In 2007 many a childhood was revisited thanks to the release of Transformers, a loud, action-heavy film that brought to life the toy-turned-comic-turned-tv series under the direction of Michael Bay, the king of subtlety. As expected it made a fortune, and the fans responded positively which only meant one thing: Sequel! 2009's 'Revenge of the Fallen' was hotly anticipated and though it financially succeeded, audiences and critics, and eventually lead star Shia LaBeouf, all agreed that the film was a mess of epic proportions. Despite the backlash, a third was inevitable, if not for anything else, to right all the wrongs of its predecessor.
Working with a more coherent storyline than the previous instalment, Transformers: Dark of the Moon integrates the 1969 NASA moon landing into the plot, using John F. Kennedy's famous promise to put a man on the moon as a mere ruse for them to investigate the wreckage of a spacecraft. Eight years prior, with the outer-planet war between the Autobots (the good robots for the uninitiated) and Decepticons (the bad robots) still raging, Sentinel Prime, king of the Autobots, attempts to launch the Ark from their home planet Cybertron. The Ark contains advanced technology that could save the Autobot race, and due to a sabotage act from the Decepticons, it steers off course to crash on the moon, leaving us nosy humans to investigate. And yes this is the storyline that actually makes sense!
Despite its hefty running time (over 150 minutes!), the majority of the backstory is summed up in the opening pre-title sequence where we're quickly reacquainted with the franchise's unlikely hero, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf). Since finishing college he has scored himself a medal of honour from President Obama and saved the world twice but isn't finding much luck on the job front. Despite his unemployment, he's managed to charm Carly (Victoria's Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whitely, replacing Megan Fox), a wealthy, statuesque beauty who serves as an assistant to car enthusiast Dylan (Patrick Dempsey), and the dynamic of their relationship, him essentially being her toy boy, allows the film a few moments to let the actors breathe and emote before 3D CGI rears its head.
No one goes to a Michael Bay film expecting world-class acting or an intricate plot, and he certainly knows this as he dutifully packs the last hour of the film with one endless action sequence, and its an impressive one at that. He's also managed to add some decent names to the cast list, notably Frances McDormand who pops up as the United States Secretary of Defense, while Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson reprise their roles from the previous films, though if their faces weren't so familiar they'd merely fade into the background as they have little to do. Sam's parents, played by Kevin Dunn and Julie White, who were mainly the comic relief, are allowed little screen time and provide a few good laughs before being phased out.
Though Bay kept his word that the annoying duo of Autobots from the sequel, which were described as the 'Jar-Jar Binks of the Transformers series', would be deleted from this sequel, he unfortunately kept the painful character of Simmons (John Turtorro) and a strange subplot involving Ken Jeong (the flamboyant Mr Chow from The Hangover) that serves very little purpose apart from attempting to draw laughs, and given that he's gone just as quickly as he arrives, a little editing would've gone a long way. Then there's the extended cameo from John Malkovich as a potential boss for Sam. A few years ago I would've questioned just what an actor of Malkovich's calibre is doing in a Transformers film, but after Johnny English and Jonah Hex, it's evident he too is an actor that can give up his dignity for a healthy paycheck.
As with the last two films, nothing is underdone in terms of action and visuals and I suspect Bay knows just how ridiculous it all is. The 3D effects are wonderfully rendered, and, returning to the spectacle of the overwrought finale, the technology is utilised effectively. So many 3D films this year have wasted it, and made it more of a gimmick than an asset, but Bay knows how to maximise the effects. However, he should've avoided filming Rosie Huntington-Whitely in an angelic light in every frame (even when the city of Chicago is crumbling around her she looks immaculate) and the hyper-supermodel advertisement shots don't gel but it's a minor criticism for a man that's made his name out of films that are all style and little substance.
People that don't like Bay's films are not going to be swayed with this, and those looking to proceed with caution after number II, can rest assured that this is an improvement, but the original remains the best. Part IV is a possibility but I think the world, or at least the world in Bay's universe, is quite happy to see this be the final battle. At least for a few years until it gets rebooted.
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