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Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Year: 2011
Studio: Paramount
Director: Michael Bay
Producer: Lorenzo Di Bonaventura
Writer: Ehren Kruger
Cast: Shia LeBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, John Turturro, Frances McDormand, Patrick Dempsey, John Malkovich, Alan Tudyk, Kevin Dunn, Ken Jeong, Julie White, Buzz Aldrin, Bill O'Reilly, Peter Cullen, Hugo Weaving, Leonard Nimoy, James Remar, John DiMaggio

It's easy to forget, but the word 'auteur' doesn't mean an arthouse director, it means one with a distinctive creative mark no matter what the genre. By that estimation, Bay is on the same spectrum as Tarkovsky and Kubrick (albeit at the opposite end).

As Transformers: Dark of the Moon proves, Bay does what he does better than anyone – no different than the signature styles we see from Malick, Altman or Allen. When it comes to overblown action and a riotous visual assault of colour and movement, Bay rules the territory.

To make it even easier to appreciate and distil his aesthetic, just two shots will tell you all you need to know about his purpose. One is the first visual in the film, where we follow the delectable legs of supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley climbing a staircase in a groovy apartment, the cheeks of her bikini underwear-clad derriere peeking out from underneath.

The other is a single line of dialogue. When a cabal of in-the-know NASA scientists intentionally cut the official radio communication to the Apollo 11 crew as they explore the moon in July 1969, it's for the secret purpose behind the entire space race. A balding, bespectacled egghead leans close to a microphone and instead of something clear and innocuous like 'Captain Armstrong, you're now connected by the top secret radio only, we've disconnected the official frequency', he says 'Neil, you are dark on the rock'. It sounds like something from a shrieking love ballad by a long-haired glamour metal band in the 80s, the sort of music that forms the backing track to Bay's whole career.

So as those two scenes make clear, this movie – like the rest of Bay's canon – is concerned with a sense of cool and a sense of sex. It's the French new wave ethos of a girl and a gun taken to incendiary extremes and it makes hot cars, blistering action and hot chicks Bay's auteur trappings.

Here's where I'd ordinarily say 'plot? pfft', but screenwriter Ehren Kruger actually did a good job of stitching the normally-nonsensical story to real historical events. The space race of the 60s was launched in response to an object that crashed on the moon, and as Optimus tells us during the opening coda, it's an Autobot ship containing devices that could turn the tide of the war. Both the US and Soviet Russia scrambled to claim what might be a working alien technology, the Soviets mishandling it to the point it caused the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

So as Optimus explains to Sam (now a post-college schmoe like everyone else, just trying to get a job even though he's saved the world twice), the Autobots have to get it back before the Decepticons get hold of it to unleash a new army on Earth. Or something...

Actually the plot is a fitting parallel to the action on screen. Apart from the few shots where Bay slows the close-up action right down to show you what's happening, you've only got a vague sense of the arc, the finer details a bit of a blur in the action. Even though it's a long flick, a huge cast and plenty of large set pieces that stand up on their own cram the running time, including the hour long climatic battle that lays waste to large parts of Chicago.

That said, the CGI is completely seamless with the live action backgrounds (after a few rough edges in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen) and, coupled with the audacious approach Bay takes to asking what's possible, they make for some of the most breathtaking visuals in a movie so far this year.

As I write this Bay has already committed to his next project, a much smaller project I believe isn't an action flick. I'm open minded – with the sort of clout a billion dollar film buys, he wants to stretch himself. Maybe he can.

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