I vowed I would not watch this movie. After the debacle that was 2009’s “Transformers – Revenge of the Fallen,” I thought the franchise was dead and buried. But when the Fourth of July rolled around, I had some time on my hands (plus some positive reviews from friends)…and so it was off to the theater. My conclusion? This movie will never be great art….but “Dark of the Moon” is awfully fun regardless.
The opening line of the film sets the ridiculous tone: “We were once a peaceful race of intelligent mechanical beings.” For those who haven’t seen any of the films, the series postulates the existence of two warring robot factions: the Autobots (conveniently identified by their blue eyes) and the Decepticons (conveniently identified by their red eyes). Subtlety is not director Michael Bay’s strong suit.
According to the Transformers mythos, the Apollo space program was just a cover-up. The real purpose of the moon missions was to investigate a crashed alien spacecraft on the dark side of the moon (hence the film’s title). Its contents: the legendary Autobot warrior Sentinel Prime (voiced by Leonard Nimoy), mentor of current Autobot leader Optimus Prime…and a cargo of mysterious pillars.
Fast forward to the present day. Human protagonist Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is struggling to find a job. (Never mind that he’s saved the world twice already.) To make matters worse, Sam’s girlfriend Carly (Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whitely, replacing Megan Fox) may or may not be falling for her rich, handsome boss. On top of all that, Decepticon forces are becoming active again.
Through a series of explosive events (including some genuinely clever plot twists) a horde of rampaging Decepticons invades Earth. Chicago becomes the epicenter of a final battle between the Autobots and Decepticons. The film doesn’t deviate much from its predecessors, alternate-history elements aside.
On paper, this movie sounds terrible. And aside from its astounding visual effects, it really is pretty bad. LaBeouf is a singularly unlikeable protagonist, and Huntington-Whitely was obviously not cast for her acting talents. Furthermore, any attempt to read philosophical meaning into this movie is like to trying to assess the worldview of a Hershey’s bar.
But there’s more to this movie than meets the eye. (Well, actually not. But what meets the eye is pretty good.)
For starters, it is a visual treat. I watched it in IMAX 3D, and I can honestly say that it was worth every penny. The effects are truly spectacular…I’d guess that the pyrotechnics budget alone could have financed a full euro-zone bailout. Unlike many “3D” movies currently hitting cinemas, “Dark of the Moon” was actually filmed using 3D cameras (a la “Avatar”) which lends genuine depth to the film. Add in the crushing IMAX sound system and you have a gloriously over-the-top experience.
Even while watching it, I knew this movie was dumb. But again and again, I found myself grinning delightedly at the sheer cheesiness of it all. Bay has clearly learned from his mistakes in “Revenge of the Fallen” – the plot is much more linear, and there’s less overblown “human drama.” The Transformers movies have succeeded for one reason alone: people like watching colossal amounts of robot-inflicted carnage. And “Dark of the Moon” has that in spades. The last forty minutes of the film are an all-out extravaganza of mayhem…and I can honestly say that I have never seen destruction on this scale before.
There’s also a lot of flag-waving patriotism. Corny? Sure. Pandering to Fourth of July audiences? Sure. But there’s something refreshing about a movie where soldiers are portrayed as brave heroes, and where freedom is proudly celebrated. There’s no anti-American sentiments here…in the “Transformers” universe, the U.S. is still a nation worth fighting for.
Objectionable content: constant robot-on-robot violence (and I mean CONSTANT). Some of the robot death scenes are remarkably graphic, especially when accompanied by fountains of red “motor oil.” The camera also spends quite a bit of time ogling Huntington-Whitely, and there are a handful of profanities throughout.
So, should you see this movie?
Anyone seriously considering watching this movie probably knows what they’re in for: two and a half hours of grinding robot carnage, held together with the thinnest of storylines. Dialogue is comic-book quality, and explosions stand in for character development.
On the other hand, I’ve been to a lot of movies, and almost never has the audience applauded at the end. This was one of the rare exceptions. Say what you will about its bad acting, plot holes, and mindless action…it’s been a long time since I’ve had this much fun at a movie. I will probably never watch it again, but seeing it in IMAX 3D was worth every penny. At least it was for me.
“Dark of the Moon” won’t win any new converts or bag any Oscars. But its goal is simply to entertain…and in that, it succeeds.
5 points for quality of moviemaking. 10 points for pure enjoyment.
Normalized Score: 4.6