The first ten minutes of Transformers: Dark of the Moon are a perfect metaphor for the movie as a whole. It begins with a brilliant idea - the space race of the 1960s was caused by an alien craft crash landing on our moon. The Americans and Soviets both detected it, and the race was on. We're treated to period recreations, convincing impersonators of Kennedy and Nixon, and green screen insertions on the level of Forrest Gump all mixed with the actual footage from the first landing on the moon, leading to a really interesting and almost inspiring set up for the film.
Then we cut to present day, and a nearly minute long close-up of Rose Huntington-Whiteley's rear end in panties.
Dark of the Moon is the first film I've seen since Quentin Tarantino's Death Proof that can switch from unwatchable to amazing at the drop of the hat, and it does it - often. I've said before of other, much worse movies like X-men Origins: Wolverine that they felt like they were written and shot by six different people - this feels more like it was put together by two of Michael Bay's personalities. After the amazing opening, the beginning of the film stays firmly away from the main attraction of the Transformers series - the transforming robots - and instead treats us to the same kind of "character development" and "comedy" that made Revenge of the Fallen one of the most disappointing sequels in recent memory. We follow the main characters as they deal with mundane aspects of their lives, and famous actors like John Malkovich and Dr. Ken Jeong appear in brief cameos, mugging it harder than Will Ferrell at his worst. It's surprising there's any scenery left with all the chewing being done. Unfortunately, while the talent is there, most of the jokes are best tired, and at worst, homophobic, leaving the whole thing feeling like an internet video gone bad.
Meanwhile, the Transformers deal with their plot and their Macguffin off in space at the moon and on earth, blowing things up and discussing deep, robot-y matters in grave voices in scenes barely given the time to shine. Every minute Starscream is on screen in the first film is more interesting than Shia LaBeouf's antics, but Starscream only gets two minutes and Shia gets thirty. I ended up rolling my eyes and nearly getting up and walking out before the movie annoyed me anymore.
I'm glad I stayed. Suddenly, at around a third or halfway through the film, two plot points happen in rapid succession. I don't want to give either one away, because they surprised the hell out of me. And suddenly, the film grabs you by the shoulders, throws you back in your seat, and says "pay attention, we'll be making a good movie now." The annoying comedy doesn't go away entirely, but it's shoved into tiny pieces and the Autobots and humans fighting the Decepticons is suddenly front and center for the rest of the film. This culminates in a nearly hour long action sequence, that while stretches too long in some places and still focuses way too much on Shia, is so intense and interesting that I forgot to complain about it at the time. My intellect kept trying to rise to the surface, and my inner eight year old kept punching it in the mouth and saying, "Shut up, Optimus Prime is talking."
On that note, I will admit nostalgia can carry something a long way with me. Optimus Prime is one of the cartoon icons who taught me right from wrong when I was a kid, and Peter Cullen's voice lends a gravitas to the character that I don't think can ever be matched. But I also have to look at this film as different from the Robots in Disguise of my childhood. The Optimus I grew up with would never have said lines like "We're going to kill you all." So I think it's a credit that the movie was exciting enough that I even got past changes made to something I loved as a child - a hard thing for any geek to do.
I saw the movie in large-screen 3D, and once again the theory is proved that if you shoot the movie in 3D instead of just post-converting it, the 3D will look fantastic. It does, here, and it provides an unexpected benefit. Michael Bay was forced by the 3D techniques to back out of most of his action sequences, and as a result we can see what's going on a lot of the time and even tell which robot is which.
There's been a lot of talk about how Michael Bay is the master of the mindless action movie. I don't know if that's true (I've seen The Island, after all), but I do know he made a damn fine action piece with this film. And if you can sit through the opening tedium and awkwardness, there's a great movie waiting for you on the other side. It has interesting characters, great cameos, a few funny jokes, and absolutely knock your socks off robot fights. But you have to sit through the beginning to get there. If that doesn't sound like your cup of tea, wait for the DVD. But if you're a Transformers fan, or a fan of explosive, world ending action flicks, you should see this one now.