Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Directed by Michael Bay
Screenplay by Ehren Kruger
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
How long is Transformers: Dark of the Moon? 157 minutes
What is Transformers: Dark of the Moon rated? PG-13 for intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality and innuendo.
‘Fritter and Waste the Hours in An Offhand Way’
Do you like to see robots blowing stuff up? Yes? Well then, the following review will have no relevance to you. Hell, you can skip the first hour of the unreasonably long, two-and-a-half hour feature and still get everything you want and not be lost in the slightest.
After the reviled second installment in the Transformers franchise (Transforms: Revenge of the Fallen) director Michael Bay claimed he learned lessons that were useful in making Transformers: Dark of the Moon. (Though with a gross of $402 million domestic/$836 million worldwide, would you care what a bunch of Internet critics think?) However, in his own way, Bay did learn something — “copy the format of the second film, except tone it down slightly.”
On the spectrum between the surprisingly good Transformers and the horrendous TF: ROTF, TF: DOTM falls much closer to the latter film than the first one. Although overall less offensive to one’s intelligence, this new movie is populated by the same mistakes as the 2009 effort. Bay once again fills his latest offering with useless subplots that go nowhere, secondary characters that affect nothing and do nothing (Rainn Wilson replaced by John Malkovich; Ken Jeong more-or-less filling the role played by Ramon Rodriguez), and relentlessly unfunny comic relief from both robots and humans. Although we no longer have Amos ‘n Andy, we do have that robot that humped Megan Fox’s leg and his tiny friend. Besides Optimus Prime and Bumblebee, the warrior Autobots still lack personalities and all Decepticons look giant and grey (or tiny grey bugs that have a Salacious Crumb voice going on).
In case you were wondering, we also get to see Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) deal with his insecurities yet again and scream in frustration a lot. As the movie begins…
Well, the movie actually starts with us learning about how the 1960s space race was in response to an Autobot (Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy), commander of the Autobots before Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen)) crashing on the moon — an interesting concept that disappointingly only serves as a mostly pointless gimmick.
As the movie proper begins, Sam is living in a giant loft with his new girlfriend Carly (model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who has more chemistry with LeBeouf than Fox did), who knows about his world saving past and doesn’t want him to put his life at risk again because of a throwaway line and a predictable backstory. Nevertheless, despite her doting over him, Sam’s still ridiculously neurotic because of his inability to find employment, because Secretary of Defense Charlotte Mearing (Frances McDormand) denies him access to the Autobots (who go on missions throughout the world hunting Decepticons, like in the second film), because Carly’s boss Dylan (Patrick Dempsey) is infinitely richer and more attractive than he is, and because his parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White) are visiting while on their cross-country road trip and he doesn’t have a job.
The biggest problem I had with the film is also the biggest problem I had with the second one. It’s incredibly boring. This goes for both the character “drama” and the action sequences. There’s only so much mileage you can get out of CGI blurs punching at each other, a lesson that the upcoming Cinderella Man remake Real Steel seems to take the next level of dullness.
As easy as it is to condemn a movie that primarily features robots blowing stuff up, that does not preclude the possibility that such a movie could work. Although Bay clearly has no Bible explaining the timeline or background behind the War on Cybertron or the Transformers’ history on Earth, there is obviously a mythology there worth delving into, rather than briefly alluding to. Even giving personalities to the robots beyond silly voices and accents could have provided some actual connection to the battle scenes, rather than leaving us to awe at buildings toppling over. Besides, just because you force us to walk the empty steps of humanity does not mean we actually care about Sam, Carly, Lennox (Josh Duhamel), Epps (Tyrese Gibson), or the numerous red shirts.
Although this isn’t an “actor’s film,” a few of the performers do provide some reprieve from the monotony. Turturro continues to bring a liveliness to his role, despite not having a “scrotum” line this go around. Although Frances McDormand does not have much to do as Mearing (she distrusts the Autobots and constantly underestimates Sam in a case of Jack Bauer Syndrome), her scenes with Turturro show a chemistry between the two Coen Brothers stalwarts (who, surprisingly, have never shared a Coen Brothers movie). Firefly‘s Alan Tudyk as Dutch, Simmons’ German assistant, is probably the most amusing distraction in the entire series. And Buzz Aldrin (playing himself) clearly has no idea how to interact with CGI creations, nor does he yell at the moon.
Sam’s parents, whom I actually did enjoy in the first film for being parents in a Steven Spielberg movie who weren’t negligent dicks, seem to have changed for the worse. There’s no cringe-inducing pot brownie scene in this one, but the mother is pronouncedly more vulgar (I have zero problem with vulgarity, it just didn’t fit the character; maybe those evil reefer cakes did permanently affect her) and the father is needlessly insulting to his son, whom he had previously always seemed to support.
To conclude, let me bring up one final aspect about the film’s universe that fascinated me, but that the filmmakers dropped the ball on (much like the entire moon landing conspiracy). The entire world knows about our visitors from Cybertron. Not secret government units, not governments as a whole, but everyone in the world is apparently aware that we have aliens on Earth. When the Autobots have to leave Earth, it’s on every television station.
Yet, we receive no indication of how the world changed due to this knowledge. Do people act any differently? Does the world trust them? Is their exile met with cheers or jeers? Is there some kind of Cybertronian subculture? Do they have a press agent? Why not Sam, who is derogatorily called a “messenger” during the film? Dark Of The Moon ignores all of these concepts so we can see Sam wrestle with the same demons he wrestled with during the first two movies.
This links to another issue I had with the film. The government forbids Sam from disclosing his involvement in any of the events of the previous two films, which he claims is a major reason behind his employment woes. However, Megatron called for him by name on every television set and radio in the world in ROTF (people even reference the FBI seeking him out in this film), the world presumably knows that Megatron is an alien if not the deadliest villain the world has ever known, and Sam constantly brags about his Presidential medal. Clearly, he was somewhat involved with the Giant Egyptian Tragedy of 2009. He should be some sort of minor celebrity.
Post Script: I saw this movie in 3-D. It’s not worth the extra cash…