Friday, July 1, 2011

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Review by Pete Roche

Pyromaniac director Michael Bay is now three entries deep in the movie franchise based on the Hasbro toy line, and his explosive M.O. hasn’t changed a bit. 

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON finds the noble Autobots racing the dastardly Decepticons for possession of a technology that would allow teleportation of Cybertron itself into Earth’s atmosphere.  Megatron (Hugo  Weaving) and his villainous vehicles plan to enslave humanity to rebuild their dying home world—but not if Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) can help it.  Sadly, Megatron is given short shrift again, playing second fiddle to other decidedly cooler baddies like Shockwave (whose mechanical DUNE worm literally chews up scenery by the city block) and murderous pterodactyl Laserbeak.

Bay would have us believe the 1969 lunar landing by Apollo 11 was orchestrated in response to the crash impact of an Autobot escape vessel on the moon eight years prior.  Buried in the derelict are energy pillars that can be operated only by their comatose keeper, Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy).  Buzz Aldrin himself briefs Optimus on this long-held NASA secret.  JFK and Nixon appear in archive footage and CGI reconstructions, a la FORREST GUMP.

Meanwhile, college graduate Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) lands a mailroom job in the employ of high-strung, color-conscious, Bumblebee-ticklish John Malkovich.  Sam could probably earn a hundred grand a pop at speaking engagements, if only he were free to discuss his Autobot exploits.  He isn’t.  Instead, he keeps tabs on new love interest Carly, whose car-buff boss (Patrick Dempsey) has his eye on her—and his mind on the coming mech-war.

Token army tough guy Col. Will Lennox (Josh Duhamel) is back with his peculiar chickenhawk haircut.  John Turturro returns as goofy ex-government agent Seymour Simmons.  Francis McDormand’s mannish Secretary of Defense insists on not being called “ma’am” (and between her boorish bureaucrat, Sam’s interchangeable arm candy bimbos, and his precocious mother, it would seem Bay has no place for sympathetic women in the series).  Hip-hop Autobots Skids and Mudflap are mercifully replaced by two pint-size robot refugees living in Sam’s apartment.  Wheelie and Brains—along with Seymour and his trigger-happy sidekick, Dutch—supply laughs without pandering to stereotypes so often.  Ken Jeong (THE HANGOVER) cameos as Sam’s nerdy, conspiracy theorist colleague. 

The action is a marvel of digital choreography, with robot pirouettes, swordfights, and mid-chase metamorphoses rendered in gorgeous slow motion.  At one point Bumblebee—in the guise of a yellow Chevy Camaro—jettisons passenger Sam on the freeway, transforms to swap blows with a robot pursuer, and switches back again seconds later without letting the mortified Sam touch ground.  Later, Sam and co. slide down the glass exterior of a crumbling skyscraper—only to fall through a broken window and continue their plummet inside, in the opposite direction.

But these slick sequences too often exist for their own sake, dropping jaws without actually bolstering narrative.  This may be the funniest, best-looking TRANSFORMERS film—and LeBeouf’s most physically demanding work to date.  But ponderously padded at 150 minutes, it’s also the series’ most taxing installment.  So much doesn’t make sense, not least of which being why the President doesn’t simply nuke Chicago when events there threaten to obliterate the human race (and Michigan Avenue, Navy Pier, and other downtown landmarks are already destroyed).  Sorry, Oprah.  2 out of 4 stars. 

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