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SECOND LOOK: Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011)

The third film in the Transformers franchise is an improvement over the dreadful second installment, but still has tons of problems. Reviewing the second movie took a lot of out of me, but I will say that Transformers: Dark of the Moon has the same level of entertainment as the first movie, but it is still not without its problems. While the story has more of a focus, the script is still a mess, characters are still flat and dislikeable, the Transformers are still guest stars in their own movie, and the usual traditions of Michael Bay are thick and fast. So, let’s transform, roll out, and take a second look at the third Transformers movie.

The film starts off pretty well, revealing what Cybertron looks like for the first time and telling of a spaceship called the Ark escaping the civil war, piloted by Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy), carrying space bridge technology that could help restore the planet in the future. The Ark crashes on the Moon, leading to the Apollo 11 mission being used as a cover to examine the site. Yeah, it’s dumb they did that, but Bay does a great job recreating mankind’s greatest achievement.

Years later, the Autobots discover the truth and retrieve Sentinel Prime and the space bridge pillars. Meanwhile, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) lives the good life with his new girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whitely), but feels he hasn’t got enough credit for helping save the world and tries to enforce himself on his Autobot and military friends. But when a co-worker is assassinated by the Decepticons, Sam uncovers a hidden conspiracy connecting the space race to the Decepticons, Sentinel, and the space bridge.

It turns out Sentinel Prime is in fact in league with Megatron to use Earth’s resources to rebuild Cybertron, speed up the war’s end, and save their home. It goes to show how far gone Sentinel is when he freaks out when he is referred to as a robot. Yikes, this guy was leader of the Autobots? And he even has the nerve to quote Mr. Spock’s “needs of the many” line when he is willing to murder a whole planet to save the remnants of his. There is also a weird, unnecessary subplot where Sam discovers a number of elite humans including his girlfriend’s boss played by Patrick Dempsey are in affiliation with Soundwave to escape the enslavement of humanity unharmed in exchange for aiding in the Decepticons’ plans. So why does Soundwave kill some humans but not them?

Like the first and second films, the story takes way too long to get started and drifts away from what we want to see to watch Shia LaBeouf mumbling his way through his crude scenes with his equally crude parents. Poor Shia. He was in some great films like Holes, but now he has jumped off the slippery slope, leading to his weird antics and wearing paper bags to premieres. There is a scene where he starts screaming “WHY!? WHY!?”, and I wonder if at that moment, he was realising what the hell he had done to his career. Opposite him, Rosie is slightly better than Megan Fox, who was fired for comparing Bay to Hitler (Steven Spielberg didn’t take that comment very well). However, she still fulfils the same role as eye candy. Thank goodness she was cast in Mad Max: Fury Road. She’s great in that.

The Transformers are still in the background, the Autobots more and more becoming background extras, while Megatron seems to be turning into the good guy. Optimus Prime turns into a full-out maniac by the end of the film, faking the deaths of the Autobots to prove a moral point and then spends the next hour slaughtering fellow Transformers in brutal fashion. Megatron ends up coming to his rescue when Carly makes old buckethead feel insecure, only for Optimus to show his gratitude by hacking Megatron’s head apart and then executing an unarmed Sentinel while he is begging for mercy. And we’re supposed to cheer for this guy?

The rest of the cast consists of big time actors in cameos. John Malkovich shows up s Sam’s boss, Frances McDormand appears in a supporting role as US Director of Intelligence, John Turturro is back, accompanied by Alan Tudyk in an intriguing but unexplored role as a chauffeur with an unusual talent for dismantling guns. And they even managed to get Buzz Aldrin himself to have a cameo!

Back to the Transformers themselves, the newest addition to the cast is one-eyed badass commando Shockwave but he does nothing in the film. His design is cool, but he has one line, and travels around with a giant mechanical worm thing called the Driller. Bay compared him to Boba Fett as a character, but at least Fett made an impact in his film series. Laserbeak is a great addition, being very sadistic and cruel, and I’m glad Soundwave gets a larger role.

There is a sense of proper atmosphere and emotional resonance in the film, particularly in the second half of the second act, and Linkin Park’s music works well with the scenes of 9/11-esque mayhem going on in Chicago. The action scenes are much improved, and are very entertaining on-and-off. The car chase between the Autobots and a trio of Decepticons is exciting, and I was really impressed by that falling building stunt they did in the final act, even if the rest of it is long and drawn out, and the Transformers do 90% of their fighting off screen. Dark of the Moon is not as bad as the second movie but still has a ton of bad issues, such as having more unnecessary characters and possessing a final act that drags itself out for far too long.

The fourth film, Transformers: Age of Extinction, is an improvement over the trilogy, with more likable human characters, a small cast, a plot that is more emotionally engaging. Paramount and Hasbro are making plans to turn Transformers into a sprawling cinematic universe with at least four more sequels and possibily spin-offs focusing on Bumblebee, and maybe even a film based on the television show Beast Wars. But with four films all considered garbage by film critics and fans alike, is it too late to make anything good out of this film franchise? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

What are your thoughts on Transformers: Dark of the Moon? Is it an improvement from the first two films or just as bad? What do you think could be done to make these films better? Leave a comment below or on our Twitter feed.

About the author

Mark Russell