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'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' Movie Review

About.com Rating 3 Star Rating

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Sentinel Prime and Optimus Prime in 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon'

Sentinel Prime and Optimus Prime in 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon'

© Paramount Pictures

You wouldn't know it from the advertising but Transformers: Dark of the Moon is one of the funniest films of the year. Granted, most of the humor is completely unintentional, but whether it was planned that way or not, Transformers: Dark of the Moon outdoes current box office comedies Bad Teacher and Mr Popper's Penguins in the laugh department. A film that includes a scene of John Malkovich getting tickled by a huge robot has to get my vote for one of the top comedies of the year. If only Paramount had opted to stress the comedy in at least a couple of the trailers, maybe some potential ticket buyers turned off by the franchise or leery of wasting another two and a half hours in the theater following the disaster that was Transformers 2 might be more willing to give Dark of the Moon a shot.

The plot is predictably ridiculous (even more so than the first two films), the dialogue is just plain dumb (and as loaded with cliched military phrases as any straight to DVD war movie), and the idea of Shia LaBeouf's geeky Sam Witwicky going from a raven-haired beauty to a Victoria's Secret model is obviously just the teenage boy in Michael Bay getting in the way of reality.

Of course, there's no need for reality when the female lead character in the Transformers franchise is there for no other reason than to provide some eye candy during the breaks between action scenes. And Rosie Huntington-Whiteley does fill the job description to a T. Acting isn't necessary for a female in a Bay movie, but the scales do tip toward Rosie in the battle with Megan Fox over attempting to act while posing provocatively. At least Huntington-Whiteley's able to interact with her human co-stars and convey genuine emotions. She wasn't hired for her acting ability, obviously realizes that, and does her best to just look like a geekboy's fantasy girl.

But let's back up to the plot for a moment. It's the 1960s, Kennedy is President of the United States, and something has crashed into the moon. The American and Russian governments become involved in a race to find out what it is without letting the citizens of the planet know the truth behind the space race. America wins, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin make one giant leap for mankind and then fearlessly poke around an alien spaceship. Fast forward to 2011 and the Decepticons are no longer a threat. The Autobots are now protectors of the humans, working 24/7 to keep us from starting World War III. But hold on a minute, there's something strange going on at Chernobyl and wouldn't you know it, it involves a Decepticon. Wow, didn't see that coming.

So the Decepticons are regrouping, the Autobots discover the American government's kept their Moon mission a secret, and Optimus Prime makes a quick trip into space to revive the old leader of the Autobots, Sentinel Prime. Meanwhile, Sam Witwicky has a new toy to play with and no job. Not to worry though as the toy, Carly (Huntington-Whiteley), has a fantastic apartment and money to burn, thanks to a glamorous job with Patrick Dempsey. Dempsey's character has a name, but it doesn't matter because he's the female version of Huntington-Whiteley appearance-wise (although he's actually a fine actor, too) so thank you for that Mr. Michael Bay.

Sam isn't allowed to play with his Autobot friends anymore and is forced into tooling around in a beater that's a poor substitute for his Camaro, Bumblebee. He's saved the world a couple of times, but that's a secret prospective employers haven't been let in on. So, Sam finally lands a job in the mailroom of a company run by John Malkovich. Again, as with Patrick Dempsey, Malkovich's character has a name but it's totally unimportant to know. How Michael Bay got Malkovich to fill the role and what part his character plays doesn't matter so much as the fact we get to see John Malkovich out-Malkoviching himself. And as I mentioned earlier, he gets tickled by a robot. I'm not kidding.

There's something about power sticks and building a bridge to the robots' home planet that comes into the story next, but really it's all just nonsense used to set up a final battle that takes up the last third of the film and completely destroys Chicago. Sam, Lennox (Josh Duhamel), Epps (Tyrese Gibson), a handful of nameless soldiers, and the Autobots (who were sent off into space by Oscar-winner Frances McDormand in order to keep the Decepticons happy) are involved in that final battle with the survival of humans hanging in the balance.

The Acting

Much will be made about John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, and John Turturro's scenery-chewing performances, but if you want to know what supporting actor steals the show you'd have to look further than the aforementioned actors. Alan Tudyk (Firefly, 3:10 to Yuma) delivers a performance that distinguishes itself for its gleeful insanity. It's of a much higher caliber than the typical Transformers supporting performance, with Tudyk appearing to be more in on the joke than everyone else.

As for the returning Transformers players, Shia LaBeouf seems a little more comfortable in Bay's CG world this third time around. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson are back...and that's all that can or needs to be said about their performances.

The Bottom Line

Shia LaBeouf in 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon'

Shia LaBeouf in 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon'

© Paramount Pictures

You know, after sitting through three of these Transformers films, the fact the female lead can come out of a ferocious battle not only completely unscathed but with her clothing clean should no longer amaze/amuse me, but it still does. Bay doesn't attempt to make the female character into a real person, so there's no need to dirty her up any. There's also no need to find a reason for inserting Huntington-Whiteley in the huge action scenes, other than to provide something for LaBeouf's character to do in this third film. And he has to show up in Dark of the Moon only because he's the human with the closest relationship to the Autobots.

But do we really care about Sam in Transformers #3? Despite the script, which doesn't give us a real reason to, yes we do, because we've come to know him over the course of the three films. Still, whether we care about Sam's journey at this point is unimportant. This is a robot action film that just happens to have a sprinkling of humans in it to give us something to look at in the downtime between huge action set pieces. The humans are all disposable characters, but that's not new to the third film of the series.

And instead of worrying about the hows and whys of the action in Transformers: Dark of the Moon, we're all forced to just go along with it. There's no rhyme or reason for most of what takes place in the final showdown - or in the huge action scenes leading up to it - but Bay's concern isn't the logics of the story, it's blowing away the audience with gigantic robots destroying buildings, vehicles, blasting away at screaming people fleeing through Chicago's streets, and attacking each other. Decepticons want to enslave humans and make our planet their own, but the heroic Autobots won't go down easily despite being outnumbered (and without the cool weapons of the Decepticons), so it doesn't make any sense as to why destroying the flashing towers of light aren't the main target for the Autobots early on in the battle. Sam and his group's journey across the war-torn city defies all explanation, as does the group's ability to survive in massive buildings being destroyed/pushed sideways. Why 'wingmen' (precision skydivers) feel the need to dive into the heart of the city amid flying Decepticons and why Carly can talk to an enemy robot and survive the conversation when it's obvious Decepticons hate us also doesn't make a bit of sense. But trying to make logical connections out of the plot of Transformers 2 or 3 is an exercise in futility.

However, for the story's shortcomings, visually Transformers: Dark of the Moon is fantastic. Bay's handling of the special effects is nothing short of spectacular. And for the first time in a Transformers film, the fight scenes aren't put together in a way to make identifying what robot is fighting what other robot nearly impossible for all but the most hardcore Transformers fan to figure out. Bay serves up the best action sequences of his career with this third film of the Transformers series, and considering his filmography that's no easy feat. Whether you're a Bay fan or not, it's nearly impossible to deny he knows what he's doing when it comes to thrilling an audience with over-the-top action. With Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Bay's nudged the CG-action bar upwards.

Bay's also delivered on his promise that Transformers 3 is worth the inflated price of a 3D ticket. The 3D is flawless, although I should point out the screening I attended was out of focus for the first three or four minutes, which wasn't a great way to kick off the film and also distracted me from catching the opening plot points. Transformers: Dark of the Moon is one of the few films of the last two or three years (the others being Avatar, How to Train Your Dragon and Kung Fu Panda 2) that benefits from the 3D technology and that isn't made too dark or dingy while wearing the glasses. Bay uses the 3D to add depth to the shots and to bring the audience into the action, and he does so incredibly effectively.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon isn't as good as the original film, but it's a much better movie than Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. It's more fun, doesn't take itself seriously (you've got to assume the dialogue is deliberately cliche and silly), and the supporting actors are allowed to play with their roles. It's a little too long and we really don't need as many scenes of Huntington-Whiteley as Bay gives us (however I realize he's feeding into men's fantasies by slowly and seductively moving the camera over her body, lingering on key areas). But, overall, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is what you'd expect from a summer popcorn film. It's an ultra-violent, special effects-laden CG extravaganza that delivers some of the biggest laughs of the summer.

GRADE: B-

Transformers: Dark of the Moon was directed by Michael Bay and is rated PG-13 for intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality and innuendo.

Theatrical Release: June 28, 2011

This review is based on a screening provided by the studio. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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