Better late than never, I’ve finally seen probably the biggest action movie of the summer, Transformers: Dark of the Moon. Anything would be an improvement over the bloated, incoherent mess that was Revenge of the Fallen and Dark of the Moon moves back towards the fun of the first movie with some spectacular action sequences, even though it takes about an hour to get to any true action.
We pick up the story of Sam Whitwicky and the Autobots a year since the Autobots arrived on Earth. While Optimus and the ‘bots are helping NEST take down terrorists, Sam is trying to get a job and mooching off his new girlfriend, Carly. While on a mission in Chernobyl, Optimus and NEST discover a piece of the Ark, the only Autobot ship to escape from Cybertron. It’s then revealed that the entire reason for the 60’s space race was that the US and USSR were trying to reach the crashed Ark on the moon. The Ark was carrying the technology to build a space bridge for transporting supplies and refugees to another planet and the inventor and captain of the Ark, Sentinel Prime. I don’t want to ruin too much of the plot but eventually an entire invasion force of Decepticons are transported to Earth and completely take over Chicago to use it as a base for total planet conquest. Optimus, the Autobots, Sam and NEST all head into the city to stop the Decepticons and save the Earth.
The glaring problem with Dark of the Moon is that it is way, way, too effing long. For the first hour of the movie there are little sprinklings of Transformers action but for the most part it’s the one thing that Michael Bay is terrible at, character interaction. There are people in this movie that, while they are awesome actors, are completely pointless. John Malkovich, Ken Jeong and Andrew Daly all show up for about five minutes each, have some sort of crazy character affect and then disappear or are killed. There’s also large amounts of exposition that you could have covered in one scene and then cut 30-45 minutes out of the movie with little ill effect on the plot. If Michael Bay had done a solid, focused first 45 minutes and then had the awesome hour long action sequence that ends the movie, it would have been fantastic. There’s also the obligatory visit from Sam’s parents in the beginning, Sam being jealous of Patrick Dempsey and Frances McDormand being a huge bitch (to her credit, she is fun to hate). The only interesting plot pieces from the first hour or so that work are the space race stuff and the revelation that Soundwave and Laserbeak have been, for years, coercing humans into doing jobs for them and then killing them.
As is the norm for Transformers, there are a ton of new robot characters but there are a only a few that work. Leonard Nimoy brings a ton of gravitas as Sentinel Prime and Laserbeak is a surprisingly fun and sadistic character. The big thing that Dark of the Moon was promoting was that fan favorite Transformer Shockwave would be in the movie and he is pretty cool (he controls the giant worm thing you see in the trailers) but he’s in the first ten of minutes of the movie and then completely disappears until the Chicago battle almost an hour and a half later. The rest of the new bots are either cannon fodder Decepticons or not as offensive but still horribly stereotypical Autobots like the weirdly Spanish Dino or angry British Wreckers. Bumblebee and Optimus are still far and away the most well defined characters (Peter Cullen could voice a toaster and I would still follow it into the depths of Hell). Megatron is weirdly sidelined for pretty much the entire movie, although he is still recovering from the ass whomping he got from Optimus at the end of Revenge of the Fallen.
Once the action actually kicks in after the first hour or so, it is almost non stop and most of it is spectacular. It doesn’t really make any sense why they are used but the wing suit sequence is amazing, especially considering that stuntmen actually did fly through Chicago skyscrapers. The scene you can see in the trailer where Sam and crew are trapped in a collapsing building is also pretty stunning. As in the last two movies, the best action sequences involve Optimus but, in another weird decision by Bay, Optimus gets fucking tangled in a crane and is out of the action for almost 20 minutes but when he jumps back in, it’s great. If you want to see shit constantly exploding and Chicago almost completely leveled, Dark of the Moon is the movie for you.
The first Transformers movie is still far and away the best movie in the series but Dark of the Moon is a solid second place with Revenge of the Fallen a distant third. Michael Bay desperately needs to hire an editor but he is still a master of staging action sequences and the 3D definitely adds an extra “wow” factor to the action. If you’re prepared to dedicate most of your day to it and you were a fan of the first movie, I would say definitely check out Transformers: Dark of the Moon, just be prepared to slog through the first hour to get to the awesome last hour.
3.5 out of 5