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Michael Bay has gotten the giant robots fighting movie back on its tracks. Transformers: Dark of the Moon is a vast improvement over the second film in the franchise.
The first Transformers was an enjoyable action flick with sci-fi concepts thrown in. Faithful enough to the animated series and G1 toyline that spawned its characters but not slavishly devoted to all of the dogma, it was proof of concept we'd watch heroic Autobots and evil Decepticons fight it out in ILM glory. Bay's mixture of big explosions followed by bigger explosions, as well as having good comedic moments to punctuate everyone from taking it all too seriously, worked well. It also helped that Shia LaBeouf served a good performance as the everyman caught up in the ride, and the newly introduced Megan Fox provided the film's other special effects component.
Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen tried too hard to amp up everything in the first movie and misjudged our response to it. The result was a bunch of jumbled up fighting scenes and too much lame-assed humor, especially in the cringeworthy pair of white trash Skids and Mudflap Autobots. But the good news is that Michael Bay got our note and dialed back the stuff that made Revenge of the Fallen so junky and disposable. Dark of the Moon delivers and is a proper sequel to the first Transformers movie.
The story is actually deeper and more engaging than both earlier movies. It takes nearly three hours to go on that trip, from watching the first men on the moon discovering a lost Autobot spaceship to the final rock song ballad over closing credits, but the effort into putting a little more thought into the script pays off. Bay wisely knows when to insert just enough humor, and by which characters, to keep things moving along. Thankfully Skids and Mudflap are gone, replaced by two smaller Autobots that have better jokes to crack at LaBeouf's expense.
One of the big things going in for me was how the new babe of the Bay moment would find herself being used. Rosie Huntington-Whiteley's Carly is more of a Victoria's Secret model than Megan Fox's Mikaela grease monkey vixen, never managing to get involved in the action except when she's holding on to Sam's hand. Rosie's not a bad actress but she's not given much else to do except be the new romantic interest in Sam's life, so in the end her character doesn't amount to much. It could have just as easily been Megan Fox in the part had she not bad-mouthed Bay to the press, and it should have been Mikaela in the picture. Still, the absence of Fox isn't noticable once Huntington-Whiteley is introduced and you get over the joke cracked at Fox's expense. (There's one delivered by Sam's mom, Julie White, later on that's much better.)
While there are a few new Transformers characters introduced, it's nothing like the doubling of bad and good guys we got in Revenge of the Fallen. Less is more in Dark of the Moon and it keeps the story trim and lean.
As for the action, it's what you would expect to see in a Transformers movie. The two trailers don't give away all of the cool things that you'll get to see like a mindbending car chase between Bumblebee and Sam and three pursuing Deceptions. With Dark of the Moon, Bay filmed about 70% of the movie in true stereoscopic 3D, like Avatar, and the results are spectacular. The depth is clear and defined, even in scenes where there's no action going on. If you're going to pay for a 3D movie, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is that kind of movie to open your wallet for.
This is also the first screenplay by Ehren Kruger that I've liked in a while. While he was one of those involved with stinky movie #2, here he bounces back and is able to do things that I wouldn't have expected in a mega-franchise. A couple of lines delivered by Optimus Prime and Sentinel Prime got me taking note that if there's a Transformers 4, the people who will make it will have to take those adventures into the undiscovered country. I also dug that the world is a bigger place in Dark of the Moon; evryonee now knows that the alien Transformers exist and characters from the first and second film have developed as well.
The new supporting cast work well. Frances McDormand is thankfully able to impart more to her bureaucratic government official than being a bitch; Ken Leong and Alan Tudyk are awesomely good with their over-the-top comedic relief characters; and Patrick Dempsey is able to give us more than just a cashing it in while Grey's Anatomy is on hiatus competitor for Sam's girlfriend. John Malkovich, love him as well, is in here too but not around for anything further than the first act. Returning players Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson and John Turturro are also given better dialogue and reasoning for being back in the TF3 storyline than they were in TF2.
I'm not giving much away by revealing that the last act of Transformers 3 is an all-out war in downtown Chicago. We all knew that it's with the action stuff that Bay's true calling lies, but what I didn't expect was that this feels like one-half of the movie's running time. When the fuse is lit here, don't expect things to get resolved in 30 minutes. It's a long battle and it's epic. If Dark of the Moon is Michael Bay's calling card for the Transformers movie franchise, he's thrown everything that he's got in this final act.
Look, you're not paying to see award-winning dialogue or drama in a summer blockbuster, but you should be paying to be well entertained and not spoken down to. Transformers: Dark of the Moon ain't going to recite the works of Shakespeare to you but it looks great out on the town with you on a Saturday night. Go out and have some fun with it.
Review Score: 79 / 100