Thursday, June 30, 2011


"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" (2011)

There are quite a few reasons why Michael Bay's third installment of those giant mechanized talking alien robots based off the Hasbro toys works. Like most everybody else, I absolutely despised 2009's "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen." It was overlong, nonsensical, obnoxious and headache-inducing. This summer's "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," however, brings us back to what made the original such a hit. It's still overlong and occasionally nonsensical, but it's a lot more fun, and the action is thrilling instead of agonizing.

This also marks the first -- and most likely last -- summer movie to use 3D technology well. The dimming still occurs, but the swirling action is excellently choreographed where it feels like the giant mechanical beasts are throwing themselves right at you. Some of the slow motion moments, especially, look remarkably stunning. The visuals effects as a whole are noticeably revamped since the last outing. The transformers in all their shape-shifting glory are more fully realized with clearer facial expressions and more detail to the point where blood-like fluids spray and wiry contraptions look a whole lot like tendons and spines when they get ripped out.

The movie backs itself with a bloated and unnecessary story about when we landed on the moon and attempts to tie in the history of Autobots and Decepticons with the space race of the 1960s. Cool in theory, bad in execution; it only goes toward adding an extra half hour to the running time. Beyond that, the Decepticons are up to no good wanting to annihilate Earth and transform it into their beloved home planet of Cybetron. And they start by completely leveling Chicago, and as before Optimus Prime leads the Autobots and the humans in rebellion against the attack.

Sam Witwicky is of course in the middle of the chaos, and it is apparent Shia LaBeouf has had an extreme tonal shift since the last time we saw him. He's more in sync with his character and actually seems to be caring about what he's doing, which definitely wasn't happening in "Revenge of the Fallen." He's enthralled, angry and throws in bits of temper tantrum humor that fuels the first act. There's more self-aware funniness at the start which balances out the slamming of self-seriousness we get served at the end. But it fits because the stakes are raised, and there's more human interest. The conflict between the bots doesn't feel completely isolated from human characters anymore.

The big news is that Megan Fox is gone. And thank goodness for that. Her replacement, Victoria's Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley -- who you might assume is merely filling the vacant spot of female sex figure -- is light-years better than any level of acting Fox might've been able to produce. With her playing Carly, I actually cared about the relationship between her and Sam for about a second or two.

There is a strange variety of other actors including Frances McDormand as a stern government official, John Malkovich as Sam's whacked-out boss, Ken Jeong as a peculiar co-worker of Sam's whose connection to the Decepticons is unclear but deadly and, finally, Patrick Dempsey -- yeah, I was surprised, too -- as Carly's evil and manipulative boss. Not one of these actors I'd ever expect to be in a Michael Bay movie, but there they are. And, well, why not? I got a kick out of it.

So, back to the fate of Chicago. It gets used as the battleground for the movie's climactic finish, an hour-long action set piece that doesn't fail to impress. If you're looking for summer blockbuster spectacle, look no further. A scene involving a new transformer called Shockwave, who tunnels through a skyscraper like a worm and tears it to pieces, is phenomenally exciting. If we could just pretend that the second "Transformers" movie never happened and pair this one up with the first, then it really is a showcase of what Michael Bay does best. I never said it was intelligent.

My review of Transformers and Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen

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