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Dark of the Moon: The best-ever third act of an action film

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is incomprehensible visual diarrhea. It may also be brilliant. I have long been a proponent of the Michael Bay directed Transformers series, not because they’re good movies or because I’m too stupid to tell otherwise, but because these movies blow things up in a more innovative and visually captivating way than basically any movie ever made. As well they should: These are giant alien robots that can transform from car to humanoid in the blink of an eye, and come equipped with plasma canons, Maverick-and-Goose-flown heat seeking missiles, and random medieval weapons that can slice through just about anything. The third in the series is ultimately no different in this regard, but the paths the movies take to achieve this are divergent.

The first movie had a lot of setup to do. You had to get alien robots to earth, have the humans discover them, and have a typical hostage/terrorist/baddies-takeover cum redemption plot. There was a neurotic government agent and fat black guy thrown in for laughs, but terrible acting aside, the first Transformers film was not unlike most other action movies of the last decade.

The second film was a disaster of epic proportions, in large part because it was two romantic comedies pigeonholed into one action movie: Sam Witwicky loves hot girl and Sam Witwicky loves giant robots. But it was mostly a failure because rather than sticking around populated, American cities where good and bad robots can hide in plain site, they arbitrarily added a teleporter to the movie and decided that fighting on top of a pyramid was more fun. It wasn’t.

Dark of the Moon is so confoundingly constructed that it can hardly be classified as a single, discernable movie. It begins with a handful of tangentially related storylines that all feel like different ways the writers wanted to start the film. Segment by segment passed and I often found myself thinking, “Hm, that’s an interesting premise for a movie. I’d go see that.” only to remember that I was sitting in a theater watching that movie: essentially, the first act of the movie is a handful of failed movie trailers with little or no relation to one another. Occasionally, a moment from a prior segment would be referenced later, but for almost no purpose.

Worse still, the opening hour and 45 minutes of the film are nearly bereft of real action scenes. A transformer will pop up here and there, and the occasional skirmish happens, but for the most part, the first two acts of the film are structured entirely around Sam Witwicky, his lack of a job, feelings of inadequacy, and his too-hot-for-him girlfriend. It’s interminable. I sat in the theater of the movie I’ve been waiting a year to see and thought to myself, “This is the worst movie I’ve ever seen.”

Then the unthinkable (and glorious) happens: Michael Bay tosses out every single bit of plot and character development for the last act of the film and creates (in 3D, at least) the greatest 45 minutes of action ever put to film.

There’s a literal hard stop at the end of the second act. The screen goes completely black, followed by an Inception BONG and everything you thought you knew or were watching is ceremoniously burned. You transport from Washington DC to Chicago in the blink of an eye and without explanation, random robots and creatures appear unrelated to both the movie you’ve been watching and (to my knowledge) Transformers folklore, and all of the character development the writers forced down your throat for the prior 100 minutes is disregarded in lieu of watching cool shit happen. And I mean endlessly: for close to 45 minutes (I’m approximating), every single moment on the screen is a visual cacophony of brilliance. Things happen and they happen for a reason and you understand why they’re happening and you’re no longer watching Transformers: Dark of the Moon so much as you’re watching War of the Worlds and who cares what happens to who, I just want to see the Chicago skyline flattened and on fire.

The last 45 minutes of Dark of the Moon don’t even resemble–and I mean, at all; in no way, shape, or form–the prior two acts. It’s like Bay realized that the reason people love Transformers is not for the forced storylines and hot chicks but because they’re giant fucking robots in robot gangs with plasma canons. It’s like watching the Barksdales and Stanfields fight but instead of killing innocent black children peering down from windows above, they’re blowing up cities.

And the 3D–oh, the 3D–is so good that they don’t waste time scaring you with explosions or making it look like something is coming right at you. No, you’re in the movie itself. You’re jumping out of planes and being assaulted by an evil robot gang despite the fact that you’re supposed to be just an innocent kid watching from a window above the fight.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon isn’t for everyone, and by that I mean people unwilling to disregard plot, character, and storyline for the chance to have a seizure in a public setting. But as far as action and beautifully done visuals, this movie, at least the final act, is without competition.

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