Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011), directed by Michael Bay and written by Ehren Kruger (Blood and Chocolate, The Brothers Grimm), surprised me. After the hideously disjointed action-oriented wreck of the first Transformers (2007), I skipped Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009). However, the third installment, surrounding another Decepticon invasion, proved the better of the two. To truly shine, all Transformers needed was a cohesive plot to guide the action, which Dark of the Moon incorporates. I enjoyed the opening half hour, the nod to contemporary and space race politics, and the CGI. Unfortunately, the film’s best part surrounded the non-human actors and their dialogue, while the humans acted like two-dimensional comic relief a la Jar Jar Binks.
Unsurprisingly, the CGI, the Autubots, and the Decepticons proved the film’s true stars. The opening scene featured a great usage of 3D with toy-like, mechanical detail of Cybertron, the Transformers’ homeworld. Unlike the first Transformers movie, the switch between 2D man and CGI machine seemed smoother. From start to end, in the words of John Malkovich’s character, the film proved a “visceral” and “visual” experience. The Chernobyl set appeared sublimely beautiful in its emptiness. The film’s visual palate, including the austere white of Sam’s girlfriend’s workspace to the stark yellow of his office space, displayed a stylized aesthetic. The scenes following the opening included an awesome interspersion of 2D historical footage and 3D effects. Additionally, the 3D rendering continued throughout the movie, even in mundane scenarios such as job hunting, but those watching it in 2D shouldn’t have a problem.
The film featured some pretty heavy hitters concerning acting talent (and pop culture). Newcomers to the saga, Frances McDormand (National Security Chief Mearing), Patrick Dempsey (Dylan, Sam’s girlfriend’s boss); John Malkovich (Sam’s boss, Bruce Brazos); Alan Tudyk (Agent Simmons’ assistant, Dutch); Ken Jeong (Jerry Wang) and Buzz Aldrin all lent their gravitas. Even core fixtures Josh Duhamel (Major Lennox) and Tyrese Gibson (former Technical Sergeant Epps) really stepped into their characters. Kruger did a great job balancing the multiple characters and their plot lines. McDormand did a fabulous job as the no-nonsense security chief (while playing a Hollywood-cast female official who surprisingly rocks sensible shoes). Alan Tudyk had a great moment exhibiting his character’s dark side. And, Dempsey chewed up the scenes as Dylan (don’t get fooled by the film’s first half). Although I normally love Jeong, Malkovich, Shia LaBeouf (Sam) and John Turturro (former Agent Simmons), their manic acting, intent on exhibiting energy, reduced them into two-dimensional cartoons.
Despite the talented cast, my biggest complaint surrounded the human dialogue. In the alternation between Optimus Prime’s pathos and Sam’s cartoonish experiences, the humans seemed more like puppets while the CGI robots came across as the real actors. If we could split the film into two parts or wholly extricate the human, comic-relief oriented scenes, I would give the movie an A+. Unfortunately, the re-casting and re-writing of Sam’s love interest with Rosie Huntington-Whiteley (Carly) further emphasized that puppet-like quality through her doll-like dialogue and screenshots. Huntington-Whiteley did a decent job as a character written to two-dimensionally support and love her boyfriend. However, the opening scene panty shot close up, the extreme leg and cleavage shots, and the casual upskirt panty shot constructed her as walking eye candy. Additionally, the covert swipes at Megan Fox’s character (Mikaela Banes), with mini-transformers stating “she was mean” or Sam declaring “I moved onto something better,” seemed unnecessary.
Overall, this film proved a better member of the Transformer series than the movie that started it. With a running time of 154 minutes and a PG-13 rating for intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi violence, destruction, sexuality and innuendo (which might have equaled an R rating in the 1980s), the teenage boys that Bay seems focused on won’t be disappointed. Additionally, with a strong plot to drive the action, when we finally reached the ending scenes, Bay rewarded us with imaginative transformation sequences. I give it three clacks. Although I expected the film to fare poorly or to suck major league, I’m glad it didn’t. So, if you’re a long time fan of the series who shuddered at the first two, if you’re a girlfriend accompanying your boyfriend (or vice versa), or an adult accompanying your kid, don’t worry, you don’t need to pack a book. But, don’t be surprised if you find yourself cheering more for the Autobots than the people they protect.