Review - Transformers: Dark of the Moon

The space race of the 50s and 60s is long behind us. We managed to get Apollo 11 to the moon and explore its surface somewhat, but clearly we missed something because there was a wrecked Autobot spaceship on the dark of the moon. The history books managed to omit that fact. That's the premise behind the name and movie Transformers: Dark of the Moon, what appears the be the third and final film that maintains Transformer canon. It's hard to review the film without spoilers, so I wouldn't read on if you haven't seen it yet.

Let me start by saying that T:DotM wasn't a bad movie exactly. In fact, I can easily see why it's being touted by many as the best of the three. There's actually a clever premise behind the film, as Apollo 11 was actually launched to discover a crashed ship on the dark of the moon. The mission wasn't a mission simply to land on the moon; rather, it was nearly eight years in the making to investigate the crash.

The crash boasts Sentinel Prime, superbly voiced by Leonard Nimoy (it's nice to hear him in a Transformers role again- the last one was Galvatron). He has a plan to restore Cybertron to its former glory and make a new home for the Autobots and Decepticons to coexist in some fashion. His plan involves invoking a series of pillars and bringing Cybertron to Earth, leading to an enslaved human population rebuilding the world of Transformers.

Shia LeBeouf is a struggling and unemployed Sam Witwicky, desperately seeking a job while living off of his hot and employed girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). Somehow she manages to live in a Gothic mansion hidden in the streets of DC somewhere, except the streets look nothing like DC.

Not to mention the fact that it looks like Sam and Carly live in some backalley. The first hour or so of the film is all about Sam whining that life's unfair. Why should he, Sam Witwicky, recipient of a medal from the President, have to actually interview and have skills for a job? He should realize that showing up to an interview in jeans, jacket and tie aren't going to get you anywhere.

Eventually he does manage to get a job, setting up brief roles for John Malkovich and Ken Jeong. The former who only appears to box Bumblebee and disappear and the latter to call himself "Deep Wang" three or four times in succession and create an awkward situation in a bathroom. He learns he got the job through Carley's boss Dylan (Patrick Dempsey), who put in a call. All roads lead to Dylan setting everyone up for the arrival of Sentinal Prime and Megatron to take over the world.

Meanwhile Optimus and the gang are traveling the world, doing secret recon missions for the US government while Sam is out looking for jobs. It's through their investigations that they learn about Sentinel Prime on the moon and rescue him, thinking he's their salvation. It turns out Megatron's five minutes of screentime were really just to frame his brilliant idea of reviving Sentinel Prime to activate a time-space bridge to summon Cybertron.

I like how the film was framed around the premise that Apollo 11 was actually a covert government mission. Sadly though, this premise didn't really come together at all until the second half of the movie. The first hour almost killed the movie, primarily because it felt absolutely nothing of note happened. It even came close to killing any interest in Sam's life within the context of the entire movie. The movie clocks in at about two and a half hours and everything after the Sentinel Prime heel turn felt fluid and awesome.

I don't think we needed the Malkovich and Jeong parts. Yes, they were funny but really didn't do anything to help the movie as a whole. Not to mention his parents quadruple parking a massive RV outside of Sam's apartment and showing up just to show disappointment that he doesn't have a job and eat smores and drink beer.

The second half though. Whew. The film coalesces very well around the destruction of Chicago and some of the set pieces in the ravaged city exceeded the bar by even Michael Bay standards. There's a great freeway chase scene, airdrop assault, Optimus barrage and team takedown of Shockwave, all culminating in a pretty badass battle between Optimus Prime, Sentinel Prime and Megatron. There's some slow-motion, Matrix-esque shots, but they're not overdone and when they're used it's to slow down the action so you can fully comprehend every little nuance of it. It makes sense in this movie and really helps.

The entire latter half of the movie though is Chicago being destroyed as all characters converge to stop the pillars from summoning Cybertron. The scene works really well because it's a proving ground for foes to hash out their differences. Optimus confronts Megatron and Sentinel, the Autobots fight the Decepticons and even Sam gets to face off with Dylan. There's also something of a faceoff between Agent Simmons (John Turturro) and Mearing, NSA Director (Frances McDormand).

A lot of people will probably be a little miffed at the lack of Shockwave, despite his being presented as the main villain in the movie. I would agree at first, but after seeing the movie you'll realize that they used him, Soundwave and Laserbeak perfectly. They aren't the main villains; hell, Megatron and Starscream aren't even the main villains. Sentinel Prime is the main villain and his betrayal of Optimus Prime and the Autobots was a well-thought out and necessary plot twist.

Megatron has even forsaken his traditional jet and is transforming into a weathered desert wrecker, even rocking a tattered cape. His head is still partially bashed in from the second film, but he still has the respect and leadership of Starscream and the others. Megatron's role is vital to the movie, although it sucks that this is the second straight movie he's had to play second-fiddle as a villain. He's a great villain with Hugo Weaving's voice, but he just can't catch a break.

Despite the woe is me at the beginning of the movie, T:DotM shows a different, more visceral side of Sam. This might be his best performance as Sam in all three films, which isn't saying much in the grand scheme of things, but still shows a new side of his character. He gets dirty in this one, actually showing emotion for Carly that it didn't really seem existed for Mikaela (Megan Fox); who, by the way, dumped him and left him her dad's dog from Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Speaking of Huntington-Whiteley, she's not bad actually. A lot of people will say she's "doe-eyed" throughout most of the movie and they're right. But considering the material she's given she actually manages to breathe a bit of life into the movie. Clearly she's a better actress than Fox and it feels as if the movie doesn't get bogged down by forcing the viewer to watch Fox in every scene. Yes, there's some gratuitous shots of Huntington-Whiteley, but it's not nearly the same amount of perverted attention Michael Bay gave Fox in the first two films.

At it's core, Transformers: Dark of the Moon features a strong script and some phenomenal action sequences. It's about an hour too long, which really hurts it and keeps it from being hands down the best of the three Transformers films. While it does drag at the beginning it really picks up later and presents a smart plot and believable story, which is all you can ask for really. People will see this movie regardless of the debacle that was T:RotF and I'd say I can't argue with them. Check it out and watch the mayhem unfold on the big screen.