Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

I called “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” a 2.5-hour exhibition of a hurricane in a hardware store. There should have been nothing exciting, therefore, about the prospect of a second 2.5-hour exhibition — this time of hunks of scrap metal perpetually raining over Chicago — filmed entirely in 3D. Yet with the added assurance of the 3-D fusion camera system and someone with as keen an eye for action as Michael Bay, there was something thrilling — at least in theory — about this installment.

It also helped, for me, that Bay apologized. He was among many involved to admit the problematic nature and various shortcomings of “Fallen” and vowed a better experience this go-around in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” Redemption, it seems, would be a good way of categorizing “Dark of the Moon.” It’s hardly the disaster its predecessor was, but it’s also hardly what most would classify as “good.” Fortunately, it has plenty of (thoughtful) satisfying action with enough traction for us to actually give a damn about what happens on screen.

In this third chapter, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) lives in D.C. with his new girlfriend, Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). She’s a bit more charming, though equally positioned for the purposes of eye candy, than Megan Fox. Sam’s trying to get a job, but finds that he only felt confident in himself or important when he was saving the world with the Autobots. When the U.S government makes a discovery proving that Transformers first made contact with our planet in 1963 when a ship crash-landed on the moon, a chain of events occurs and Sam finds himself with the chance to be a hero again. Basically, if the Decepticons were to get ahold of what’s on the moon, destruction would befall Earth, unsurprisingly.

For one, “Dark of the Moon” provides a worthwhile 3-D experience. Bay and 3D seem like a perfect marriage of auteur and medium. Only he and other style-first types could imagine an action sequence worthy of capturing in 3D without intentionally making stuff fly out toward the audience. Some of it’s breathtaking, but most of it simply looks good. The “Transformers” series has only ever been as good as its paint job, and the look of “Dark of the Moon” is crisper and cleaner than “Fallen.”

Yet many of “Fallen’s” problems transfer to this installment, in particular length, story and an overabundance of characters and robots. Other than a key plot twist halfway through, the story lacks any grounding. At this point as well, the focus shifts away from Sam and onto the Decepticons trying to take over the world. Writer Ehren Kruger takes so much time to set up the historical context of the dark side of the moon and Sam’s feeling of insecurity, yet he throws all that setup out the window when the action finally takes off. By then, we’re ready for Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots anyway, so who cares.

An extended lineup of new mechanical friends probably made the folks at Hasbro happy, but there are too many Transformers to count in this film and so many lose the attention they deserve. Rather than focus on the effective ones like Soundwave and Laserbeak, Shockwave and Sentinel Prime, we get various bots shifting into the spotlight so that no one gets a distinct personality. Only those who’ve seen the prior films will feel moved by scenes involving Bumblebee, Optimus Prime and Ironhide, for example. The ceiling to care about these bots is high, but the sheer number keeps us from getting there.

More problematic, however are the number of people actors. The human characters outside of Sam have always been obnoxious and inconsequential to the story, so to fill so many roles with A-listers such as John Malkovich, Frances McDormand and Patrick Dempsey feels more wasteful than not recycling a dead Transformer. Audiences are paying to see the robots fight in 3D, not the humans talk. Unless you’re going to deliver a story where the humans matter, don’t bog us down with them.

Then there’s the humor and political incorrectness that the “Transformers” movies can’t seem to shake. Although nothing’s as insulting as the racist twin motorcycle bots from “Fallen” that have been eliminated, the two “mini transformers” and some English race cars that McDormand calls assholes take their place. Some of the jokes are surprisingly spot-on, but it ends up excessive and uncalled for more often than not. Michael Bay also continues his lady-ogling with Rosie making her “Transformers” debut from the waste down.

So maybe Michael Bay is just a stubborn old filmmaker who knows what he likes, but one gets the sense with “Dark of the Moon” that he sharpened up a bit to make sure this film didn’t outrage the fan base. Some filmmakers whose movies make $900-some million take that as creative license to make edgier projects, but in Bay’s case, he makes it more how he likes it: big, loud, slick and sexy. It’s unlike most filmmakers to make their films more Hollywood-pleasing as they gain notoriety and respect, but Bay’s turned it into an art form. In the case of “Dark of the Moon,” he’s upped the emotional and visual stakes to create an engaging feat of blockbuster. Although some of his contemporaries would have us believe that explosions and fighting should come with a side of philosophical sermon, Bay reminds us that there’s value in wowing an audience and that doing so requires talent, even if that talent normally rates behind great storytelling.

3/5 Stars

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Directed by Michael Bay
Written by Ehren Kruger
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Tyrese Gibson, Patrick Dempsey



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