Few heroes of the big screen are as infuriatingly sanctimonious as Optimis Prime, the giant didactic robot at the ‘spiritual’ head of the Transformers movies — if such a word can be used in the context of productions known and alternately celebrated and despised for their mega-decibel action and bat out of hell stupidity — but that’s hardly surprising given blockbuster-making airhead Michael Bay never liked to do anything in half measures.

The former music video and TV advertisement director, whose work is renowned for its brain-numbing bombast, is ruler of the roost in his particular niche: cinema as a buffet of spectacle and excess served up in cumbersomely long pictures with the intellectual depth of 30 second soft drink commercials.

Life ain’t no box of chocolates for Bay’s audiences, who collectively got dumberer throughout Armageddon (1998), Pearl Harbor (2001) , The Island (2005) and Transformers 1 (2007) and 2 (2009). Look at the poster for any Bay production and you know what you’re gonna get. Spectacle. Excess.

That applies double — no, triple — to Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the third installment in a series dedicated to dishing out the most intensely onerous big budget “entertainment” turn of the century cinema has to offer.

Shia LaBeouf reprises his role as Sam Witwicky, a Joe Shmoe boy-next-door loser who again lands himself smack bang in the middle of a war between the Autobots (good robots) and the Decepticons (bad robots).

Sam’s saved the world twice and received a medal of honor from the President but still has trouble landing a job. He’s got a sexy girlfriend (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, replacing Megan Fox, who likened working with Bay to working with Hitler) but only because Michael Bay loves to probe attractive women with his cameras. The film’s first shot uses a tailor-made-for-teen-boys technique known in the industry as “ass cam.”

A screwy act one back story informs us of the real reason the US and Russia raced to get to the moon: not for the kudos but to get a piece of an ancient robot arc. One incomprehensible series of events later, the Autobots and Decepticons duke it out in downtown Chicago, with nothing less than the fate of the universe in their huge mechanical hands.

Now, here comes the kind of cut’n’paste criticism synonymous with analytical readings of Transformers: the characters are wafer-thin, the story vacuous and dull, the direction ham-fisted, the action scenes tiresomely long. All true, but Transformers: Dark of the Moon still manages to shock and bamboozle audiences with its bone-rattling heavy-handedness and Bay, true to form, delivers a catastrophically awful assault on the senses.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with cinema as spectacle, as a form of elaborate escapism. But the Transformers flicks are a blood red carpet to movie hell, the brain not so much left at the door but frogmarched inside and pulverised into small pieces.

Michael Bay once famously described his filmmaking style as “fucking the frame.” Fair call. And here’s something he ought to remember: neither the frame nor the audience will mind if, next time around, after Bay wipes the bile from his gums and zips up his trousers, he doesn’t call the next day. Or the next week. Or ever.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon’s Australian theatrical release date: June 29, 2011.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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