IN ADDITION TO ROBOTS punching each other—and jesus christ, there are so many robots punching each other—Michael Bay's latest Transformers contains a great many things: a computer-generated JFK. John Malkovich saying stuff like "WTF to that!" Gremlin robots. Pepto-Bismol product placement. Mt. Kilimanjaro. A gremlin robot riding a dog. Helpful subtitles that let you know where the action is taking place, e.g., "The Middle East: Illegal Nuclear Site." Dr. McDreamy. Community's Ken Jeong as a Deep Throat-like informant, "Deep Wang." A Tommy Boy reference. Spurts and splashes of robot blood. (Is it made of oil? Antifreeze? Fanboy tears?) A soulful montage set to Linkin Park. John Turturro informing Frances McDormand that her "booty looks excellenté." Doddering American hero Buzz Aldrin—the real Buzz Aldrin—looking vaguely confused as he addresses the alien robo-warrior Optimus Prime. "From a fellow space traveler, it's a true honor," Aldrin says. "The honor," Optimus replies with gravelly gravitas, "is mine."
Transformers: Dark of the Moon is a Michael Bay picture—and maybe the Michael Bay picture, the exhaustingly entertaining culmination long prophesied by Bad Boys, The Rock, Armageddon, Pearl Harbor, and that Verizon commercial where Bay and his pet tiger blew up his swimming pool. Whether it's "good" or "bad" is irrelevant: Bay crams the screen with chaotically grandiose imagery, slathering it with a videogame sheen. Sloppy slapstick glues together massive, skull-thudding action. The film's final, pounding climax exists, I suspect, only because someone in Chicago once insulted Bay—Roger Ebert, I'm looking in your direction—and Bay decided to get revenge by destroying the entire city, brick by brick, window by window, innocent bystander by innocent bystander. Value doesn't factor in here: Dark of the Moon just is, and it's a dumb, rousing, live-action cartoon in which Bay shoots women like they're cars and cars like they're Greek gods, in which explosions have explosions, and in which the only questions raised are niggling, disposable ones: Why is Bill O'Reilly in this movie? Did one of the film's villains just angrily bellow at a herd of elephants? Is that Leonard Nimoy's voice coming out of a robot? Didn't Leonard Nimoy also voice a robot in 1986's cartoon Transformers: The Movie? In Dark of the Moon, did the robot with the voice of Mr. Spock just quote Mr. Spock?
Yes, he did, and no, none of it makes any sense (though, to be fair, Dark of the Moon is marginally more sensical—and significantly less racist—than Bay's last Transformers film), and yeah, Dark of the Moon leaves no doubt: Bay is the auteur of the multiplex. His films are ridiculous, yes, but they're Michael Bay's films, not anyone else's—which is probably why the crowd I saw Dark of the Moon with burst into loud, excited, hungry cheers no fewer than five times in 157 minutes. Here are visceral and preposterous action sequences; slow-mo, glamour-shot reminders of how ugly we are compared to movie stars; sitcom dialogue; Wagnerian weight given to characters whose names include ™ symbols. When it comes to spectacle, to cheese, to the deafening static of the lizard brain, there's Bay, and then there's everyone else. (And sure, add 3D to Bay's curriculum vitae: Thanks to a couple of chunks of action and more than a few vertiginous shots, Dark of the Moon is the first film since Avatar to justify coughing up the extra cash for 3D.)
This thing is going to make ungodly amounts of money—but Dark of the Moon is, reportedly, Bay's final Transformers. Now that he's done gleefully smashing together three films' worth of CG action figures, what he'll film next is anybody's guess. But we probably have a pretty good idea what to expect: "I don't change my style for anybody," Bay recently told GQ. "Pussies do that."