Transformers: Dark of the Moon,
directed by Michael Bay
(Paramount, 2011)

Transformers: Dark of the Moon taps naively into the vintage American patriotism belonging to a non-existent era (there is no such thing as a holistically patriotic era). A montage of the historic events of the 1969 moon landing with transformers added into the images intensifies the film series' usual "July 4th on steroids" feel. It's the basis of the film's entire plot.

The moon landing was actually a ginormous cover-up for a mission that involved inspecting a valuable fallen Autobot aircraft, and in present day 2011 protagonist Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is once again shaken out of his normal-guy life (this time it involves him fruitlessly job hunting -- proof that even if you have saved the world twice you still won't be able to secure a job in this economy) to help the Autobots keep the evil Decepticons from obtaining it.

Steve Jablonsky's score for Dark of the Moon makes us acutely aware of the power of music in film even if the music isn't overly spectacular. As the 1980s toy robots turned movie stars battle to save the Earth for the third time, our hearts pound with anticipation and our breath shortens as the music swells. But it doesn't quite add up. Director Michael Bay and writer Ehren Kruger create messy visuals and an even messier storyline that do little to make our pulses flutter. Perhaps proving that you don't need good writing or even thrilling, clean shots to get that action film-high, Jablonsky's pounding and rhythmically accelerated music succeeds on its own.

The film functions under the mantra "more is better," and it pertains to more than the action sequences and bot fights. More actors have been added to the typical cast. Veterans like John Malkovich, Alan Tudyk, Patrick Dempsey and Francis McDormand have bit roles that serve only to make the film a tad more interesting; Malkovich gets a quick laugh, McDormand provides a little bit of women's lib (her character hates high heels and rarely smiles), and Dempsy and Tudyk exist to be recognized by adoring TV fans.

Altogether, their on-screen or off-screen star personas aren't enough to distract from the mundane younger actors that are supposed to lead the film -- it's a casting strategy that was used in the early Harry Potter films and luckily paid off when the adolescent actors got more experience and years under their belts.

LaBeouf returns as The Boy Who Runs and his new girlfriend Carly is played by the pouty Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. They are two actors whose roles can be categorized by action rather than ability. It's one of the most frustrating aspects of the Transformers film franchise and this film in particular; the humans, especially the protagonists, have nothing to add and they don't evolve (with the exception of John Turturro's character Simmons. He at least acquires a sidekick). Sam sprints his way through each film, either away from danger or towards it, and Carly is a high-heeled Tide commercial climbing, jumping and rolling through rubble and explosions while her practically all-white wardrobe stays smudge free.

So it's no wonder that most viewers wonder why human beings are in the films at all. Whether or not male gender-appropriate amounts of testosterone are running through their veins, most will agree the transformers steal the show. Even in terms of emotional depth and conflict, the bots trump most of the fleshy beings buzzing uncontrollably around the film hanging each other out to dry and genuinely not caring until a time of crisis -- such as the end of the world -- arises.

review by
Molly Ebert

30 July 2011

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