Michael Bay goes big on effects, low on substance in "Dark of the Moon"

Thursday, June 30, 2011
Optimus Prime, voiced by Peter Cullen, strikes a pose as he tries to rid Chicago of the evil Decepticons in Michael Bay's "Transformers: Dark of the Moon".

After the debacle that was "Revenge of the Fallen", director Michael Bay had something to prove with the newest installment of the Transformers franchise "Dark of the Moon". The movie is a definite improvement, and perhaps the best of the three films, but purists of the Autobots and Decepticons will leave the theater grumbling. But first things first, let's get on with the review.

The greatest achievement for Bay is the proper use of 3D technology. "Dark of the Moon" is the best example of how the technology can be utilized to enhance a moving by given a depth of field instead of multiple objects unrealistically flying off the screen. Bay has been criticized for opting for style over substance, but in this regard, he's shown other filmmakers that 3D is something that can be used during non-action scenes to bring the audience into the film even more.

For anyone who knows me, I'm not the biggest Transformers fan. I liked the cartoon and the first flick, but after the second film in the Bay franchise, I could care less about the characters. The rivalry has always been Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) and Megatron (voiced by Hugo Weaving) and always will be, so why does Bay keep messing with the formula?

Megatron was seemingly absent from the second movie with the director focusing on The Fallen and the leader of the Decepticons is essentially a bit player, much the same as most of the other robots in the film.

According to Bay, the space race between the U.S. and Russia in the 1960s was initiated by the crashing of the Autobot craft called "The Ark" piloted by Sentinel Prime (voiced by Leonard Nimoy). Blending fact and fiction, we see the Apollo 11 crew land on the moon and inspect the ark. Even Buzz Aldrin makes a cameo in the film, which is awesome. You have to love an aging astronaut who's willing to punch out a dude half his age. If you don't know what I'm talking about, type it in Youtube and enjoy.

Optimus Prime locates a fuel cell from The Ark in Chernobyl that the Russians tried to use as a power source and led to the meltdown that made a ghost town of the area.

In the meantime, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is finding it hard to start a new life after helping save the world two times before. Jobless and wanting to matter, he sulks, but has the beautiful shoulder of new girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) to cry on. And guys, for those of you who thought you'd miss Megan Fox -- you won't skip a beat. The same pretty face with the same mediocre acting ability. I just calls 'em like I sees 'em, folks.

As Sam finally gets his foot in the door working in the mailroom of a business ran by Bruce Brazos, played by a fake tanned always predictably insane acting John Malkovich, the Decepticons begin to put their plan into motion.

Optimus Prime goes to the moon to retrieve Sentinel Prime and the Pillars, devices that when all activated at once creates a portal that can transport objects. As the Decepticons move forward with their plan, Sentinel Prime reveals himself as teaming up with Megatron to rebuild their home world of Cybertron. Sentinel Prime steals the five Pillars and forms a space bridge to the moon, which brings loads of fellow Decepticons to earth and results in the eventual exile of Optimus Prime and the Autobots from the planet.

Sentinel Prime sets up shop in Chicago with the help of Carly's rich playboy boss Dylan (Patrick Dempsey) and sets the 500 Pillars around the globe in an effort to bring Cyberton into the solar system and use the citizens of earth as a slave labor force in its resurrection.

With the Autobots gone, it's up to Sam and military to take on the baddie Transformers, but as in all good westerns, the good guys also come back for the final showdown. With Optimus Prime, Bumble Bee and the rest of the Autobots back in their ranks, the film sets in for an hour long, epic fight to is as cool as it is manic.

And now back to Optimus Prime and Megatron. I'm not one to give away endings, but if you don't find yourself a little disappointed with how events play out, you have no stake in the game and shouldn't be watching the movie in the first place. Even being a casual fan, I found the final "showdown" lacking and an epic moment Bay completely missed the mark with.

"Dark of the Moon" is a weird mix at times. I found myself really excited at many points in the film, but at the same time perplexed at others. Bay dazzles once again with the special effects, but at times it's hard to keep track of which robot is which.

None of the actors really do anything new or anything of significance throughout the movie. Dempsey and John Turturro as Simmons are scene-stealers, but I found myself really disappointed with Frances McDormand whose role could have been played by literally anybody and it wouldn't have been worse.

Another aspect of the film I love is the use of true voice actors in some of the roles of the Autobots and Decepticons. Cullen, Jess Harnell and Frank Welker are icons in the industry and it's good to see them get to bask in the limelight.

I found it ironic looking at the MPAA rating description at how true to form it is. It says "intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, mayhem and destruction". I'm starting an official petition to have that adopted as Michael Bay's middle name.

Final Cut: "Dark of the Moon" is a vast improvement than the second installment of the franchise, but a thin script and the use of the Transformers at bit players in their own film hold the film back from what it could be. Bay has tamed the 3D beast and delivers some breathtaking scenes in the process.

3.5 out of 5 stars

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Starring: Shia LeBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, John Turturro, Patrick Dempsey, Peter Cullen (voice), Leonard Nimoy (voice), Jess Harnell (voice), Frank Welker (voice)

Writer: Ehren Kruger

Director: Michael Bay

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality and innuendo

Running time: 2 hr. 34 minutes