REVIEW: Transformers: Dark of the Moon [2011]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½


Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 154 minutes | Release Date: June 29th, 2011 (USA)
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Director(s): Michael Bay
Writer(s): Ehren Kruger

“You all read ‘Humpty Dumpty'”

When Transformers came out in 2007, it was all the rage. Nostalgia, explosions, over-the-top summer blockbuster laughs, and even a smidgeon of heart were thrown into Michael Bay’s ultimate orgasm of action, sex, and metal. It was fun despite its corniness and therefore left a desire for a sequel, one where we knew all the major players and could watch their continuing saga.

But 2009 came and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen underwhelmed. I still maintain that if liking one means liking the other because although everything bad about the first was exacerbated, the sequel was still giant robots destroying cities and asinine characters hamming it up for the cameras. Say what you will about Bay, but the sheer fact this film was made on time to release on the studio’s scheduled date is a miracle and a testament to his control over a set, computer imaging, and stunt coordination. He has a niche genre for sure, but he excels in it. Any blame for ghetto-bots and metal genitalia can rest with the writing team of Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Ehren Kruger. I don’t care that a writer’s strike occurred during production, there was no excuse for it.

With it’s gradual devolution in quality—many viewers and critics abhorred Part 2, calling it the worst film of the year—I can’t say expectations were too high on the bloated, 157-minute opus that is Transformers: Dark of the Moon. This is the film to wrap up the trilogy of Autobots and Decepticons ravaging our world to continue the war that destroyed their own. Assurances were made by cast and crew on the bump in entertainment, each admitting their own disdain for the previous entry. But the removal of one bad actress (Megan Fox) for a model (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) who’s used to Bay’s penchant for sexualizing women and objectifying them as eye-candy, wasn’t quite what audiences had in mind. The cheese factor remained as John Turturro’s Simmons brings his crazy brand of obnoxiousness alongside the eccentricity of John Malkovich and random karate poses. The eye-rolling attempts at humor weren’t removed, so the hope of story improvement was all I clung to.

And to a point it did improve. Basing the plot around the conceit that our lunar landing in 1969 was in fact a mission to discover the alien spacecraft that had crash-landed a decade before was an inspired decision. Rather than look to the future with Mars rovers, we instead go into the past to uncover how the American government knew about the Transformers all this time. It’s a bold move considering it does kind of subvert the prevalent cluelessness to these aliens in the first two installments, but hey: it’s a summer blockbuster and suspension of disbelief isn’t a suggestion, it’s required. So we buy into Sentinel Prime’s (Leonard Nimoy) leader of the Autobots escaping Cybertron with a weapon that could win the war in hopes to spare it for another day. The fact he crashes on our moon is lazy writing, but it also allows for the movie to exist. So deal with it. As for the convoluted trickery and backstabbing that follows, well, Kruger’s not perfect.

But like the second film, Part 3 falls prey to a need for runtime padding. We’ve already watched Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) save the world twice. We’ve seen him underestimated; we’ve seen him get the ‘hot’ girl; and he’s done it all despite his obnoxious parents (yes, Kevin Dunn and Julie White return). Why then do we have to turn the wheel for a third time? Why must we start with a pathetic Sam desperately looking for respect? We get it already—the kid’s a geek. Why don’t we cut 40-minutes out of the film and just begin it with him as a CIA-liason or operative or something to move things along? He’s going to eventually get there anyway, stop treating the audience like it’s completely devoid of intelligence. And for that matter, why do we even need a love interest? Huntington-Whiteley not only channels Jamie Foxx’s Wanda in jawline and lips, but she’s also trying hard to win a Razzie in this completely unnecessary role. Introduce Patrick Dempsey’s villainous Dylan some other way. Don’t muddy what’s already muddled.

It’s a Transformers movie and should have wall-to-wall action with a plotline barely on the right side of plausibility to make us stop looking for plot holes. We don’t need wasted time to revisit old friends before they come back into the fold in positions identical to before. We don’t need celebrity cameos from Bill O’Reilly and Buzz Aldren to fabricate some level of realism—it’s all fluff. Give me some Malkovich craziness before his office is decimated by robots. Give me about half the creepiness Ken Jeong delivers in a small role and feel free to deliver Alan Tudyk—even with a horrible accent—as long as you give him the funniest scene in the film. I’m not a snob, that stuff is fun for me too. It’s when you drive it down my throat over and over again without adding anything to the story that irks me. If the main crux of the tale is Sam helping Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) take out Megatron (Hugo Weaving), get me there and make it spectacular.

I say this because the final 30-minutes or so is honestly pretty fantastic. Robot fights are in excess, Chicago is annihilated in a realistic sequence of genocide, and it is cool to watch military men jump out of helicopters with flying-squirrel-type webbed jumpsuits before soaring through the sky. It’s not hard to understand: the bad guys want to bring their dying planet into our orbit by using humans as slaves to rebuild while the good guys feel everyone should have the right to freedom and therefore must help save Earth. This stuff is dumbed-down so that we can comprehend, disregard, and salivate at the shiny cars morphing into clashing steel monstrosities of war. Even the Fourth of July release window helps the cheesy patriotism running rampant throughout not feel quite as hokey as it should. This is America never giving up. It’s overdone, but it is still effective.

So I have to at least give kudos to Bay and company for making the potatoes and gravy portions of Transformers: Dark of the Moon captivating on a completely aesthetic scale. The guy knows how to shoot a Maxim sensibility and can even make Huntington-Whitley’s obscene duh-faced lips disappear when focusing on her body. It’s a welcome distraction from the sub-par acting—besides Frances McDormand ruling scenes with her authoritative power, Dempsey surprising with an amoral cavalier attitude, and LaBeouf letting loose with cocky take-no-prisoners sarcasm—and pairs with the ‘spot that pop culture reference’ game I played throughout. See if you can catch the Predator-bot, the Einstein-bot, LaBeouf’s TV dad Tom Virtue, Turturro as Dr. Strangelove, and the wonderful Scott Krinsky from “Chuck”. It passes the time as you wait for the Chicago Massacre, a sequence that almost makes this whole futile exercise of a Transformers Trilogy worth it.


photography:
[1] Left to right: Shia LaBeouf plays Sam Witwicky and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley plays Carly in TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON, from Paramount Pictures. Photo credit: Robert Zuckerman © 2011 Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Hasbro, TRANSFORMERS and all related characters are trademarks of Hasbro. © 2011 Hasbro. All Rights Reserved.
[2] (Left to right) Sentinel Prime and Optimus Prime in TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON, from Paramount Pictures. Photo credit: Courtesy Paramount Pictures. (c) 2011 Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Hasbro, TRANSFORMERS and all related characters are trademarks of Hasbro. (c) 2011 Hasbro. All Rights Reserved.
[3] (Left to right) Josh Duhamel plays Lennox and Tyrese Gibson plays Epps in TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON, from Paramount Pictures. Photo credit: Courtesy Paramount Pictures. (c) 2011 Paramount Pictures Corporation. All Rights Reserved. Hasbro, TRANSFORMERS and all related characters are trademarks of Hasbro. (c) 2011 Hasbro. All Rights Reserved.

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