This one will be short and relatively sweet. You ask me, “When Can I Watch Transformers: Dark of the Moon With My Kids?” and I reply, “Never.”
At least, not if you love your children and have a vested interest in shaping their personalities by protecting them from wanton, senseless violence on an epic scale. Ask yourself, do you want an Andy, or do you want a Sid?
“But it’s only a movie!” True, and there are countless other films you can watch with them instead of Dark of the Moon, and if you’d like suggestions, check the links at the end of this column. Dark of the Moon isn’t a mature step for Michael Bay’s Transformers series. It is a mean step in a few brutal directions for a franchise inspired by a line of toys.
You’d like to hear more? Then let’s say hello to Buzz Aldrin, take a head count of slumming Coen Bros. ensemble members, hold a moment of silence for Megan Fox, and talk about when you can watch Transformers: Dark of the Moon with your kids.
The Discussion: “They’re back? Well, that’s good for business.”
That spot-on quote is attributed to John Turturro’s character, who has contributed less to the chaotic, robotic trauma with each passing Transformers installment but has no trouble cashing the paychecks earned by spouting conspiracy theories at Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky. (It pains me that Bay also has dragged Frances McDormand and John Malkovich into the fray, knowing that the trio could have made 17 superior Coen Bros. films for the cost of one Transformers sequel.)
And there’s no denying that the Transformers franchise is very good for business, with the first two films earning a staggering $709.7 million and $836.2 million, respectively, at the worldwide box office.
But why all this talk in reviews about whether the third film is better than the second, or if they’ll ever be as good as the first? All three are pretty much identical, and none of them are really any good.
When discussing Dark of the Moon, you can toss around adjectives like “bigger,” “louder,” “longer,” and “simpler.” But in all honesty, the explosive conclusion to Moon, which decimates most of downtown Chicago, seems interchangeable with the city-based battle at the end of the original Transformers (outside of two inventive sequences we’ll praise in the Green Lights section), and the robot-on-robot combat violence hasn’t improved that drastically from one film to the next. Third verse, same as the second and first.
But one adjective that I threw out earlier in the column leads me to believe that parents actively should keep their children away from this Transformers film, where I never really felt that strongly about it with the previous two, and that word is “meaner.”
Let’s explore that a little in our red flags section.
Red Flags: Brutal, even by Bay’s standards
Skulls. Michael Bay actually shows the skulls of humans who are toasted by Decepticon robots. He lingers long enough to show us charred clothing still in the shape of their human occupant, left to burn on a decimated Chicago street. Thankfully, children age 10 and under never witnessed the atrocities of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, so why would you expose them to a film that recreates that horror for the purpose of entertainment?
Dark of the Moon is the series’ bleakest installment yet. Maybe Bay figures that if you’ve “grown” with the franchise since 2007, you are ready for the genocide he puts up on screen. (And in 3D. Nice choice, Paramount.)
Outside of the film’s finale, which lays Chicago to waste at the cost of countless innocent lives, we have vulture ‘bots assassinating Decepticon sympathizers and their families … classy. We have the anticipated doses of Bay’s homoerotic humor (please stop, Ken Jeong); his misogynistic portrayals of young female co-stars (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who unlike Megan Fox actually seems interested in acting and needs to get out of Bay’s wheelhouse, fast); and a short-tempered, hot-headed, aggressive tool of a “hero” in Sam, played with a frenzy by Shia LaBeouf.
Need more reasons to skip it if you are a parent? You shouldn’t, but here we go. The language is consistently offensive, with an irregular focus on male genitalia. My “favorite,” if you can call it that, is Sam’s mother wondering if her son’s penis is hefty enough to lure more hot girlfriends. Seriously, didn’t anyone read Ehren Kruger’s screenplay and red-flag THAT line?!
Again, I get it. It’s Transformers. It’s Bay-hem. You want “Giant F-ing Robots,” to coin a studio marketing phrase. And in two instances, the director delivers. I’ll sing about them in the Green Lights.
Green Lights: Some of Michael Bay's Best Action Sequences
There are 10 minutes of Bay’s two-hour-and-thirty-odd-minute opus that made me sit up straight and pay close attention. Both have been spoiled by the film’s marketing campaign, but they’re spectacular enough to still hold weight when you see them on the big screen.
The first takes place inside and outside of a skyscraper that has been cut and half and now leans like that tower in Pisa. With Shia and company slip sliding down the side of a crumbling tower, the director actually unseats his “tumbling cars on a Miami bridge” sequence from Bad Boys II as the most insane stunt performed in a Bay production.
The second is an aerial race between skydiving soldiers and flying Decepticons that looks great in 3D. As the soldiers tumble out the back of helicopters that were being blasted from the sky, you’ll think, “I’ve never see that before.”
Both sequences combined last 10 minutes. They’re amazing. The rest of the film’s 137-minute runtime I can take or leave.
There isn’t one. Not for Dark of the Moon. In order for your kids to be old enough to see Dark of the Moon, they need to be old enough to be on their own and making their own decisions: 17, 18 and up.
The fact that Bay’s film gets away with a PG-13 is a joke, proof positive that the MPAA’s ratings system is a fraud that does nothing to legitimately protect audiences from questionable content. The language is foul, the violence is extreme, and the robot carnage is more gruesome than in its predecessors. I’ve had my fill of the Transformers franchise. Let’s hope Bay has, as well.
Previous “When Can I Watch” Columns:
Back to the Future
Superman: “The Movie
E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial
The Indiana Jones series
The Star Wars Saga