Movie Review - Transformers: Dark of the Moon (**1/2 out of 5)

Movie Review - Transformers: Dark of the Moon (**1/2 out of 5)
Transformers: Dark of the Moon. 157 mins. PG-13.

The newest Transformers is not so much an actual movie, as it is an action highlight reel strung together by cheese whiz.  It delivers a lot of bang for your buck, with a handful of jaw-dropping action sequences toward the end that are on a scale that is almost too big to believe.

But that comes at a price.  Without the aid of things like nuanced performances, clever dialogue, smart humor, intricate plotting, or measured escalation (it starts on a 10, and ends at 10), Transformers: Dark of the Moon is fun but exhausting.  It runs an overlong 2.5 hours, unnecessary really given how repetitive most of the action gets in the final half-hour, and the viewer is left pummeled upon exiting the theater, their senses beaten and bruised.

The set-up for Dark of the Moon is not bad.  Rewriting history as it goes, the Apollo 11 space mission to the moon reveals a crashed spaceship from the planet Cybertron, with leader of the Autobots, Sentinel Prime (voiced by Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy), aboard.  Fast forward to the present, where our hero Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is struggling to find a job, despite having (secretly) saved the world twice.

When Sam discovers that the evil Decepticons are back on Earth and threatening to colonize the planet and make it their own, he takes it to the government, including a no-nonsense official played by Frances McDormand, where his threats fall on deaf ears.  After the Decepticons make Chicago ground zero for their takeover and kidnap Sam's girlfriend (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, in for Megan Fox - no discernible difference talent-wise), Sam teams up with the Autobots to fight back and reclaim their home turf.

I liked the character development that screenwriter Ehren Kruger attempted with Sam here.  The frustration Sam feels at failing to matter in the world, after he's saved it twice is legitimate.  But director Michael Bay can only stay interested in that kind of stuff for so long before he gets distracted by all the pyrotechnics and drops that character arc cold turkey.

Bay has come out on record saying he is a fan of the Coen Brothers, and his casting decisions here reveal just that.  In addition to Coen regular McDormand, Dark of the Moon also features John Turturro and John Malkovich chewing up the screen.  None of these actors comes off respectably, probably because they were given free reign to go as big and broad with their characters as possible.  Malkovich, in particular, has a role of utter insignificance in relation to the rest of the movie.  I'm not quite sure what he's even doing here.

The objectification of women may also turn off some of you, while turning on others.  Huntington-Whitely makes her grand 3D appearance in a little dress shirt that just barely covers her ass.  The camera follows her backside all the way up the stairs to where Sam waits for her in bed.  Bay certainly knows his target audience.

Many of you, myself included, may take a special interest in Dark of the Moon given the extensive Chicago shoot last summer.  So, how does Chicago fare?  Quite well.  The city looks amazing, and it really is a kick to see it get destroyed so thoroughly.  Having said that, the destruction can get rather repetitive, as evidenced by the extensive reliance on Upper Wacker Drive as the go-to site for endless robot-on-robot fight scenes during the last half-hour.

My favorite action scene is probably the highway chase, involving three Decepticons and good-guy Autobot Bumblebee.  The seamless blending of CGI and live action, and stunt coordination on display  in this scene is a marvel.  You can't help but wonder how Bay does it, and shudder at the thought of all the pre-production planning and money that went into it.

A close second would be the squirrel suit flying sequences in the Chicago section.  When those guys jump out of a falling plane and fly through a toppling building, it's a real adrenaline rush.   And it looks amazing in 3D.

Dark of the Moon is still marred by many of the same problems associated with its predecessors: lame comedy with Sam's parents, robots talking in exaggerated, slightly-racist dialects, an overstuffed running time, lack of humanity, but it's a vast improvement over 2009's Revenge of the Fallen (easily Bay's worst film).  If it doesn't quite stand up to the first Transformers, it is only because the storytelling in Part 1 was cleaner.  Scale-wise, this one takes the cake though.

It may not satisfy as a movie, but as a big-budget action spectacle, it does the trick.  I recommend seeing it in a theater - in 3D - if you have any interest whatsoever in big f**king robots beating the shit out of each other and destroying Chicago in the process.

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