Time will tell whether Transformers: Dark of the Moon really is the final Transformers film for both director Michael Bay and star Shia LaBeouf, but it’s certainly the best one in this hugely successful, but widely loathed franchise. It’s devoid of Decepticon testicles, Autobot heaven, offensive robots — and Megan Fox.
Here’s the plot to the threequel in a nutshell: A sweet prologue (marred only by a phony-looking digital JFK) recounts the war for Cybertron and the real reason behind the U.S.-Soviet space race of the 1960s. Cut to the present where Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) struggles to find his first post-college job, while the Autobots led by Optimus Prime and the U.S. military’s NEST team led by Lt. Col. Lennox (Josh Duhamel) work in tandem to take out the remaining Decepticons around the world. However, the evil ‘bots eventually get the upper hand and begin an invasion to conquer the Earth with Chicago as Ground Zero in this final war between the Autobots/humans and Decepticons. There’s more going on, but for the sake of spoilers we’ll keep it at that.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon definitely has more of a plot than either of its predecessors. There are genuine stakes this time, and it’s the first Transformers film where you actually get some sense of physical or emotional consequence to the events that transpire. (That said, the timing of the villains’ scheme makes no sense given all that’s happened in the series thus far.) Mostly the film works because of its great 3D action scenes. Transformers 3 could very well be 3D’s savior in light of its waning box office appeal in recent months. The ‘bots battles have never been more vibrant or entertaining than they are in this installment. Unlike say Green Lantern or Pirates 4, Transformers 3 really is a movie you need to see in 3D. The 3D action highlights transpire mostly during the film’s final hour in Chicago, such as the wingsuit jump sequence and the set-piece where Sam, his new girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) and the now-retired Epps (Tyrese Gibson) are inside a collapsing skyscraper.
Bay’s action scenes here are bigger, better and more brutal than any in the first two films, even though it’s still tough at times to tell the robots apart in battle. That said, the ‘bots have far more distinct personalities than in the past movies. When a ‘bot dies here, you feel it unlike when Jazz bought it in the first film. But more humans perish here than robots, with scores of poor Chicagoans blasted when the Decepticons establish base camp in the Windy City. (The Chicago invasion sequence alone makes the film worth the price of admission.) The Decepticons are legitimately scary at times here, such as when they invade the homes of their human allies, an assassination sequence that’s creepy.
On the performance front, Shia remains the reason why the viewer is even interested in whatever human element this VFX-driven franchise offers. It was nice to see Sam still having to struggle to prove his worth despite having saved the earth twice before. Victoria’s Secret model-turned-first time actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley makes you forget all about Megan Fox within moments of seeing her onscreen. Where Fox’s love interest was skanky, Rosie’s is charming, sweet and, yes, hotter than hell. Patrick Dempsey makes for a great jerk as Carly’s boss Dylan Gould, who is unsurprisingly not as nice as he initially seems. Dempsey could have really twirled the proverbial mustache here, but he goes for the sleaze rather than the camp.
As they have twice before, Duhamel and Gibson reliably provide the action movie muscle in their underwritten, one-dimensional roles. Frances McDormand tries to class things up and bring an edge of seriousness to the proceedings as National Intelligence Director Mearing. It is indeed strange to see two Coen Bros. staples like McDormand and John Turturro playing major supporting roles in a Transformers film. Speaking of Turturro, he once again chews the scenery as former FBI agent Simmons. While he’s not in the film as much as he was in the second one, Turturro’s hammy turn is still enough to mar the proceedings.
The backstory between Simmons and Mearing was unnecessary and annoying, but not as much as the inclusion of John Malkovich and the ubiquitous Ken Jeong, both of whom quickly outstay their welcome with protracted, awkward and unfunny scenes. While not as grating as either Anthony Anderson or Ramon Rodriguez were, Alan Tudyk pops up as the extraneous comic relief this time. And, of course, Kevin Dunn and Julie White reprise their schticky roles as Sam’s parents, albeit in a smaller dose than before.
The robots remain the real reason why people go to see these movies (sorry, Shia) and, thankfully, they’re better served here than they were last time around. Optimus Prime is finally depicted as the powerful robot warrior fans of the animated series remember him as, and his battles here are the best he’s ever had in the trilogy. Megatron is also back, badly disfigured by the Egyptian battle at the end of ROTF. Starscream, Shockwave and the Wreckers have their scene-stealing moments, while Wheelie and Brains are thankfully not nearly as goofy or prevalent as recent TV spots have suggested. The biggest ‘bot role here besides Optimus is Sentinel Prime, voiced by Leonard Nimoy. He’s great as Optimus’ mentor and the Autobot discovered by the Apollo 11 astronauts during the film’s pre-credits sequence. (There are some Star Trek nods that will make fanboys chuckle.)
Michael Bay and Co. strive to redeem themselves here for Revenge of the Fallen. Did they succeed? Mostly. Of course, those who loathe the series won’t be convinced no matter what, but that begs the question why they’d even bother to see the third film let alone go in with an open mind. There are pacing problems and pockets of goofy humor in the first part of Act Two that threaten to derail the film, but it wisely course-corrects enough to save itself. Its last hour is the full-on human vs. robot war film that the Terminator series has always promised but never delivered. Transformers: Dark of the Moon may not be a great film, but it is largely great fun. In a summer movie season that’s only had a handful of films that have really offered that, it’s nice to see the Transformers exit the screen (at least for now) on a high rather than low note.
by Jim Vejvoda