Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Cast:
Shia LaBeouf as Sam Witwicky
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as Carly
Kenneth Sheard as Epps Team ‘Marc L’
Josh Duhamel as Lennox
John Turturro as Simmons
Tyrese Gibson as Epps
Patrick Dempsey as Dylan
Frances McDormand as Mearing
John Malkovich as Bruce Brazos
Kevin Dunn as Ron Witwicky
Julie White as Judy Witwicky
Alan Tudyk as Dutch
Ken Jeong as Jerry Wang
Glenn Morshower as General Morshower
Markiss McFadden as Lennox Team ‘Baby Face’
Charles Adler as Starscream (voice)
Greg Berg as Igor (voice)
Ron Bottitta as Roadbuster / Amp (voice)
George Coe as Que / Wheeljack (voice)
Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime (voice)
John Di Maggio as Leadfoot / Target (voice)
Robert Foxworth as Ratchet (voice)
Jess Harnell as Ironhide (voice)
Tom Kenny as Wheelie (voice)
Leonard Nimoy as Sentinel Prime (voice)
Francesco Quinn as Dino (voice)
James Remar as Sideswipe (voice)
Keith Szarabajka as Laserbeak (voice)
Hugo Weaving as Megatron (voice)
Frank Welker as Shockwave / Soundwave (voice)
Reno Wilson as Brains (voice)

Directed by Michael Bay

Summary:
A bit of an improvement over its predecessors, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” features cool special effects and impressive 3D animation while toning down some of the problems that came before. But it still features a familiar plot, lapses in logic, and annoying characters thrown in for no good reason.

Story:
Since the first two “Transformers” movies, the Autobots have been working with the humans to hunt down Decepticons as well as covertly help battle terrorists in the name of world peace. But this good relationship is threatened when Optimus Prime discovers a secret that the US Government has been keeping from him. It turns out that an Autobot spaceship crash landed on the moon in 1961 and the entire Space Race between the US and the Soviets was motivated by the desire to recover the technology first. When the Autobots return to the moon to inspect the wreckage, they discover a secret from Cybertron’s past that threatens the future of both Earth and their home planet.

Meanwhile, Sam Witwicky is finding it hard to adjust to a normal lifestyle after college. Despite a drop dead gorgeous new girlfriend named Carly, he can’t find a job and he can’t find a meaningful role in life. But when he uncovers clues to a Decepticon plot, he is dismissed by the US government. Desperate to get someone to listen to him and bring relevance back to his life, he ‘gets the band back together’ and starts investigating further. But Sam’s newfound obsession may cost him is relationship with Carly.

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

What Worked:
Let me give some background here – I’m a big fan of the Transformers. I collected the toys and Marvel comics back in the ’80s. I watched all of the cartoons religiously, even created my own Transformers comics, and I know all the words to “Dare,” “The Touch” and “Dare to be Stupid.” I thought the first “Transformers” movie had moments of true greatness mixed with some really awful, terrible moments. I thought the second movie was a great visual effects film if you wanted to see robots beating the crap out of each other, but overall it was so poorly executed that I actually wanted to walk out of the theater and I almost did. I’ve never walked out of a movie before. So I went into this movie cautiously optimistic.

I’m happy to report that I thought “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is the best of the “Transformers” movies. Now that bar is pretty low, but I felt like this movie addressed a lot of the problems I had with the first two films. Not all of the problems, but a lot of them. There are no robots peeing on people and no robots with giant balls. There is still a lot of yelling and screaming and overacting in comedy scenes, but it’s dialed way back. There aren’t any ghetto robot twins that will draw accusations of racism (though there is a pair of smaller robots that do fill that role). The plot is a bit more straightforward, too. The previous films jumped around so much it was a bit hard to follow. This is a bit easier to comprehend.

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” introduces a few new characters. Leonard Nimoy returns to the Transformers universe as Sentinel Prime. (He was previously Galvatron in “Transformers: The Movie.”) His voice fits the character well and the robot even looks like him to a degree. There’s also a fun moment when he delivers a line that should be very familiar to his fans. Patrick Dempsey brings an interesting human element to the story as Dylan while Frances McDormand is also fun as the no-nonsense director Mearing. Then there is Alan Tudyk as Dutch and Ken Jeong as Jerry Wang. When both of these guys appeared on screen, I thought, “Oh boy, there goes the movie.” Both of them are WAY over the top. But I have to admit, both of them made me laugh multiple times. They were the only real comic relief that I actually laughed at. I also have to say that I was quite impressed that the movie featured a cameo by the real Buzz Aldrin. I don’t know how they got him, but it’s nice to see him play along with the ‘real reason’ for the Apollo missions.

This movie is yet another theatrical release in 3D. I’m actually in the pro-3D camp and not one of these reviewers that moans and groans any time a movie is presented in anything other than 2D. Anyway, I have to say that the 3D suited “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” When robots and tentacles and cars pop out of the screen, you really get an appreciation for the visual effects. Scenes where characters parachute out of airplanes look pretty impressive, too. You’re really put in the middle of the stunts. And the opening space battle on Cybertron is one of the cooler 3D moments in the summer movies. The 3D also required Michael Bay to tone down the use of the ‘shaky cam.’ There was a lot less of the jarring, blurry camerawork that makes it so you can’t tell what’s happening on the screen. That, too, helped improve this movie over its predecessors.

What Didn’t Work:
While I think this is the best of the “Transformers” movies, there’s no question that this movie has some pretty big problems.

First off, too many of the characters from the previous films are shoehorned in. Sam’s parents appear again and do absolutely nothing to advance the plot. John Turturro also returns again as Simmons and he’s just as loud and obnoxious and annoying as he was in all of the other films. Further adding to the problems, there’s too much comic relief in the movie. Between Sam’s parents, Simmons, Dutch, Wang, and Sam’s two refugee robots, you have seven characters that are in the movie for nothing more than comic relief. It’s way too much. The movie has a running time of 2 and a half hours. It is about 30 minutes longer than it needs to be thanks mainly to so much screentime devoted to these characters’ antics. If they just kept the clowning to Jeong and Tudyk, that would have been enough comedy.

Then you have Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as Carly. She fills in for Megan Fox as the required Michael Bay eye candy. I never liked Megan Fox in the “Transformers” movies. I thought her performances were utterly wooden. In my opinion Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is better than Fox – she’s a slightly better actress (not a challenge) and she’s just as attractive. My problem with her is that she’s TOO good looking. When you pair her with Shia LaBeouf as Sam Witwicky, it just doesn’t seem realistic. She seems just as computer generated as the robots when standing next to LaBeouf. They don’t seem like a realistic couple at all. I would have liked to have seen an actress who was an 8 out of 10 with personality than a 10 out of 10 that has no chemistry with LaBeouf.

Another problem is that they make Optimus Prime kind of a jerk. He’s always been a mix of John Wayne and Obi-Wan Kenobi, but in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” he loses some of his nobility. In one scene he’s literally standing on bones of humans killed by the Decepticons and he basically tells Sam that the Autobots were holding back and not saving people so that humans would appreciate them. What?!? Then in another scene a robot pleads with Optimus not to kill him and he does it anyway. Did he deserve to be killed? Definitely. But the way the scene plays out, Bay trivializes death so that Prime can have a cool moment. For a lot of kids and fans, Prime is the epitome of everything that is good, so to see him handled like that shows a lack of respect for the character.

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” also tramples on its own continuity. In this movie they make it sound like the existence of “Transformers” on planet Earth is a major secret. Yet in the first movie they rather publicly destroyed Hoover Dam and Los Angeles. In the second movie they destroyed several major cities and the pyramids. Now we’re expected to believe the public isn’t aware of the robots? It’s a bit much to believe. We were also told in the first movie that Megatron was on Earth looking for the cube, yet this movie says he was here for another reason. It doesn’t add up. There are other inconsistencies, but you get the idea.

Then let’s get right down to it – the plot of this movie isn’t all that different from the first two. Sam Witwicky is having a personal crisis, he’s thrown into the middle of the Autobot vs. Decepticon war, and ultimately he has to run through the middle of battling robots in slow motion to save the Earth… for a third time. Then there’s the other plot that some sort of Transformer threat has been hidden on or near Earth for many years, it is uncovered, then the Autobots and Decepticons must fight in major cities and/or on major landmarks while promotional footage from the U.S. Armed Forces plays in slow motion amid sunsets. This is really the same movie done three times and wrapped in slightly different packages. Yet they all made a ton of money, so what do I know.

Finally, let’s face the fact that this movie has two functions – to sell movie tickets to people that want to see giant robots fighting and to sell toys to kids. For a movie that is partially aimed at kids, there’s a lot of language in this. They say everything except their one allotted PG-13 ‘f**k,’ and even then they almost say it in one scene. They needed to dial it back a bit. The cartoons built generations of fans by staying appropriate for kids. Hasbro should have exerted a little control over Bay and Paramount and toned it down.

The Bottom Line:
For a big summer action flick, “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” fits the bill. It is mindless action filled with impressive special effects. As long as you’re not looking for more and set your expectations pretty low, you’ll be entertained. But if you hated the first two movies, don’t expect this one to win you over.

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