a critiQal film review Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

Plot: Amid rumors that the Transformers had a key role in the space race between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf) takes his first steps into normal adulthood while trying to maintain his ties to Optimus Prime and the Autobots. Meanwhile, Shockwave, a Decepticon thought to be left behind on Cybertron, makes his bid for world domination.

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  • After an uneven start, Bay amps things up again for this third film and - despite the surprisingly noticeable absence of Megan Fox - delivers some eye-popping popcorn mayhem.

With all the movies of summer headed our way this month, there were a few we were definitely looking forward to. Despite a rather lackluster second film, full of ridiculous crude humor that turned the giant robots of our youth into laughingstocks, Transformers: Dark of the Moon would have been at the top of our must-see list this summer.

Then we heard some assurances from director Michael Bay that this third film would go back to what made the first film so entertaining. Phew! But wait – we quickly hear he’s summarily kicked Megan Fox to the curb and replaced her with lesser-known Rosie Huntington-Whitely? Sure, Fox wasn’t exactly a consummate actress, but can the girl we’ve come to know during the first two films really be that easily replaced?

Still, there’s something about seeing our childhood cartoon faves on the big screen, so even our unease couldn’t hold us back from wanting to see how this third film would turn out on the big screen. Not without trepidation then, we ventured into theaters for a third round with the robots in disguise with Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

Right off the bat, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is going to make viewers realize how much Megan Fox was a part of the previous films. Sure, viewers may have guffawed at her silly performances then. The appearance of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, however, does nothing but accentuate how much viewers will miss Fox this time around.

With the continuity totally destroyed from the last film (which ended with Fox and LaBeouf’s characters reaching the “I Love You” stage of their relationship), the new film has to waste time explaining why she’s been replaced in LaBeouf’s life. Then there’s Rose Huntington-Whitely’s performance. Sadly, she makes Megan Fox seem quite the thespian in comparison. While Fox’s – and now Huntington-Whiteley’s – main job is eye candy, Fox’s no-nonsense attitude gave some credence to her few lines in the first 2 films. Here, Huntington-Whiteley is more molded around Dunst’s ridiculously helpless Mary Jane from Spider-Man (2002) – becoming more of a burden for LaBeouf and the viewers than an asset. Even her supposedly cunning way to defeat her enemies near the climax of the film fails to make her look smarter. Instead, it only manages to make her enemy look stupider.

This, in turn, makes Shia look worse as well, since his pining over Fox in the first two films was part of his charm. This time, he’s lost that, and now expects beautiful girls to flock to his feet. That, plus his choice of dim-bulb Huntington-Whiteley, makes him seem more callous and unlikable. He keeps up that attitude by bullying his way past armed guards (!) into the latest shenanigans with the Decepticons. That’s a big change from the reluctant hero viewers have grown to know over the previous films.

But, the Autobots are still fun on wheels right? Well…mostly. Thankfully the core group, including Bumblebee and Optimus Prime himself are unchanged. The introduction of a new Autobot (with the distinctive voice of Leonard Nimoy, no less) helps erode some of the selfless heroic image of these human-liking giant robots. Trouble lies ahead for the Autobots – and for their image as well, although a last minute turnabout manages to help make up for a lot of that.

As with any sequel, Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon has a greater force arrayed against the heroes – which includes a more dastardly plot and vastly greater numbers. As expected, the heroes fall farther before pushing themselves back up and making their last stand. After the first two films, no one was thinking Michael Bay could top himself in terms of effects for this film. But, that first glimpse of the gigantic metal worm uprooting a building while the human heroes are fighting desperately to stay alive inside caused viewers to gape in wonder. Surprisingly, that glimpse from the trailer doesn’t even do justice to the incredible effect of that scene on the big screen.

As Chicago crumbles down around them, the Autobots and Decepticons wage war on a scale the previous films barely even dreamed of,. The human component – barely a speck on the landscape – are in for the fight of their lives in Bay’s attack on the senses that is Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Thanks to some newcomers (including people like John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Patrick Dempsey and Ken Jeong, not to mention another appearance from John Turturro) the special effects-laden madness stays firmly focused on the tiny human element. Unfortunately, the solid supporting cast aren’t helped much by Huntington-Whiteley and LaBeouf (who spends a bit too much time whining about how the world owes him something).

While it’s a fun ride when it starts revving up (set off by an attack on Jeong), this third film takes quite a bit longer to really get started, hitting a few bumps along the way before it finally hits it’s stride. And, of course, spending more than a few of those precious moments dissing it’s former co-star – something that could have been easily dropped in an effort to shorten the over-long 2-hour-30-minute running time.

C’mon Bay…take a cue from Iron Man 2 (2010). With just a few short words (“You were expecting someone else?”), Don Cheadle’s replacement of Terrence Howard’s version of the same character was dismissed. Without, as you may have noticed, two minor characters spending a conversation dissing on the previous occupant. Quick, and more importantly, classy.

Sadly, neither of those words works for Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Pure popcorn enjoyment? Sure. But despite names like Malkovich and McDormand in the mix, classy this isn’t.

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