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Whoda thunk it?  Who could imagine that wrapped in the most febrile trappings of a mindset whose development seems to have arrested in a 1980ís frat house, the third chapter in a very noisy film series based on a range of Japanese mecha toys would turn out to be the best of the lot?  One might say thatís not necessarily a high bar when one is talking about the Transformers franchise, but I was pleasantly surprised by the enjoyable pure popcorn summer blast of Transformers: Dark of the Moon.

Sam Witwicky is feeling the crunch experienced by many Americans.  Heís fresh out of an Ivy League school and unable to find a job.  This is quite a statement about how bad unemployment is in this country when you consider that Sam is directly responsible for saving the planet two times now.  Even the medal Sam received from President Obama for his heroics gives him no leverage when faced with wacky job interviews and insane potential bosses.  Samís been left out of the adventures of his old metal running buddies, the Autobots; that group of space-traveling survivors that are more than meets the eye.  The Autobots came to and Earth banded together with humans after one of their own, the power-mad Megatron, who was responsible for the annihilation of their home planet Cybertron, set his sites on the little blue planet.  Washington uses the good bots and their technology to quell all sorts of attacks around the world.  While all seems relatively peaceful for the big mecha, another survivor buried in the dust on the dark side of the moon for dozens of years will cause humanity to wonder if they did such a good thing by welcoming the Autobots in the first place.

From the hair-metal-esque soundtrack, to the abundance -- nay, overstock -- of size zero models wearing nothing more than a yard of material in every possible scene, the bombastic explosions and inevitable scene of hardcore heroes doing a slow-motion walk toward the camera, there is no question whoís directing this movie.  Good or ill, itís Michael Bay bringing his collection of fetishes and self-reverence along for the ride.  The difference with this film versus the first two is down to finally finding a script that is as cohesive as one can expect for this subject matter and truly thrilling, well-designed action.  In my review of the previous film, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, I complained bitterly about the headache I got from the relentless maelstrom of noise generated watching a bunch of robots utterly indistinguishable from one another beat each other up for over two hours.  Iíd packed my ear plugs this time around.  This chapter is overlong by about a half hour, but the story is simple and easy to follow and it seems like there are fewer actual Transformers, so we donít need a scorecard to try to figure who is who.  A lot of the things I found over the top in the last movie were dialed down this time, including the incessant, shrill tone and more irritating characters.  Though we are given an Optimus Prime voiceover relating the history of the Transformers on Earth, Bay works under the assumption that the audience has already seen the previous two films, already knows the main characters and there arenít many new faces.  One of the filmís standouts is the transformation of Shockwave, one of the Decepticon bad guys who is attached to a hydra-like mechanoid that bores through everything in its path.  Its appearance is one of the coolest moments in the film.  Another neat thing is Optimus Prime wielding shield and flaming sword and against his foes:  Solidly on the side of mankind, Prime is very literally a knight in shining honour.  The visual effects and action sequences are terrific, particularly a car chase involving Sam and his faithful alien vehicle, Bumblebee.  The pair is chased across a busy highway by some of Megatronís Predator-like soldiers and Bumblebee must transform out of car mode to leap over crashed cars while simultaneously grabbing an airborne Sam, convert back into a Camaro and insert Sam back inside the safety of the passenger seat where Sam can continue to scream like a little girl.

This new Transformers film features appearances by some surprisingly quality actors, including the Oscar-winning Frances McDormand as the skeptical agent in charge of Autobots operations and Oscar-nominated John Malkovich as Samís new boss, a bronzer-loving, feng shui fanatic.  John Turturro returns as the wackjob former Federal agent who backed Sam in the previous film.  He is assisted by the brilliant Alan Tudyk as a Man Friday who is much more than he seems.  Ken Jeong delivers a boisterous, slap-happy turn as someone in Samís company who has also interacted with the metal aliens.  There is a flashback montage that explains the real reason we went to the moon, featuring a clever use of actual footage and lookalike actors standing in for JFK and Nixon and one very real astronaut Buzz Aldrin.  Tyrese Gibson wouldíve gone unnoted in this report but for his delivery of one of the movieís best moments of real talk, ďHow come the Decepticons got all the best sh*t?Ē  Most impressive is Leonard Nimoy as the voice of Sentinel Prime, one of the greatest warriors of Cybertron and Optimusí mentor. Brought back from stasis inside his crashed spaceship, Sentinel isnít exactly comfortable in this new world, partnering with the humans.  There are tons of nods to Nimoyís Star Trek past, including a clip from Amok Time, the TV episode where Spock goes nuts and some quotes from the sample-delic Bumblebee, including, ďThe needs of the many outweigh the few,Ē and ďI have been and always shall be, your friend.Ē  Good thing Transformers, like Star Trek, is a Paramount property.

On the flip side of that thespian goodness is possibly the most stunning aspect of Transformers: Dark of the Moon and that is how anyone was able to find an actress so terrible she makes Megan Fox look like Meryl Streep?  As Samís new love, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley makes her entrance to some tune that Kip Winger wishes he wrote and wearing nothing but Samís button-down shirt as the camera slowly pans from her bare feet up to her artfully tousled blonde locks.  Itís the best acting sheíll do all film.  Otherwise, sheíll just fix a smile on her face while delivering nearly every line and almost wear a succession of very small, revealing clothes until itís time to flee for her life through an obliterated metropolis in 5-inch stiletto heels.  The climatic battle between the Autobots and Decepticons decimates the Windy City and there are casualties everywhere; Sam is battered, bleeding and bruised, pieces of Autobot anatomy are everywhere, yet Samís g/f hasnít so much as smudged her lipstick or got a blood blister on her foot.  Oh wait; her hair looked a little flat; mea culpa, thatís clear evidence of hardship and danger.  Weíre told over and over how smart the character is, yet she seems to have no idea about correct business attire, choosing to dress and apply as much slap for a day at the office as one of the musicians in Robert Palmerís Addicted to Love video.  So goes the range of her acting ability.  She was so bad that I almost forgot to be offended that in the jungle of barely-dressed models cast as extras in the film, the only one called a ďHoochie MamaĒ is a model version of Rosie Perez spitting out something that I guess was meant to be Spanish.  I repeat, I almost forgot to be offended.  I guess Mr. Bay donít like Ďem tan?  He clearly did like something in Ms. Huntington-Whiteley, enough to subject us all to a performance that made me say, ĎCome back, Megan Fox! All is forgiven.í  Words I never, ever thought Iíd speak.

Suspect casting choices aside, even Bayís dated, parody-worthy fetishes couldnít put me off this film.  I actually wished heíd controlled them enough to cut down some of the running time, but when the action does hit, itís like a steam roller.  Itís darker (- thereís a disturbing amount of execution-style dispatchings and mysterious red liquids streaming out of some of the bots) and more extreme since the scenes are better spaced, building more intensity.  Iím sure no one but parents may be concerned about that.  This Transformers chapter seems much more for the folks who grew up with the toys and the animated series in the 1980ís and to that end this is what many of those fans have been waiting for.  I donít think 2 or 3D really matters as the audience will be sucked into the action in either case, but fans might want the in your face option. Runtime and quirks aside, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is the best of all three films and a summer thrill ride totally worth seeing in theatres.



~ The Lady Miz Diva

June 27th, 2011




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