Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Review: "Transformers: Dark of the Moon"


The third go-round with the killer robots from outer space gets points for coherence -- at least when it comes to individual scenes, if not the story as a whole.

My biggest beef with the first two "Transformers" movies was that they were slick, soulless pieces of entertainment built around special effects that just weren't very special. The heroic Autobots, who can transform into mechanized sentient beings into trucks and sports cars and such, just weren't visually distinctive.

Other than stalwart leader Optimus Prime (voice by Peter Cullen) and Bumblebee, who's a bright yellow sports car in his disguised form, I could never really even tell them apart.

Things got worse whenever they went into battle with the Decepticons, their enemy cousins. Director Michael Bay and an army of CG animators churned out one confusing action scene after another, with the Transformers changing forms while flipping each other around like WWE wrestlers with chunks of metal flying off constantly.

With little for the eye to track, the audience couldn't tell where one robot ended and another began. At the risk of quoting myself, I wrote that experiencing these movies was "like watching piles of welded metal scrap caught in a Kansas twister."

Bay and the gang must have heard the clamor, because the action sequences are greatly improved in "Transformers: Dark of the Moon." They are relatively straightforward and coherent, and even manage to occasionally be viscerally affecting.

The plot, though, is a hot mess of seemingly endless exposition, double crosses, people running hither and fro without much reason, and a lot of unnecessary humans.
Shia LaBeouf reprises his role as Sam Witwicky, the hapless kid who is accurately dubbed "an alien bad news magnet." Whenever something is up with the Autobots and Decepticons, Sam is bound to be in the middle of it.

Having helped save the world twice, Sam is now out of college and can't find a job. His previous incongruously hot girlfriend (Megan Fox) has been replaced by another, Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), an English lass with thing for puppy-eyed losers like Sam. I did enjoy the barbed jokes aimed at Fox, who famously exited the franchise after saying some less-than-kind things about Bay & Co.

"She was mean," one of the smaller, impish Autobots quips.

The latest Decepticon scheme again features head baddie Megatron (Hugo Weaving) conspiring to defeat the humans and their Autobot allies using some new cosmic thingamajig. This time it's some pillars that were stowed away on a spaceship called The Ark when the Autobots were in their final days of losing the war against their enemies.

This ship crash-landed on the moon in 1961, and in an interminably long prologue sequence, we learn that the entire Apollo moon missions were undertaken for the sole purpose of exploring the wreckage.

They key to the magic pillars is Sentinel Prime, the long-lost Autobot leader who is resurrected by Optimus. Sentinel is voiced by Leonard Nimoy, who brings a new meaning to his familiar trope as Spock about the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few.

A whole lot of new human characters are introduced, without much purpose that I can see. Frances McDormand is a coldly calculating defense honcho; John Malkovich is a flaky CEO who gives Sam a job; Patrick Dempsey turns up as a rich guy whose sneer leaves no doubt about his loyalties in the coming conflict.

"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" is still cinematic empty calories, but it is marginally better than its predecessors, if only because the actions scenes have a semblance of sense.

2.5 stars out of four

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