Director Michael Bay’s latest “robots in disguise” opus opens with the 1969 Apollo 11 mission and mankind’s first steps on the Moon. Unbeknown to humanity, however, the mechanized alien race of Transformers arrived long before, and the technology it left behind is what drives the action in Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
The first Transformers film was a funny, playful take on the “boy and his robot” genre, but this installment of the blockbuster franchise has a darker, angrier spirit. Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), former savior of humanity and recent Ivy League graduate, can’t find a job. His super-hot ex-girlfriend has moved on, and even his best robot buddy Bumblebee can’t spend any time with him because he’s too busy protecting the Earth. Luckily for the male demographic, though, Sam finds a new super-hot, and super-rich, girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) to help him fend off the latest Decepticon plot to enslave humanity.
Certainly the most seamless use of 3D and computer-generated effects in a summer blockbuster so far, the robotic transformation and battle sequences in Dark of the Moon are jaw-dropping. Realistic CGI blends with the actors and the environment, moving the technology forward by leaps and bounds.
The casting for Dark of the Moon is just as impressive and over the top as the effects. Leonard Nimoy lends both his sci-fi cred and his vocal talents to the awesome new Autobot Sentinel Prime. John Malkovich (Dangerous Liaisons, RED), Ken Jeong (The Hangover) and Alan Tudyk (Firefly) each turn in quirky, scenery-chewing performances, while Frances McDormand (Fargo) and franchise veteran John Turturro loom nearly as large as their Transformers co-stars.
The film could certainly have benefited from 45 minutes of judicious editing – there’s so much action and gear-grinding madness that, as impressive as many sequences are, they go on for entirely too long.
In one epic scene near the movie’s climax, Sam, Carly and a team of soldiers stalk through the streets of a war-torn Chicago. Behind them, the city is aflame and hundreds of sheets of paper float about the landscape. It’s a beautiful shot meant to sell an intense alien apocalypse, but because the film clocks in at a staggering two and a half hours, battle-fatigued audience members might easily mistake those billowing reams for the shooting script, thrown into the air by an equally exhausted cast and crew.
Nobody could accuse Bay of not trying hard to make up for Revenge of the Fallen, the much-criticized second film in the series, but Dark of the Moon tries too hard. In fact, it throws everything, quite beautifully, at the screen in an effort to please the audience.
But, in the same way that great symphonies make use of silence and transitions, the best action movies are those that find places of quiet reflection to build tension and drive up the stakes. Unfortunately, there is no modulation in Dark of the Moon; nearly every line of dialogue is shouted. Consequently, characters don’t get the chance to arc in the film because they’re too busy running in place for 150 minutes.
To be fair, Dark of the Moon is a visually stunning film that pulls out all the stops to entertain — no matter what the cost. Unfortunately, that cost didn’t include another pass at the script.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon opens today nationwide.