Robots steal the show in third 'Transformers'
Jul 7, 2011 at 4:16 AM
There’s a scene in the latter half of “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” that sums up everything that’s right about Michael Bay’s third installment in this explosion of metal-on-metal mayhem. Our trusty, save-the-world hero Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), his beautiful, why-is-she-with-him? girlfriend Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) and a bunch of jut-jawed good guys are cascading down the outside of a collapsing Chicago skyscraper in the middle of a Decepticon attack, the exploding glass surface like water spilling over Niagara Falls. No one’s talking — unless screaming counts — and the 3-D visuals are often state-of-the-art breathtaking. It’s Bay at his bombastic best. Never mind that this continuation of the story of the robot war between the heroic Autobots and the dastardly Decepticons is just as empty-headed as its predecessors, or that ingenue and Victoria’s Secret model Huntington-Whiteley is as wooden as a lumber yard. Or that, at 2½ hours, it goes on way too long or that some of the scenes without any robots verge on being as painful as dental surgery without anesthesia. What separates “Moon” from the last film, the tedious and unwatchable “Revenge of the Fallen,” is that Bay seems to have embraced what his critics have skewered him for — turning his dramatic scenes into an almost melodramatic, tongue-in-cheek parody of the Bay formula — while taking his keen action and visual sensibilities to the next level. It has been a year since the Transformers have come to earth, with the Autobots acting as humanity’s sentries, on the lookout for any new activity from the Decepticons who, of course, were crushed at the end of the last film. The Decepticons’ opportunity comes when it’s discovered that the 1969 moon landing wasn’t done out of the sheer joy of human exploration but in order for the American government to recover evidence of an alien crash landing on the lunar surface. Turns out that buried in the remains of the crash is a deactivated Sentinel Prime (voice of Leonard Nimoy), a father figure of sorts to Autobot leader Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen), and the Decepticons believe his regeneration could be used to wreak havoc on humanity and re-establish their home planet of Cybertron. As could be expected, unless you’re a total “Transformers” fan, the particular plot points don’t really matter much. Yes, as Bay promised, “T3” — based on a script by Ehren Kruger (“Revenge of the Fallen,” “’The Ring”) — does have a darker edge than the previous two films, especially in the first half dealing with the real reason for the moon shot. But just know that Bay has collected an Oscars’ ceremony worth of actors — Frances McDormand as a no-nonsense government official, John Malkovich as an uptight businessman, Patrick Dempsey as a slick billionaire, Ken Jeong as one of LaBeouf’s stranger co-workers, and John Turturro as, well, a bit of a crazy guy — to chew the scenery between well-designed, and often exhilirating, robot attacks. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson reprise their roles as one-dimensional military men who bark orders and miraculously avoid being turned into road kill for robots while cameos from Bill O’Reilly and Buzz Aldrin underscore Bay’s sense of whimsy. No surprise, the robots — Optimus and Sentinel, with their quasi-Shakespearean relationship and the menacing Shockwave who provides the metallic muscle for Decepticon villain and Optimus Prime arch-enemy, Megatron — are more interesting than most of the people. Parents note that, while there’s little actual bloodshed — most of the violence is robot vs. robot — the sheer orgiastic intensity of the action may be a bit much for younger viewers. LaBeouf and Bay have gone on record as saying they have no interest in being involved in a fourth film. Longtime fans may not be happy with that — there are cool characters from the original animated TV series like the Dinobots who’ve yet to make it to the live-action big screen — but if “Dark of the Moon” is the Transformers’ last stand, then it’s a good way to go out. With the amount of money these movies make, though, it’s hard to believe this will be the end. As the rejuvenation of Sentinel and the perpetual return of Megatron prove, you can’t keep a good — or bad — robot down for long.