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Critics’ Best Backhanded Compliments of Michael Bay and Transformers: Dark of the Moon

The third installment of Michael Bay's Transformers franchise, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, arrived in theaters yesterday, as laden with explosions and robots and ass shots as anyone could hope from a Michael Bay extravaganza. It is currently clocking in at 36 percent at Rotten Tomatoes, which is not all that low considering its predecessor, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, only scored a 20 percent. Of course, the almost universally deplored Revenge had not only highly questionable racial politics, it was so bad Shia LaBeouf and Bay both admitted to being disappointed in it. So, basically, Dark of the Moon's current Rotten Tomato score tells us it is much better than a really horrible movie. Do you see what we did there? We gave Dark of the Moon a compliment that was actually an insult! Also doing this: most critics. The reviews of Dark of the Moon are a master class in the backhanded compliment. (Notable exception: Our own David Edelstein, who complimented the movie with actual compliments.) With this film, Michael Bay seems to have created a semi-enjoyable commodity that some critics sort of didn't hate sitting through, but that they can't — or won't — respect anyway. To encapsulate these countervailing sentiments, reviewers have craftily found new and exciting ways to praise Michael Bay and his movie while simultaneously undermining and insulting them. Take a look.

“I might as well come out and say that Transformers: Dark of the Moon is among Mr. Bay’s best movies and by far the best 3-D sequel ever made about gigantic toys from outer space. I apologize if this sounds like faint praise, but let me provide some perspective.” —Times

"With Transformers the third time is apparently the charm. Not that there's much that's actually charming about Transformers: Dark of the Moon. It is the same sort of deafening mayhem celebration as its two absolutely awful predecessors. Except this time it works. Or at least it isn't fully repugnant. OK, I'll admit it — this is hard — the big silly thing is sort of great."—Detroit News

“He’s a seductive devil, that Bay.” —Post

“What makes Transformers: Dark of the Moon interesting, to the extent that something that's so fundamentally idiotic and soul-deadening can also be "interesting," is what you might call its aesthetic and ontological ambivalence. To put that in English, Bay doesn't seem quite sure what kind of movie he's making, or what the point of it is.” —Salon

“I have to admit that during the times that I wasn't feeling whatever intelligence the movie was pummeling out of me being actively insulted, I did kind of enjoy the spectacle.” —MSN

“If Transformers: Dark of the Moon isn't the summer's lousiest whiz-bang movie, it's only because there's so much competition.” —Minnesota Star Tribune

“This latest eruption qualifies for 'most revived franchise' status, if only because scripter Ehren Kruger, the guilty pen behind Transformers 2, has literally found the plot, any plot.” —Toronto Star

"There is something awe-inspiring about Bay's sheer commitment to scale — augmented now by that state-of-the-art anti-audience weapon, 3-D. But marveling at its grotesque gigantism doesn't make this two-and-a-half-hour-long movie any less dull." —Slate

“To [Bay’s] credit, during the first hour and a half or so of this two-and-a-half-hour epic, there are several lucid stretches … At times, the chaos he creates within the film frame is so abstract and exaggerated — think of him as Action Jackson Pollock — it can feel exhilarating, but the relentlessness is exhausting.” —Globe and Mail

“All in all: big fat brainless entertainment from director Michael Bay, who takes his trademark cinematic excess to bold new heights of distended self-parody. I mean lows. I mean, is there a difference in a movie like this?”—Houston Chronicle

“We also have parameters for the best and the worst we can expect from Michael Bay, Hollywood's reigning auteur of destruction and babe ogling …Dark of the Moon is hardly a fleet production, but here Bay makes his best, most flexible use yet of all the flamboyant bigness at his command: Computer-drawn characters and human actors seem to occupy the same narrative for once.” —EW

"The funniest, best-executed film in the Earth-protecting robots-that-look-like-cars-and-trucks series, Moon delivers the popcorn in gigantic fist-fulls of fun. It’s as head-slappingly stupid as ever, a product placement action film with a Camaro as a hero. But Michael Bay’s cartoon-come-to-life co-opts NASA history and re-decorates Chicago with a gusto as over-the-top as any manic Shia LaBeouf rant.” —Orlando Sentinel

Photo: Paramount Pictures