Mark Reviews Movies

Transformers: Dark of the Moon


1 Star (out of 4)

Director: Michael Bay

Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand, Alan Tudyk, John Malkovich, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, Ken Jeong, the voices of Peter Cullen, Leonard Nimoy, Hugo Weaving

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality and innuendo)

Running Time: 2:33

Release Date: 6/28/11 (IMAX and 3D); 6/29/11 (wide)

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Review by Mark Dujsik | June 28, 2011

There was a simpler time when the sight of a group of men jumping out of an airplane and using finned suits to glide in formation through the buildings of a major metropolis would be spectacle enough. There's grace and skill to that action, not to mention actual daring, tension, and awe. In Transformers: Dark of the Moon, it's accompanied by digital effects of the planes exploding, buildings collapsing, and ships piloted by giant robots shooting at them. This is not spectacle; it is commotion.

The third movie in director Michael Bay's series based on a line of action figures (with a script that seems to be assembled from observations of a 5-year-old's playtime with an endless supply of them) is perhaps the most focused plot-wise, though that's mostly because the final 45 minutes or so is nothing but chaotic running and jumping across a city falling apart. Like its predecessors, everything that comes before the climactic battle is nonsense, unintentionally and ironically making the final fight entirely anti-climactic.

The problem, made even clearer this time around, is that there is not a single worthwhile or identifiable character—human or robot—in the bunch. The ancillary characters are grotesque caricatures, from a conspiracy-happy former secret agent to an anally retentive bureaucrat with multiple bags that are color-coded for the documents they contain—from a bizarre office co-worker who stands too close to people before dropping his pants to retrieve a document taped to the inside of his thigh, to the boss of that business who wears a bad tan and also has a penchant for color-coding (Yes, even the characters' idiosyncrasies are repetitive). The heroes are passive pawns of those oddities, waiting for them to do things that will eventually spring them into action when all that annoying exposition and dialogue (mostly repeated exposition) can finally stop so the explosions can start. The robots are even worse, if that's possible.

Here, they seem to have given up the fight. Despite pledging that they will join together with their human allies to fight for freedom against their evil counterparts, they disappear for a long gap of time in the final skirmish. When we see them again, almost half of them have been captured off-screen by their foes. Their leader Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen) avoids conflict until the last possible moment, leaving the bulk of the fighting to the humans (but keeping the execution of the unarmed vanquished to itself). Apparently Optimus is under the idea that if you kill off a villainous robot for a man, he will be safe, but if you let a man try to figure out how to destroy a wicked robot on his own, the movie is drawn out a lot longer.

The movie opens with a prologue of inspired comedy (It's not on purpose, we assume, since there are multiple instances of failed comic relief, particularly from a pair of obnoxious little robots). In it, screenwriter Ehren Kruger proposes that the entire Space Race was mounted to retrieve a ship containing a secret weapon of the Autobots (the good robots) that crashed on the dark side of the Moon. The first lunar landing was actually a cover to search the wreckage (Poor Buzz Aldrin has a cameo, saying what heroes the robots are), and when Optimus learns that humanity has been hiding parts of their ultimate weapon for decades, he isn't too happy. He leads an expedition to recover the invention, a group of pillars capable of interstellar transportation, and the inventor Sentinel Prime (voice of Leonard Nimoy), who has incredibly mixed motivations for the rest of the movie.

Meanwhile, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf, giving a performance that mainly consists of embarrassing screams and spasms) has graduated college and has a chip on his shoulder that he isn't helping the newly formed government agency with Autobot members on their missions to help mankind. After a series of encounters with a group of weird people (mentioned above and played, in order of eccentricity, by John Turturro, Frances McDormand, Ken Jeong, and John Malkovich), he and his new girlfriend Carly (Rose Huntington-Whiteley) are caught up in a plan to move the Autobot and Decepticon home-world to Earth.

Bay continues to use extraneous slow-motion shots of robots jogging, leaping, and flipping cars over, and the action sequences are lifted wholesale from the two previous movies, including a highway chase, fleeing a snake-like machine with a buzz-saw mouth, and that protracted final clash in a city (this time Chicago). When not slowed down, the movie is little more than colors, fire, and sparks in motion, thanks to Bay's oftentimes incompetent camera placement (A tracking shot of Optimus swinging his sword moves him to the extreme right of the frame, mostly off-camera, and focuses on his feet).

"You chose humanity," one evil robot tells Optimus. The very mention of humanity is a bit disarming; it's an option Kruger and Bay never seem to consider. Transformers: Dark of the Moon has the personality of a machine—let's say a blender.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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