Transformers: Dark of the Moon

What It Is

In Transformers: Dark of the Moon, again, the Autobots are attacked by the Decepticons. Again, their world-decimating contest makes humans look puny. And again, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is in the middle of it — though not until after a lengthy prologue, in which you learn about a not-so-coherent revisionist history, wherein President Kennedy accelerated the space race because the Autobots left a secret stash on the moon. You know, on the dark side. (Or, as the film’s annoyingly nonsensical title has it, on the “dark of the moon.”)

When Sam does enter the picture, he’s got a new outrageously gorgeous girlfriend, first viewed as a barely covered bottom walking in front of the low-angled camera. Recent college grad Sam is unemployed and Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) works for a super-rich and mightily obnoxious car collector named Dylan (Patrick Dempsey). As Sam whines and harrumphs and tries to convince everyone who will listen that he’s saved the world — twice — but can’t get a job, Carly forgives his tantrums, his glowers, even his downright meanness: “It’s hard for everybody to get a job!” she says brightly.

But as soon as he’s finally hired — by the exceedingly eccentric Bruce Brazos (John Malkovich) — Sam is drawn into the machines’ showdown. At last he’s reunited with his beloved Bumblebee (a yellow Camaro when he’s not in robot-fighting form), and helps the ever-slow human authorities figure out what the Autobots and Decepticons are up to. Namely, Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) and Megatron (Hugo Weaving) are competing for control of earth, with a new player this time, Optimus Prime’s old mentor, Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy, who utters one of this film’s most crowd-pleasing lines, lifted from Mr. Spock in Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan: “The good of the one outweighs the good of the many”).

This contest comprises the bulk of the film’s action, of course, with heroic contributions from Transformers veterans, Special Forces Army Ranger Lennox (Josh Duhamel), U.S. Air Force Master Ranger Epps (Tyrese Gibson), and former agent, now best-selling and self-promoting author, Simmons (John Turturro).

During the battle (which closes out a 154-minute film), much of downtown Chicago is decimated: cars are flipped, buildings smashed, and people run over and shot down. It all happens quickly, but still, it’s quite brutal.

Why It’s Fun

The special effects are mostly excellent. Whether their surfaces are shiny like Optimus Prime or rusty like Megatron, the machines appear to inhabit the same space as their live action compatriots. The cars go fast, the space ships blast off, the robots smash stuff. Even the 3D is good: not only does the film make use of depth (not only poking things out at you), but also, at least for the screening I attended, the light is decent (reportedly, Michael Bay lobbied theater owners to turn up the brightness on projector bulbs).

That’s not to say the effects are uniformly excellent. At film’s start, three presidents show up, and both look terrible. JFK’s archival footage version is fine, but his digital self is dismal. A minute or so later, an imitation Richard Nixon and imitation Barack Obama appear, both distractingly weak.

Three effects sequences are especially well choreographed. The first involves a serial smashup of cars and transformers on the highway (the sort of scene that is now familiar in these films). This includes a moment of Sam hurling through the air in slow motion, headed to certain death, if not for the brilliance of Bumblebee.

The second has Lennox’s men parachuting into the city, paragliding in wing suits. The third has a building literally break in half, so Sam and his team have to slide down it a couple of stories on the glass windows.

Who’s Going To Love It

Fans of the toys, the comics, and the animated series, as well as the first Transformers movie, may be looking forward to this installment, given the weakness of the second. The improvement is minimal. The plot is still silly, Sam is even more obnoxious than before, Carly (who, like Megan Fox before her, is called on primarily to run on pavement wearing high heels) is distressingly unconvincing.

Other potentially pleased viewers may include those looking for noisy entertainment in air conditioning for the July 4 weekend.

What To Be Aware Of

Lots of loud, long battle scenes. These usually feature formidable robots trying to rip each other in half or shoot each other’s heads off. Humans fight too, shooting gargantuan guns and launching missiles and grenades.

Lots of language. This includes multiple uses of “a**hole,” “bitch,” “s**t,” “crap,” and “hell,” plus an occasional “damn” and even one “motherf....” with the last syllable comically silenced.

Lots of commercial pitches. These might be counted in essentially every frame, and you know what they’re selling: the Hasbro Transformers toy line that inspired the comics, TV series, and movie franchise.

Michael Bay movies have never been good to women and girls, and this one is no exception. (Again, there are no female transformers or human soldiers.) Aside from Carly, whose body is wrapped in skintight designs and ogled by the camera repeatedly, Sam spends a few minutes each with a grouchy and easily misled Secretary of National Security, Mearing (Frances McDormand), her almost mute assistant (Keiko Agena), and his mother, Judy (Julie White, who comes to DC with his dad Ron (Kevin Dunn) full of advice for his job search.

Take note: when mom learns that Sam and Carly have had a fight, she suggests that he not lose another “world class hottie” and read a book she holds up, She Comes First. This double entendre will escape many younger viewers, but not all of them.

Aside from the requisite and rather relentless male bonding among the soldiers, the movie features some clunky gay “jokes.” One is embodied by Jerry Wang (Ken Jeong), a coworker at Brazos’ who finds himself entangled with Sam in a men’s room stall: pants come down, doors are opened, faces are red (Jerry then suffers an ignominious death, plunging from a very high window, which is reduced to comedy).

The other gay joke is less overt (less Beavis & Butt-headish): Simmons’ assistant Dutch (Alan Tudyk) is an ace tech, hacker, and assassin, but trying very hard not to be “the old me.” Trying very hard to please Simmons, he behaves in a way that might be taken for stereotypically gay (when he insists he has a “girlfriend,” he’s basically outed, unable to come up with a convincing name for her).

See-It-Again Points

4 out of 10

Film Information

Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Julie White, Kevin Dunn, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Alan Tudyk
Studio: Paramount Studios
Year: 2011
Rated: PG-13
US Premiere: June 29, 2011
UK Premiere: June 29, 2011
Official Website
Official Trailer
Movie Pictures

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