Movie Reviews

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Reviewed by: Edward Douglas
Rating: 4 out of 10
Movie Details: View here

Cast:
Shia LaBeouf as Sam Witwicky
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as Carly
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
Charles Adler as Starscream (voice) (as Charlie Andler)
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

Story:
Back in the early '60s, an Autobot ark escaped from Cybertron and crashlanded on the dark side of the moon. Onboard was Sentinel Prime, Optimus' predecessor, guarding secret technology he couldn't allow the Decepticons to get their hands on. Fifty years later, the presence of the ship has been discovered and the existing Autobots retrieve their former leader only to get caught in a trap set by the Decepticons to invade earth.

(SPOILER WARNING: This review has a couple of minor spoilers that pertain to the plot.)

Analysis:
As someone who genuinely appreciated the first "Transformers" movie and probably gave its sequel more of a pass than others, it's sad to say that Michael Bay has learned nothing from the criticism of "Revenge of the Fallen," proving once again that given the budget, he'll do whatever he wants without giving a damn that people might actually pay to sit through it. Going in with few expectations, "Dark of the Moon" has a lot of potential to improve upon the problems of the last movie but instead gets sucked even deeper into the thoughtless style-over-substance filmmaking that Bay has been accused of often.

After a flashback to the '60s to establish the existence of the Autobot ark on the moon--complete with appearances by ersatz Presidents JFK and Nixon--we're brought back to a few years after the previous movie as Shia LaBeouf's Sam Witwicky is now looking for a job after saving the world twice. Once again, he's paired with a girlfriend clearly out of his league, played by British supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whitely, something that becomes even more obvious when Sam meets her boss, played by Patrick Dempsey. The first hour plays somewhere between a music video and a video game. Mostly focusing on updating the audience on the cast with a couple of Transformers moments thrown in between. Only a few of the bits meant to be funny actually work like reintroducing John Turturro's ex-fed during a Bill O'Reilly segment where he's pimping his new tell-all book.

The general plot revolves around a bunch of "pillars" on the ark that can be used to bring Cybertron into earth's orbit, which the Decepticons plan on activating with little regard for the human life that will be lost. It's classic alien invasion fare, but we never really get a good explanation of why Sentinel Prime has switched sides rather than helping the Autobots return home. Apparently, there have been Decepticons hiding on the moon, something that was never established earlier, but obvious plotholes and weak storytelling are both glossed over as the last hour turns into a full-on Decepticon invasion as they reduce Chicago to rubble, led by a single-eyed Decepticon named Shockwave that controls a giant robotic centipede. Megatron, looking even worse for wear than in the previous movie, returns for a final showdown with Optimus Prime that seems shoehorned into an already convoluted plot.

Despite trying to play more grown-up roles in recent years, Shia LaBeouf reverts back to the fast-talking smart-mouthed kid we met in the first movie, and the relationship stuff between Sam and his girlfriend Carly not only is unbelievable but it's also mostly unbearable, partially because Huntington-Whitely can't act. Just to give you some idea of the way she's objectified, Bay introduces her character's ass first. For whatever reason, she's also included in many of the later action sequences, always looking sexy, never showing a scratch despite being put into all sorts of rigorous situations. Whatever you want to say about Megan Fox, she had the fire in her that made you believe she could be thrown into situations like the one in Cairo without freaking out; you never get that impression with her replacement, whose acting is so bad, she makes Blake Lively's recent performance in "Green Lantern" seem like Oscar bait.

It's fairly obvious that most of the problems lie in the screenplay and the last movie's bad dialogue from the fast-paced riffing between the humans to the robot's lines, carries over to this one, this time solely written by Ehren Kruger. Sam's parents are once again what kills the movie as it deteriorates into sub-"American Pie" sophomoric humor whenever they're around. We won't get into Ken Jeong who we're already so sick of this summer that you almost feel like cheering when his ridiculous homophobic character is killed. Granted, you'd think that with actors on par with Frances McDormand or John Malkovich, the movie might survive the usual problems suffered by Bay's movies, but they're dragged into the same over-the-top characterizations as anyone else who enters the franchise. This is true in spades for Patrick Dempsey who halfway through the movie reveals he's working for the Decepticons--what a shocking coincidence!--and immediately starts acting like the typical cartoon bad guy.

If the human actors weren't embarrassing enough, you have all sorts of robots with ridiculous accents and affectations, the villains hissing at our heroes like the type of caricatures we've come to expect from bad Hollywood blockbusters.

Just when you think you've been spared from Tyrese Gibson's grandstanding, he shows up, leading a crack team of personality-free soldiers, culled right from "Battle: Los Angeles" no less. Despite all that destruction and death, the military personnel join Sam to help him save his girlfriend from Trump Tower, the last building left standing apparently, rather than focusing on the larger problems at hand. It's always disappointing when actresses are used merely as damsels in distress to be saved and forgotten, but it's even more ridiculous when you have this supermodel running around in stylish clothes and high heels in slow motion along with these hardcore soldiers while the explosions go off around them. Even in the adolescent fantasy world of Michael Bay, it's hard to swallow this insane scenario.

On top of that, we're forced to sit through more inane silliness presumably done to sate the kids including two smaller smart-alec robots, Wheelie and Brains, who clown around and try to act cute for comedic effect. They are one of four or five robot characters in the movie who are as annoying as Jar Jar Binks, and maybe one could forgive Bay's attempt at sating young moviegoers if he didn't fill the movie with all sorts of profanity you wouldn't want your kids under 10 to pick up.

The 3D is well-executed but with so much going on in every frame, it makes it harder to keep pace with what is going on, as robots are changing back and forth between cars and 'bots. In fact, not since Tim Burton's "Alice in Wonderland" has a movie given me such a headache or made me feel so nauseous and that's not an experience I would wish for my worst enemy let alone someone asking for a movie recommendation.

Essentially, "Dark of the Moon" has all of the same problems as dogs like "2012" and "Battle: Los Angeles" in terms of storytelling and writing. The fact that the last hour contains more senseless destruction than "Armageddon" and more long-winded hero speeches than "Pearl Harbor," proves that like his characters, Bay has become a caricature of himself. Without having enough of a story to fill the ridiculously long two and half hour runtime, Bay overloads the viewer's brain with lots of crazy spectacle in hopes they'll forget what an incoherent mess the movie is. The fact that major characters come close to death more than once and you never feel a thing about them possibly dying is also a major problem.

The Bottom Line:
With the three "Transformers" movies, Michael Bay has essentially created his "Star Wars" prequels for a new generation, and that is not a compliment. This is entertainment for 12-year-old man-children that's even more incoherent and incomprehensible than the previous movie, and the diminishing returns of this worthless franchise makes it obvious it's past time to put a bullet in its head. Sadly, money talks and the movie will make enough of it that this isn't the end of our agony.

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