There’s a lot to be said for the ingenuity of turning a simple toy line into a cartoon and comic book, an animated movie, a series of live action movies and back into a successful toy line again. In the 80s, Transformers and their twisty turny limbs and sometimes lethal choking hazard weaponry were all the rage, and why not? Kids loved them because they were big giant robots with massive laser guns. Parents didn’t mind them because they hoped it would teach their children patience and how to read instructions for fear of snapping off Megatron’s head with an incorrect rotation in the transformation process.
But trends don’t last forever. Despite creating new Transformers in the comics in order to set up back stories which expanded the toy range, Power Rangers took over at the top of letters to Santa Claus in the mid-90s, and it looked like another childhood memory had gone into obscurity. That is until Michael Bay and his penchant for blowing things up got involved.
When the franchise-rebooting Transformers live action film was released in 2007, it was pretty much everything a fan could want. The robots and transformations were convincing and largely faithful to the Generation One comics (although some vehicle modernisation had to, and did happen). There was humour. There was a great turn from Shia LaBeouf. There was even a not dissimilar Transformers backstory, beefed up by a Government conspiracy subplot which didn’t feel out of place. Oh, and there was Megan Fox, the hottest mechanic since Mike Rutherford spent too long in his sunbed.
In 2009, Revenge of the Fallen continued the saga, adding a bit more character depth, loads more giant robots beating all shades of hell out of each other, and an even more ridiculous plot around some long lost Cybertronian wanting to destroy the sun in order to provide a new energy source for the Transformers’ home planet.
So, as we reached 2011, a new Transformers film appeared on the horizon, Dark of the Moon. Early teaser trailers showed links to the original moon landings, along with that trademark clank-clunk transformy noise. Excitement levels raised, we all waited patiently for the summer to arrive.
The story of Dark of the Moon is pretty much a combination of the first two films. Long lost Cybertronian in a bit of a coma? Check. Over the top plot to restore Cybertron to its former glory by destroying the human race? Check. Government cover up around 60s space experiments now coming back to haunt us? Check. Humans continuing to fire pop guns at giant robots despite having experienced their ineffectiveness in the previous two films? Check.
In summary, it’s revealed that the Apollo 11 mission in 1969 was actually instigated in order to investigate a crashed alien space ship (the Ark), with Neil Armstrong and the gang taking a quick detour to the other side of la luna to see what was inside.
Cut to modern day, and Optimus Prime and the Autobots have an alliance with US military forces and help out across the globe to try and keep the Earth nice and peaceful. On investigating a potential Decepticon sighting at Chernobyl, Prime realises that he should probably go and recover some cutting-edge Cybertronian technology that was on the Ark before it falls into the wrong hands. Sure enough, the “Pillars” on board the ship are part of a plan to return Cybertron to its former glory whether the rest of the Universe survives or not.
It’s a decent plot that doesn’t try to overcomplicate things, adds the G1 “Ark” story (admittedly with some differences) and also offers an excuse to get most of the original cast back together (Sam is trying to get a job, his parents come to visit, later he needs the help of Lennox and the rest of the old NEST team to save the day).
It’s also nice to see Bay continue to gradually introduce classic Transformers, (Shockwave! Laserbeak!) and some that have only had fleeting appearances get some more screentime this time out (Soundwave, although sadly not in classic 80s boom-box form).
Throughout the film though, you can’t help but feel that something is missing. In the previous movies, Prime, Megatron, Jazz, Bumblebee and others have all had limbs and more forcibly amputated in their battles with each other, and yet they always seem to come back for more punishment, so you never really feel that there is any danger of anyone getting permanently sent to the great rust bucket in the sky. This doesn’t stop Bay killing off a fair few classic characters, but you can 99% guarantee they’ll be back for the next installment.
The film also seems to miss Megan Fox. I know what you’re thinking, that it only misses her due to her previous form with regards slow motion chest-related action, but in all honesty, Sam’s new love interest Carly Spencer (played by Brit model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) is far too weak to give some of her lines the kudos they need.
There also seems to be some inconsistency with the effort put into how the Transformers look and act. As with the previous two films, the Autobots tend to be more colourful and distinctive whilst the Decepticons can easily be confused in hectic battle sequences as they all seem to be relatively generic grey metal shapes and pointy teeth.
The relationships between the robot characters don’t seem to have changed much either, and in fact the original cartoon gives more character to some of them. The films seem to continue to rely on the mutual hatred between Megatron and Starscream rather than exploring Soundwave’s unswerving loyalty or the Autobot’s different opinions on the worth of humans which used to throw up some morality in the original series.
But for all the niggles and nit-picking, what do people really go to a Transformers movie to see? That’s right, giant robots ripping each other’s limbs off in a series of car-to-robot-to-helicopter-to-robot scraps the likes of which haven’t been seen since this kid’s bedroom circa 1987.
Dark of the Moon certainly takes the franchise to the next logical level whilst also providing some closure to key plot arcs that have spanned the past five years, presumably setting up a reboot in three or four years with some new cast and crew onboard.
Overlong? Probably. Best taken with a pinch of salt? Completely. Most importantly, great fun for all the family? Definitely. An intelligent enough blockbuster that showcases classic, simple storytelling alongside big dumb fun, with enough nods to nostalgia to keep new and old fans happy throughout.