showdown.

That’s Dark Of The Moon all over – an unchanged formula written larger, more expensively, and with extra fire. It’s certainly no worse than its predecessors – John Turturro’s minimalised role sees to that – but it’s hard to say it’s any better, either.

This text originally appeared in Total Film magazine

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