An ejaculatory mess that seeks to medicate its audience with a glut of whizz-bang spills and vein-bulging fist pumps.
There's a moment midway through Transformers: Dark of the Moon where Shia LaBeouf's Sam Witwicky, chewing up an endless stretch of freeway in his souped-up Camaro, yaps down his cell at Frances McDormand's Secretary of Defense, Charlotte Mearing. He's made an alarming discovery: it's been a trap all along; the Decepticons are about to ambush the Autobots; the human race is in grave danger. Cue a 90-minute shitstorm of breakneck, robo-balls to the floor carnage.
It's the diving block into the oncoming spectacle tsunami we've been waiting for, the crystallising narrative juncture director Michael Bay has been building towards. Only problem is it's one that's taken him an hour to arrive at. It all started so promisingly, too.
Like Matthew Vaughn's X-Men: First Class, Dark of the Moon rewrites the history books, opening with a neat reconstruction of the Apollo 11 moon landing – complete with a spooky mo-cap JFK – which sees Neil and Buzz set off on a top-secret sub-mission to investigate a mysterious wreckage. The aftershock of this fictional lunar encounter ripples through to the present day and a Pentagon that's still working out the creases in its Autobot alliance.
After a lot of Agency flustering the second man to have stepped foot on the moon (Armstrong assumedly declined the opportunity to take one giant dump on his integrity) rocks up to verify the event he's been sworn to secrecy over for 40 years. This revelation sets the wheels in motion, but just when you're ready for all-out Bayhem, the director applies the brakes.
Anyone who's braved Transformers 1 and 2 will doubtless feel as familiar with Witwicky as they'd care to get, yet Bay affords his whiny protagonist a full 60 minutes of saccharine domestic texture. We meet new squeeze Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, the pillow-lipped Devonshire Victoria's Secret model who's introduced in typically objectified fashion), sit in on several catastrophic job interviews (oh, the inhumanity of a hero on the dole), and even catch up with his RV-driving rents.
Do we care? Did we ever? Not really, but this extended human focus is a must when so much of the runtime is dedicated to a bunch of all-star CG aliens cut from cold, hard steel. That argument would be perfectly valid were Bay's fleshy stars not hopelessly shallow action movie androids. Indeed, while the characteristics instilled in each Transformer are played for laughs, it's these duelling spacebots that inject proceedings with some much-needed personality.
Ultimately, it doesn't matter that Huntington-Whiteley is dumb as a stick and twice as thin, or that McDormand, Patrick Dempsey and John Malkovich are painfully miscast, because Dark of the Moon is never more than a playground for a boy and his multimillion dollar toys.
It's trashy, knowingly tasteless and, when it gets going, abstrusely paced. An ejaculatory mess that seeks to medicate its audience with a glut of whizz-bang spills and vein-bulging fist pumps. Of course, Bay has never been one to concern himself with plot holes – a quick dose of overwhelming SFX will paste over any narrative cracks. Nor does he waste his breath on detail, this is hyper-streamlined impulse cinema; even 'The' and 'Side' have been cut from the title for optimum succinctness.
All this means that Dark of the Moon's shortcomings are as vast as its director's ego. At 153 minutes it's way too long; there's too much emphasis placed on big name cameos that simply don't pay off; the plot is needlessly convoluted; casual racism is still rife in the voicing of the eponymous mechanaughts (Hugo Weaving's Megatron and Peter Cullen's Optimus Prime remain the only tolerable casting choices); the OTT set pieces have an exhausting, desensitising effect... Same Bay, same shit.
Restraint has never been the director's forte, but the opportunity to show he's not just a one-trick pony has passed him by once again. You would think that back-to-back lukewarm receptions might trigger the realisation that sometimes, just sometimes, less is more. Even if that lightbulb momentarily flickered, however, Bay has a reputation to uphold, and it's always a safe bet that he'll fulfil expectation to the point of parody.
That said, denouncing someone of patently limited ability for playing to their strengths feels like a cheap shot. So what if Bay is a poor storyteller? When it comes to muscular gun-metal hoo-hahs, he's the daddy.
If this is to be the franchise's last hurrah, then Bay has ensured his legacy by making it virtually impossibly for anyone to follow in his footsteps. His appetite for destruction and uncompromising creative outlook have set a new precedent for action excess that few would have the gall or financial backing to challenge.
And if he's buried the series he's done so the only way he knows how: in a hail of cannon-fire and skyscraper demolitions (they're probably still sweeping bullet shells and scrap metal from the streets of Chicago). That's not to justify the gross lack of substance in the trilogy, more to observe the fact that Bay will be Bay. You know what you're in for by now, expect anything more profound or cultivated and the joke's really on you.
Bottom line: you can throw all the money in the world at a movie, enlist an A-list cast and even get the US military to loan some high-spec gear – staff wingsuits have soared to the top of our Xmas wishlist – but stick Michael Bay behind the lens and you're begging for a car crash.
Let the Bayhem commence.
Whizz, bang, boom, snore.
Same Bay, same shit.