Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

transformers 3 dark of the moonThere are two types of moviegoers, story/plot fans and action/special effects fans. Those of you that love a good story and good acting will detest Transformers: Dark of the Moon. If you’re a fan of special effects and seek entertainment on the big screen, a few hours of escape and some righteous butt-kicking and loud explosions, you’ve already enjoyed Transformers and might even have forgiven Michael Bay and team for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. You’ll like Transformers 3, and there’s no question, it’s going to open big this weekend, especially with Bay actively encouraging people to see it in 3D and encouraging theater owners to crank up the projectors so that the 3D version isn’t dull and lifeless.

The story starts out surprisingly strong, with a conspiracy that reaches back fifty years to the Cold War, the Apollo program and even the disastrous meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. With overlap from X Men: First Class and the yet-unreleased horror film Apollo 18, the first 45 minutes or so were really good, far better than I expected. Then the entire film collapsed into incoherence propelled forward just as much by setups for sarcastic repartee and embarrassing homophobic jokes as by anything to do with the increasingly MIA storyline.
Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBoeuf) is back as the clumsy nerd-done-well, though after jettisoning the annoying Mikaela (Megan Fox) he’s now living with equally gorgeous Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). Inexplicably, they’re in a relationship and sharing a funky warehouse apartment that has enough space that Autobot Bumblebee can actually come up a freight elevator and park in the living room. Even though Sam’s unemployed.
See, there I go again, expecting a storyline that’s logical, a film that makes sense, and some sort of narrative thread that has elements introduced, explained and resolved as the film proceeds. That’s just not what Transformers: Dark of the Moon is about, however, so if you’re one of those story-driven film fans, you will want to skip this film. On the other hand, if you’re just looking for a big screen entertainment with truly amazing visual effects, this is escapism at its finest. Turn off your brain so you don’t worry about story and don’t grimace every time Huntington-Whiteley is trying to act and you might just find this a great ride.

The mythos of the Transformers series revolves around distant planet Cybertron, which was home for both the Autobots and Decepticons until a great battle tore the planet asunder and saw the demise of the entire Autobot race. Except for those few Autobots who managed to find their way to Earth, that is, and — as explained in the opening of the film — Sentinel Prime, the boss Autobot who had a secret weapon to preserve his race but, alas, crashed his spacecraft into the far side of our moon in the early 1960s on his way to Earth. Ooops.

Zoom forward to 2011 and the Autobots are working in parallel with the American military from their secret NEST headquarters in the middle of downtown Washington DC. From the end of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the Decepticons have all been destroyed. Or have they?  Turns out that secret weapon that Sentinel Prime invented is much coveted and the film is really about the race between the Decepticons and the Autobots/humans to gain control of it.

transformers dark of the moon publicity still

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Meanwhile, Sam is trying to get a job, girlfriend Carly is working for handsome, crazy wealthy, and predictably evil biz CEO Lennox (Josh Duhamel), and Sam’s parents Ron (Kevin Dunn) and Judy (Julie White) visit just long enough to be annoying, introduce some idiotic dialog into the movie and begin the homophobic humor that contributes to the film falling apart as it proceeds. But wait, smart-aleck New Yorker Simmons (John Turturro) is back and this time he’s part of the military-industrial complex and just about mainstream, which is a bit odd given his anti-establishment personality in the prior films.

There’s always some establishment bureaucrat in these sort of action films and this time it’s Secretary of Defense Charlotte Mearing (Julie McDormand). She has one of the many cliché roles in the film that seem to serve a purpose in the story rather than being understandable characters with motivations of their own. She fights half-heartedly with Sam, criticizes his youthfulness and rolls her eyes when he insists he was awarded a medal of honor from the President (that flashback is quite funny, actually) then treats him as a mostly respected advisor.

There’s a great cameo in the film from NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin (playing himself). I can only wonder about his opinion of the production and how Transformers 3 wove his Apollo mission into the storyline. That’d be a great interview, and it’s worth recalling that Buzz was just a few ladder steps behind Neil Armstrong’s small step for man onto the moon on the Apollo 11 mission.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon isn’t a complex story, however, but beautiful women — have I mentioned how smokin’ hot Carly is, and what a terrible actress Huntington-Whiteley is portraying that role? — sexy cars, including a sweet Mercedes SLS AMG, jive-talking robots — though this time we have English street thug Transformers rather than the far more offensive African-American racist stereotype Transformers from T2 — and big, bam, boom, explosions and destruction in glorious 3D. In that regard, it’s a complete success. The film is visually amazing, from its scenes on the moon to the occupation and destruction of Chicago.

Your ability to enjoy this film is going to be limited simply by whether you can turn off the logical side of your brain and just enjoy the movie for what it is, a roller coaster amusement park ride on the big screen. Certainly a lot of people at the screening I attended shouted at the screen, cheered, and clapped at the appropriate moments, and even one film critic friend of mine said “it wore me down and I actually liked it, even with all its flaws”. Faint praise indeed, but perhaps enough for you to set your expectations walking into the theater to see Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

5 comments on “Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

  1. I think the film’s strong 3D presentation could change a few hearts and minds about the technology.

    But … it may be too late. Hollywood delivered too many lousy 3D films which all but ruined the format.

  2. I think that the 3D wasn’t too bad, but it still wasn’t compelling. Honestly, I think that the higher-res digital projection systems (like Sony’s 4K system) are going to make more of a difference than a system that requires you wear goofy glasses and generally lacks the visual dynamic range of a regular 70mm or digital projection.

  3. … “girlfriend Carly is working for handsome, crazy wealthy, and predictably evil biz CEO Lennox (Josh Duhamel)” …
    Wasn’t she working for Dylan Gould (Patrick Dempsey) ?

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