Transformers: Dark of the Moon

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Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Transformers: Dark of the Moon Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

They are back with a vengeance and in 3D! Optimus Prime, Megatron and the rest of the good, the bad and the ugly ‘bots return to fight the battle between good and evil and save the Earth from destruction in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.”

Robin:
If I were a kid who grew up playing with Hasbro’s Transformer toys, watching the TV series, playing with the video games and reading the comic books, I would be delirious about the release of the latest in the “Transformers” franchise. At least that is the impression I got from the audience of children and their parents who burst into applause and cheers as the credits began to roll. I, who was not a kid that did any of the above things growing up, felt like I was being released from prison.

I have to admit, the writer of “Transformers 3,” Ehren Kruger, shows some originality, at least in the beginning of this noisy, colorful hodge podge of CGI robots of various shapes and sizes doing battle with one another or mankind. The film starts out with Earth’s first deep space contact in the early 1960’s and JFK’s declaration that man will land on the moon before the end of the decade. Cut to Apollo 11 as it descends upon the lunar landscape in what turns out to be a secret mission to find an alien spaceship that crash landed years before. Then story (and intellect) is dropped and the 3D CGI takes over.

I was subjected to over two and a half hours of visual and aural cacophony that did not entertain me and only succeeded in giving me a throbbing headache. I reviewed the first “Transformer” film (and gave it a C but predicted that the fans would love it – I was right on both counts) but could not even sit through the second. I was not looking forward to #3 and expected nothing more than a rehash of the previous Michael Bay spectacles. And, that is exactly what I got.

When you look at the amazing cast that peoples “Transformers 3,” you expect to see some good thesping. With the likes of veterans Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, John Turturro, Kevin Dunn and lesser stars such as Patrick Dempsey, Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, Alan Tudyk and Ken Jeong (doing his usual Ken Jeong thing) you should expect a lot from this sequel. Then again, this is a Michael Bay film and expectations should never be high. The great cast is relegated to mostly background characters and the mechanical creatures and all of their battling takes over the film.

Unfortunately, the stars of “Transformers 3,” Shia LeBeouf and Rosie Huntington-Whitely, are as two dimensional as the plethora of mechanical characters that surround them. LeBeouf reprises his role from the first two films and simply goes through the motions as the CGI takes over the story. Newcomer, former Victoria Secrets model, Huntington-Whitely, is stunning eye-candy but the only reason for her to be here is to replace previous Transformers babe Megan Fox, especially her lips, as the damsel in distress.

Claims have been made by the filmmakers that this is a brand new “Transformers” and the last hour will blow your socks off, at least if you are the aforementioned kid. For me, the last hour had me checking the time every few minutes and wishing it would end sooner. A 154 minute run time is okay if the story is epic and the characters believable, sympathetic and real. Neither of these qualities can be used in describing “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” and the filmmakers should not be bragging about the last hour. Instead, they should find a way to cut the film by that hour. I might have liked it better. The fans, though, are going to love this film and flock to the box office to see it. I give it a C.

Laura:
When Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) was in high school and college and still dating Mikaela (before Megan Fox was fired for calling her director Hitler), all the Transformers fought over was the Allspark which gave them life.  Now that Sam's out of school and looking for a job from someone who respects his secret world-saving abilities, it appears that what is really important is Sentinel Prime (voice of Leonard Nimoy) and his ship, the Arc, and its cargo, which crash-landed during a failed attempt to save the planet of Cybertron from the Decepticons.  In fact, the U.S./Russian space race of the 1960's had a secret agenda - to find "Transformers: Dark of the Moon."

In my review of the second film, I said 'After 149 minutes, I felt like I had been sitting in an aluminum garbage can while someone drummed on the outside with a wrench.'  Well, while the third edition is definitely more entertaining, it is also 5 minutes longer and I had to take two aspirin when I got home.  "Dark of the Moon" is altogether more coherent in its story, editing and spacial integrity, but it still has flaws aplenty, the most objectionable being directory Michael Bay's use of national tragedies like the Challenger explosion and 9/11 as grist for his mill.

After a prologue which provides the back story of Cybertron and Sentinel's fate and the ensuing space race (complete with vintage footage and lousy JFK and Nixon stand-ins), we're treated to the derriere of Mikaela's replacement (British model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, less wooden, equally pooch-lipped and inappropriately attired at all times), Carly, climbing the stairs of her D.C. pad to rouse Sam.  She's a former employee of the British Embassy who met Sam cute outside the Oval Office after he'd been perfunctorily awarded a medal by Obama (another poor double).  Bay introduces his new love interest with someone in the background commenting 'what a great box' about Sam's medal packaging.

Meanwhile, Special Ops Sergeant Lennox (Josh Duhamel) is in Russia where something of interest is said to be in Chernobyl.  Decepticon Shockwave, a nasty burrowing giant earthworm, attacks and their winged assassin takes out their Russian human ally.  Back in D.C. Witwicky's embarrassing parents Ron (Kevin Dunn) and Judy (Julie White) have arrived 10 days early for a visit and Sam proves a terrible interviewer, but he does get a mail room job from the eccentric Bruce Brazos (John Malkovich), whose fondness for the color yellow and loathe for red promises some 'bot fun but heads nowhere, as does the character.  When Bruce's erratic VP Jerry Wang (Ken Jeong) 'suicides,' Sam smells Decepticons, but national intelligence director Charlotte Mearing (Frances McDormand, backing down to absolutely nothing in the film's most amusing performance) tells him he was a messenger, not a soldier, and that he has no place there despite his car Bumblebee's place within her top secret mission.

Then there's Carly's boss, Dylan Gould (Patrick Dempsey), a billionaire classic car collector who calls her Dutchess and gifts her with a $200K Mercedes.  Sam and his broken down yellow and black Datsun just can't seem to stack up. Then, against Sam's advice, Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen) wakens Sentinel and gets an unwelcome surprise, finding they've all been duped by a devious Decepticon plan.

Screenwriter Ehren Kruger ("Arlington Road," "The Ring"), who had a hand in the second travesty of a script, has cleaned things up considerably, but there are still muddled bits and loose ends.  Weaving in historical events, as did the recent "X-Men" reboot, works well until taste (Bay's) is overlooked - it's one thing to have Megatron destroy the Lincoln part of the Lincoln Memorial to take his seat, it's quite another to have characters 'surf' the side of a collapsing building like the infamous 9/11 myth or use Todd Beamer's Flight 93 call to arms yet again. The Challenger explosion imagery is by far the worst exploitation of tragedy for entertainment purposes.  There is a clever bit of movie homage when Bumblebee says goodbye to Sam mid-film, but it goes by too quickly to decipher on one sitting.  The film's much-commented upon final hour, where the Decepticons enslave humanity from a Chicago home base and try to build a bridge to Cybertron, does have a lot of thrills and special effects and even a real stunt with wing suit jumpers, but it is also overlong and loud, loud, loud.  The 3D is OK, although some figures in the forefront are too unrealistically divided from their backgrounds.  Bay has written a letter to projectionists about brightness levels in an effort to act like an auteur while championing the flagging 3D cause, but despite the bright primaries of the Transformers themselves, real actors faces are often too dark to make out amidst the mayhem.

LaBeouf has cranked his performance up to 11 here to entertaining effect - he's funny, constantly harried, physical and cocky.  McDormand steals every scene she's in.  As her admirer, Turturro redeems himself as the ex-special agent with hammy schmarm.  But Malkovich has been dealt a raw deal by Bay, giving him something delightful only to have it wadded up and thrown away.  Alan Tudyk fares a lot better as Dutch, Simmons's flamboyant assistant.  Sad to say that '24's' Glenn Morshower will probably be seen by a lot more people in this than the far superior "X-Men: First Class." And while we'd expect cameos from the likes of Fox News' Bill O'Reilly, Buzz Aldrin should be ashamed for equating his heroism with a Hasbro toy.

Shockingly, the third "Transformers" movie gives more bang for the buck than Pixar's "Cars" sequel, but it also doesn't know when to stop clanging.  Bay has partially redeemed himself for the dreadful "Revenge of the Fallen," but he's still defined by nothing more than flashy destruction, tastelessness and T&A.

C+
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