At first glance, it seems that critics are, as per usual, taking pot shots at director Michael Bay’s latest blow-’em-up blockbuster, Transformers: Dark of the Moon. “Breathtakingly dumb” and “too much of only a semi-good thing” are but a couple of the phrases being used to describe the third movie in the franchise. Roger Ebert says it is “one of the more unpleasant experiences I’ve had at the movies.” But upon closer examination, one can find some creatively passive-aggressive praise hidden in the disdain for this popcorn flick, which EW’s Lisa Schwarzbaum gives a respectable, not-quite-glowing-but-still-mostly-satisfied B (though she also says it’s “hardly a fleet production”). To wit, a few examples:
A.O. Scott (The New York Times): “Symphonies of excess and redundancy, taking place in a universe full of fire and metal and purged of nuance….I’m not judging, just describing. I might as well come out and say that Transformers: Dark of the Moon is among Mr. Bay’s best movies and by far the best 3-D sequel ever made about gigantic toys from outer space….I can’t decide if this movie is so spectacularly, breathtakingly dumb as to induce stupidity in anyone who watches, or so brutally brilliant that it disarms all reason.”
Betsy Sharkey (The Los Angeles Times): “Transformers: Dark of the Moon…is surprisingly minimalist in an ear-splitting, bone-rattling maximus way. Don’t get me wrong, the franchise remains as much an endurance test as a movie, but at least a better Bay has delivered a leaner, meaner, cleaner 3-D rage against the machines….There’s a sense that everyone is having a lot more fun in Moon. Frances McDormand, as the prickly head of national security, and John Turturro, reprising his crazed former intelligence agent, seem to be thoroughly enjoying themselves as former colleagues who possibly did a little “undercover” spying back in the day. All of which makes Dark of the Moon considerably more watchable than the last Transformers outing — which is the very definition of a low bar.”
Amy Biancolli (The San Francisco Chronicle): “Transformers: Dark of the Moon will not solve the world’s most pressing problems, but it does blow stuff up really well. Its urban devastation knows no peer. Robots smash into each other with steely ferocity, and the humans — well, they do a fine job providing comic relief. All in all: a big fat brainless chunk of entertainment from director Michael Bay, who takes his trademark cinematic excess to bold new heights of distended self-parody.”
Stephanie Zacharek (Movieline): “There’s something refreshingly straightforward — homespun, even — about an actual Michael Bay movie like Transformers: Dark of the Moon. The picture wears its ambitions on its whirring, rumbling, clanking, heavily CGI’ed sleeve, and it pretends to be nothing more than it is: a honking, 40-karat piece of entertainment that will cost you dearly if you take your family to see it in the theaters….Bay is really gonzo with the action sequences; [but] they wowed me less into a state of amazement than into a stupor, which perhaps qualifies as a bit too much wowing….Bay doesn’t care about your soul, he just wants your money — but he at least makes sure you go home feeling exhausted and spent rather than vaguely dissatisfied. It’s a fair exchange.”
Michael Wilmington (The Chicago Reader): “If you’re going to make a movie in which some of your stars are animated toys and much of downtown Chicago is reduced to rubble, this is the way to do it: shamelessly, with no expense spared and no cliche avoided.”
Lisa Schwarzbaum (EW): “Bay makes his best, most flexible use yet of all the flamboyant bigness at his command: Computer-drawn characters and human actors seem to occupy the same narrative for once.”
While it’s clear some critics continue to see the heart of gold at the center of Bay’s robot-invasion epic, how do you measure the film’s merits? Will critical reactions to the third Transformers align with the box-office taste of the masses, or will critics ultimately toss it with a clank into the heap of noisy metallic disaster flicks of the past?