Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) Movie Review

Spunky human hero Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) returns to save the day for the third time alongside his Autobot buddies, led by big rig badass Optimus Prime. Now out of college (courtesy of a Government-paid Ivy League education — he did save the world twice before, after all, it’s the least they could do), Sam has landed a prestigious job … in the mailroom of a company run by the (of course) eccentric John Malkovich. Oh yeah, Sam’s also got a new girlfriend, British beauty Carly (Victoria’s Secret supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, effortlessly standing in for the fired Megan Fox; standing around looking hot isn’t exactly brain surgery, after all), who works for a smarmy, high-flying playboy played by one of those dreamy doctors from those soap opera doctor shows what’s-his-name.

As “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” opens, we get a revisionist take on the events leading to the moon landing by Neil Armstrong and the boys. JFK’s reasons for going to the moon, we learn, was actually the crash-landing of a Transformers spaceship on the lunar rock. Fast-forward to the present, where Optimus Prime and the Autobots are continuing to root out Decepticons wherever they find them; the good machines are working alongside faithful Army guy Lennox (Josh Duhamel), now head of a not-so-secret Autobot-human task force housed inside a building that, it seems, everyone knows about. But the Decepticons, still led by a ravaged Megatron (who has definitely seen better days) have a plan, and it involves an ancient Autobot that has been trapped on the moon all this time — Sentinel Prime, Optimus’ mentor and former leader of the Autobots, thought long lost. Soon, the Decepticons have launched their latest scheme, which if successful, would enslave mankind. That’s Decepticons for ya — it’s always go big or go home with these guys.

Announced early on as the last film on the franchise for both director Michael Bay and star Shia LaBeouf, “Dark of the Moon” certainly feels like a swan song by the duo. It’s a loud, funny, and even at over two and a half hours, manages to be a breezy sci-fi action movie stitched together with an obscene amount of spectacular action set pieces involving elaborate robot action and outrageous humans vs. robots battles. After two movies that have combined to make over $1.5 billion dollars in global box office, it’s easy to imagine that Bay and company were given a blank check and unlimited resources with which to spin their latest robot invasion yarn. Certainly, they had enough money and gumption and Hollywood know-how to turn the city of Chicago into a battlefield that occupies the film’s entire Third Act, essentially one giant action set piece that runs for nearly a whole breathless hour.

There is only enough “story” to drive the film from one action scene to the next, but really, if you’re paying your money to see deep narrative plot points from a movie about robots from outer space that can transform into cool looking sports cars and that like to fight each other at every opportunity, you are seriously in need of some clinical help. The early parts of the film are devoted to Sam and his new life with new ladylove Carly, and Bay and screenwriter Ehren Kruger certainly don’t miss every opportunity to take shots at their former leading lady. Let’s just say Megan Fox should probably not attend opening night of “Dark of the Moon”. As with the previous two films, the comedy comes in the form of some joke-cracking robots that run around in the background, serving no real purpose other than comedy relief (and thankfully, these comedy reliefs have been stripped off any possible “ethnicity”, if you know what I mean). Sam’s miserable post-college life (hot as heck girlfriend notwithstanding) lends itself to some nice gags, including a hilarious series of doomed job interviews that concludes in front of John Malkovich, hamming it up as Sam’s unhinged employer. “The Hangover’s” Ken Jeong also lends his usual kookiness as a fellow officemate of Sam’s who knows a secret or two about the fighting robots.

As “Transformers” movies go, “Dark of the Moon” is definitely bigger and a hell of a lot more violent than the previous two movies combined. The alien robots are apparently common knowledge in the world now, and the Autobots seem to roam freely, mixing it up with their Decepticon rivals at every opportunity — on highways, freeways, city blocks, and basically trashing up the planet every other 30 minutes. Frances McDormand joins the cast as a Government suit named Mearing who is both amusing and annoying, but all awesome. Another great addition is “Firefly’s” Alan Tudyk, playing a character name Dutch, a former spy badass turned personal executive assistant to John Turturro’s ex-spook. When Megatron launches his latest plan for world conquest, it involves what appears to be the wholesale slaughter of Chicago’s citizenry, with civilians vaporized throughout the movie by hulking machines with hulking weaponry. In some instances, I thought I was watching Steven Spielberg’s remake of “War of the Worlds” all over again.

If “Dark of the Moon” is indeed Bay’s last movie on the franchise, he’s certainly going out with one hell of a bang. The film moves at such a fast clip that it’s liable to keep you breathless, with a great balance of comedy and action and heroics and unbelievable action set pieces. Really, Bay has outdone himself here, and while narratively speaking “Dark of the Moon” isn’t too much of an improvement over “Revenge of the Fallen” (but then again, I’m one of the few people who didn’t think that movie was an unmitigated disaster), he doesn’t seem to have lost any of his love for the fighting robots one bit. And finally, it’ll be interesting to see if the producers will be able to rope LaBeouf back as Sam Witwicky for future installments (because let’s face it, there WILL be more installments), especially since at this point he has so perfectly embodied Earth’s savior and best friend of the transforming good guy robots that it’ll be hard to see anyone standing in for him. But as long as the fighting robots return, more “Transformers” movies will always be ready for the making. And last I heard, Optimius Prime, Bumblebee, and the rest of these guys don’t have agents to re-negotiate their contracts. Yet.

Michael Bay (director) / Ehren Kruger (screenplay)
CAST: Shia LaBeouf … Sam Witwicky
Rosie Huntington-Whiteley … Carly
Josh Duhamel … Lennox
John Turturro … Simmons
Tyrese Gibson … Epps
Patrick Dempsey … Dylan
Frances McDormand … Mearing
John Malkovich … Bruce Brazos

Buy Transformers: Dark of the Moon on DVD