Review: Killer Action Makes 'Transformers: Dark of the Moon' Worth It
by Jeremy Kirk
June 29, 2011
Misplaced humor has always been the biggest swamp to wade through to get to the bang of Michael Bay action movies. Sure there's stale dialogue—not usually his fault—a cut every 18 nanoseconds, and camera movement that calls for a Ritalin, but most of that can be overlooked for the sheer velocity and execution of his massive action scenes. It's that damn comedy, the goofy yelling, the broadly quirky characters, and Anthony Anderson that are the hardest hurdles to leap even when the good stuff is very near in sight. It's why the last Transformers movies, Revenge of the Fallen, and to a lesser extent the first Transformers don't work as well as they should.
Well, there's some worry in the newest movie in the series, Dark of the Moon. The comedy is still there, misplaced as ever, but whether it's due to acceptance, exposure, or the least likely candidate of it not being as awful as previously seen, it's easier to look through. It's easier to see past the first 90 minutes of this movie, most of which is loaded down with the stuff. It's easier to get to the last 60 when things really go boom. And, boy, do they go boom in all the right ways, all the ways you expect from a summer blockbuster, all the ways that get your geek flag flying high, you adrenaline pumping, and your eyeballs swinging from left to right in pure visceral joy. In a nutshell, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, or 2/5th of it, at least, is awesome in the most literal sense of the word.
All the goodies—Autobots—and baddies—Decepticons—that you know and love are back, but this time it's our very own United States history that seems to come back and bite them all in the fender. Beginning in the '60s, the film shows us how an alien craft, one from the Transformer home planet of Cybertron, crash-landed on our moon. The space race was created for the sole purpose of getting to the moon and discovering just what is on that alien ship. It's a prologue that has conspiracy theorists' minds reeling and historical buffs' anger gauge peaking.
Jump ahead 40+ years later when our human hero, Sam Witwicky, played again by Shia LaBeouf, is trying to find his place in life after the events of the first two films. He knows he's important, but without the ability to tell people what exactly he's accomplished, he's just another faceless soul looking for work and trying to impress his new girlfriend, Carly, played with more solidity than Megan Fox - it doesn't take much - by model-turned-actress Rosie Huntington-Whitley. Once Optimus Prime and the Autobots learn of crashed ship still resting on the moon, events are set in motion to begin what could be the final battle between the two opposing robot sides.
Yes, it's those first half moments in Transformers: Dark of the Moon that make you wonder if we have another Revenge of the Fallen on our hands. Goofy characters played by notable actors pop up including John Malkovich as Sam's new boss and the returning John Turturro as Simmons. Frances McDormand, acting much less goofy than the rest, also shows up as the US Secretary of Defense. Ken Jeong shows up acting surprisingly subdued even for Jeong or Bay standards. There's enough story progression and hints of the all-out visual assault that is to come, though, to keep the wheels firmly on track, but you realize a sharp left could easily send this train careening off and into an obnoxious oblivion.
We are introduced to Sentinal Prime, brilliantly voiced by Leonard Nimoy, who holds the key to the Autobots winning the war against the Decepticons and their leader, Megatron. Prime's appearance also holds the key to the latter half of Dark of the Moon, the point when everything shifts in terms of tone and the action really begins. It's at that moment, when tides turn, an Armageddon-esque shuttle launch takes place, and the third act kicks in that Transformers: Dark of the Moon really shows its astonishing face. You almost have to wonder if Bay and screenwriter Ehren Kruger started with the last half of the film, the image of hundreds of robots descending on a burned out downtown Chicago, and reverse engineered back to how they got there. It doesn't matter, because once that last half kicks in, the shoulder straps come down, the 3D glasses tighten, and you're in for one hell of a ride.
The last hour of Dark of the Moon is really for anyone who liked Battle: Los Angeles, but felt the scale wasn't big enough or the tone wasn't dark enough. Dark of the Moon offers a surprisingly scary depiction of a metropolis under attack, people being wasted away to hardly anything, and the dust and metal wreckage of an apocalyptic landscape and its population trying to survive a war they didn't even know they were in.
And this is where Michael Bay shines, has always shined. The spectacle is something that has to be experienced to be believed. To say that the action in Dark of the Moon is non-stop, eye-opening, and all-around staggering still doesn't seem to do it justice. To say that it includes shots—shots that really need to be seen in 3D—of men jumping out of planes that make you literally feel like you're going over that first hill of a roller coaster still doesn't live up to actually taking it all in for yourself.
Unfortunately, and there's always an "unfortunately" when dealing with Bay, that action isn't the only thing Transformers: Dark of the Moon delivers. To grade the film in parts seems the only fair assessment one can give it, and in doing that, it's easy to say the first 90 minutes are an average 5-6/10, but that last 60 minutes easily hits a 9. The 3D, hardly ever a plus for any movie, does a magnificent job of pulling you in. The robots, the bad ones, anyway, are scary, and the good ones are noble, humane, and even sometimes quite badass. The action, well, that's why you go to a Michael Bay movie. That's why you go to a Transformers film, and even if Transformers: Dark of the Moon has some bad but not atrocious jungle to chop through, the action-packed city of gold on the other side makes it all worthwhile.
Jeremy's Rating: 7.5 out of 10