Transformers: Dark of the Moon (aka Transformers 3) is a great summer blockbuster experience. It’s not a perfect film – bogged down by some plot-holes, lack of development in some of the new robot characters (as well as returning humans), and an overlong run time -- but in a summer that’s been punctuated by some major disappointments, Dark of the Moon delivers unparalleled big screen spectacle, and is arguably the best film in the series.
For anyone unfamiliar with series -- or anyone still reeling from the convoluted Revenge of the Fallen plot - Dark of the Moon centers around a half-century old conspiracy: the 1960s space race was actually a response to a downed Autobot ship, The Ark, which crash-landed on Earth’s moon back in 1961. As a result, the Apollo 11 mission wasn’t just about getting to the moon before the Soviets – it was primarily a mission to investigate and recover the extraterrestrial technology in the Ark. When a piece of recovered Transformers machinery hints at the Ark’s location, The Autobots and their human allies -- Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), Lt. Colonel Lennox (Josh Duhamel), Agent Simmons (John Turturro), and Carly Spencer (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) -- are forced to confront a larger Decepticon plot that could lead to the annihilation of both the Autobots and the entire human race.
The plot of Dark of the Moon serves as a decent backdrop for the impressive set pieces and actually adds to the onscreen action -- instead of merely filling in time between explosions. The improvements only further showcase how much Revenge of the Fallen must have been affected by the WGA strike, since everything in Dark of the Moon is substantially more coherent – even for a movie about cybernetic organisms battling to the death. That said, even at a run time of 153 minutes, there are still a number of plot-holes, as well as several spans of time where the film drags – especially leading into act two.
Like Bay’s prior Transformers films, human drama is the main culprit, sometimes undermining the momentum of the larger story arcs. Dark of the Moon, more than either of its predecessors, struggles to find a compelling place for leading man Sam Witwicky. While the character has some genuinely entertaining moments (most notably an Office Space-like work commentary), the scenes of Sam’s personal life, set-against the struggles of the Autobots and U.S. military, still seem at odds.
Surprisingly, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is a welcome improvement in the love-interest department – though her actual character, Carly Spencer, has less of an edge than Megan Fox’s Mikaela Banes. For the most part, despite her professional success, Carly is relegated to damsel in distress – where Banes was presented as a more capable companion for Sam. Unlike the prior installments, the relationship doesn’t bog the film down too much -- leaving room for the ensemble cast to do a bit more heavy-lifting. John Malkovich and Alan Tudyk join the franchise to provide comic relief, alongside the returning John Turturro, who is genuinely entertaining and less over-the-top this round.
A number of fan-favorite Transformers also return, including Autobots Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, and Sidewsipe (thankfully not The Twins, Skids and Mudflap), as well as Decepticons Megatron, Starscream, and Soundwave, among others. Characters that got short-shrift in Revenge of the Fallen are featured more prominently this round -- Soundwave and Sideswipe specifically -- which somewhat makes up for how little audiences got to see them last time. Dark of the Moon also introduces several new bots, including Optimus Prime’s predecessor, Sentinel Prime (voiced by Leonard Nimoy), as well as the infamous Decepticon, Shockwave. Unfortunately, neither of the new bots gets as much development as they deserve (Shockwave especially).
Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson also reunite, aiding in one of the other improved elements of the film – the implementation of NEST and military forces. By the time the film lands in Chicago (that epic set piece featured in the trailer) the city is a complete warzone, leaving room for viewers to finally see a believable Autobot/Human resistance effort.
As a result, instead of simply shooting at the same enemies as their Autobot allies, the human soldiers (along with the larger military machine) are given genuine moments to shine – and opportunities to turn the tide. Being the last installment in Bay’s trilogy (until the box office profits spawn a fourth film), the death toll for recognizable characters is dramatically higher, offering some intense and brutal moments that will likely shock audiences and can, at times, solicit a surprising amount of emotion.
While some moviegoers might wish for the film to speed past the dramatic buildup, the wait will undoubtedly be worth it: the final hour of Dark of the Moon is an all-out action fest, with some of the coolest visuals ever put to film. The trailers for the movie certainly give-away some of the more awe-inspiring moments; however, they also held back plenty of footage that provide audiences with a number of great battle sequences.
Bay also improves upon a major problem with the prior installments – frantic camera work that turned epic set-pieces into blurry swirls of robot action. Dark of the Moon features a set of slow-motion action beats which, in any other movie, might seem overused. But here, the slow-motion allows for moviegoers to really hone-in on the eye-popping visuals (which look especially impressive in 3D).
As for the aforementioned and oft-talked-about 3D camerawork: Dark of the Moon falls-short of overtaking the must-see theatrical experience of James Cameron’s Avatar, but still manages to set a new bar for 3D blockbuster action. At times, the 3D is wasted on static shots of humans talking in an office building; however, when the action starts ramping up, it’s easy to see how filmmakers can offer a 3D experience worthy of the added ticket price -- if they know how to use the format deliberately and intelligently, as Bay does.
If you’ve already seen the film and want to talk about various plot details without ruining it for others, head over to our Transformers: Dark of the Moon spoilers discussion.
However, if you’re still on the fence about Transformers: Dark of the Moon, check out the trailer below:
Transformers: Dark of the Moon is now playing in 2D, 3D, and IMAX 3D theaters.
Ben Kendrick blogs at Screen Rant.
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