"Transformers, robots in disguise! Autobots wage their battle to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons". Simple lyrics, from the theme-tune of the 1980s cartoon, outline what 'Transformers' is all about: the simplicity of good versus evil, combined with the novelty of shape-shifting robots.
The key problem with the sequel, 'Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen', was its attempt at ‘humour’, which took attention away from the robots’ story. The film became defined by bad decisions. Offensive stereotypes, irritating characters, robot testicles – there wasn’t much room left for good and evil.
Hope, however, is not lost. With 'Transformers 3', director Michael Bay demonstrates that, to an extent, he is able to learn. 'Dark Of The Moon' is far from perfect, but it does redeem many past mistakes.
This instalment begins in the 1960s, when a Cybertronian spaceship crash-lands on the Moon. The US government quickly launches their space program to cover things up. Fast-forward to today, and it transpires that the vessel contains *Important Things*, which the Autobots must recover before the Decepticons do so. As usual, humans are caught up in the ensuing destruction.
Much effort has gone into making the robots’ war relevant to humans. The destruction at the end of the first 'Transformers' had little impact on its sequel. Now, there are consequences. Autobots must follow military rules and procedures. Cities have sensors to detect Decepticon presence.
Transformers now occupy the background of little-known historical events such as the moon landing and Chernobyl – a simple but inspired move. Finally, the Cybertronians seem more like a civilisation than a handful of characters. It feels as though the fate of man is tied to the alien war, giving the film a sense of threat sorely lacking in earlier outings.
The Decepticons are now far nastier. The scenes of collateral damage in the first 'Transformers' had a slapstick quality, but this time the approach is brutal. People die on-screen - the camera follows as people plummet off skyscrapers.
The action is much more coherent. The fights, previously a series of tumbling metallic blurs, have been replaced by specific choreography. Bumblebee, for example, seems to have picked up Taekwondo. The clarity of the action allows for some truly stunning set pieces.
The improvements, which could have made this the strongest entry in the trilogy, are undermined by a few persisting issues. The racial stereotypes remain. There is a very strange Chinese character called Wang; an English-sounding Autobot calls people "old chap"; a Scottish-sounding one threatens to "bottle" an enemy. These are not offensive so much as they are painfully unfunny.
The unnecessary, overpowering minor characters remain. Sam’s (Shia LaBoeuf) parents return, sucking life out of every scene they occupy. Sam’s boss, played with crazed zeal by John Malkovich, is nonetheless pointless. Supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley performs acceptably as Megan Fox’s replacement token eye-candy, but the fact remains that the romance side-story is a waste of time - time that could be better used.
Despite a steady introduction, the middle is rushed to accommodate an overly long and busy third act. Bay, no doubt, felt indebted to his military contacts - there are far too many shots of soldiers getting into position. The action can be spectacular, but the truly impressive scenes are diluted with an overabundance of activity.
Overall, 'Transformers: Dark Of The Moon' is a success. It is inexcusable for the same issues to keep reappearing, but these are outweighed by numerous improvements that this entry brings. Those who didn't like the first film will have no reason to see this follow-up. For those who did, this is the sequel that 'Revenge Of The Fallen' should have been.