‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon’ — the Transformers-do-D.C. movie
By Mark Jenkins
Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Transformation proves to be beyond the grasp of “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,’’ the latest movie in which 1980s-vintage Hasbro toys come to life and kick ’bot. Rather than streamline the vehicle, director Michael Bay and his team have dumped more nuts, bolts and carburetors on the pile. So this Autobot-vs.-Decepticon adventure runs even longer than its predecessor, “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen,’’ which was plenty long enough.
With the notable exception of Megan Fox, nearly all the previous movie’s major players return. That makes for an overcrowded scenario, especially since Ehren Kruger — the only credited writer — saw fit to add roles for several more slumming thespians, including John Malkovich, Frances McDormand and Patrick Dempsey. Also on board: Buzz Aldrin, Bill O’Reilly and a space-shuttle’s worth of U.S. presidents, shown in archival footage or played by impersonators.
“Dark of the Moon’’ is the Transformers-do-D.C. movie, and one of the things the filmmakers got right this time was dividing the story into just two chapters. The first, jokier section is set in Washington (played by several Midwestern cities as well as our town). The second, more action-oriented part moves to Chicago. There are brief visits to many other climes — including the moon, of course — but holding the story to two essential locations makes the movie more coherent than its predecessor. Good luck following the demolition-derby final battle, though.
If “Dark of the Moon’’ is better grounded geographically, its tone is all over the map. Dispatching Shia LaBeouf’s Sam Witwicky on his third Transformers caper, the movie wobbles between quick-cut action and outright slapstick, with occasional sorties into PG-13 smut. Like “Revenge of the Fallen,’’ the movie offers a glimpse of panties (although this time it’s the heroine, not a villainess, who rates an up-skirt shot). It also includes a men’s-room encounter in which a berserk bureaucrat (Ken Jeong) drops his pants to show something really important to a flustered Sam.
Jeong’s high-pitched character is essentially lifted from “The Hangover,’’ and that’s not the only overlap with other recent flicks. Like “X-Men: First Class,’’ “Dark of the Moon’’ rewrites the history of the Kennedy administration from a sci-fi angle: It seems that both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. were hellbent on reaching the moon so they could loot advanced technology from an Autobot spaceship that had crashed on the orb’s shadowy side.
After the vessel’s scientific treasure is finally deployed — against earthlings by those darned Decepticons — “Dark of the Moon’’ becomes a war movie. Dogged GIs and noble Autobots fight block to block to destroy the device that gives the invaders their power. This is roughly the plot of “Battle: Los Angeles,’’ although that movie’s action was street-level, while the “Dark of the Moon” take on urban combat involves more vertigo-tempting skyscraper collapses and mid-air clashes.
As befits a cinematic saga that began as toy tie-in, “Dark of the Moon’’ sometimes seems designed for boys who are too young to appreciate the charms of Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, the British blonde who plays Sam’s new squeeze, Carly. (If Huntington-Whiteley is better at posing than acting, that might be because she’s a graduate of Victoria’s Secret, not the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art.) This is, after all, a movie about the fundamental coolness of sports cars that turn into sentient robots. And while the CGI and (mostly unobtrusive) 3-D are up-to-date, whenever Autobot philosopher-king Optimus Prime offers Sam some wisdom, the advice sounds like something from a Depression-era Boy Scout handbook.
One thing has changed since the 1930s: Kids don’t respect their elders anymore. Now out of college, the increasingly cranky Sam has moved to D.C. to find a job worthy of an Ivy League grad who helped save the world — twice. Instead, he’s dissed by imperious old people: McDormand as the country’s intelligence chief, Dempsey as Carly’s lascivious new boss and Malkovich as the corporate despot who finally hires Sam — to work in the mailroom. At least the kid seems to be getting along better with Simmons (John Turturro), the eccentric alien expert who’s a veteran of the Decepticon wars.
“Dark of the Moon’’ is capable of having a little fun with itself. In one scene, mini-Autobots watch “Star Trek’’ on TV, not noticing that Spock has the same voice as Sentinel Prime, the formerly moon-stuck ’bot who’s rescued and revived in order to play a major role in this installment. But such self-consciousness could be dangerous. It might lead to some awkward questions: What does Optimus Prime see in the whiny Sam Witwicky? Why do both the Autobots and Decepticons keep departing Earth, only to reappear a few scenes later? And what is the evolutionary advantage of pretending to be a car, anyway?
Contains comic-book violence and bawdy humor.