Transformers: Dark of the Moon

When my wife and I were dating, we would frequent a restaurant and ice cream parlor called Swenson’s.  One of their featured desserts was a massive sundae they called the Earthquake.  This diet buster was made with eight scoops of ice cream, several different kinds of sauces, fruit toppings, nuts and whipped cream.  Whoever created it must have decided to throw as much stuff in the biggest bowl he could find and see if anyone would buy it.  It was very popular with big groups of friends out for a casual evening that would pile into a booth and drool until the frozen monstrosity arrived.  Whenever I saw a crowd plow into an Earthquake, they would invariably all complain about how full they felt and ordering it was a bad idea; but it tasted so good.  That, in a nutshell, is how I feel about “Transformers:  Dark of the Moon.”

The space race between the United States and Soviets was merely a cover for a covert mission to reach a crashed alien spacecraft on the dark side of the moon.  Apollo 11 got there first and had only a few minutes to investigate the wreckage, finding what looked like giant mechanical men on board.  The spacecraft was called the Ark and it was the last ship to leave during the war on Cybertron between the evil Decepticons and the good Autobots.  On board was a device called the Pillars, able to open a bridge in space/time allowing the instantaneous transport of matter from one point in space to another.  Also on board was the leader of the Autobots, Sentinel Prime (voiced by Leonard Nimoy).  Damaged during the escape, the Ark eventually crashed on the Moon in 1961.  The impact was detected by Earth-based radars in both the U.S. and the U.S.S.R.  The Soviets were able to land a robotic craft which retrieved a power cell from the ship and return it to Earth.  Soviet scientists thought they had it figured out and connected it to the Chernobyl nuclear reactor, causing the explosion and meltdown.  The Autobots, working both with the U.S. Government and independently, try to keep humans from self-destructing.  When the power cell is discovered by the NEST team, led by Lt. Colonel William Lennox (Josh Duhamel), Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) is unhappy and accuses his human partners of lying to him.  National Intelligence Director Charlotte Mearing (Frances McDormand) explains that only a few people still alive knew about the moon landings’ real purpose and is horrified when she learns what the Pillars can do, fearing an invading army could be summoned to Earth.  Optimus leads an Autobot team to the Moon to recover the Pillars and his old friend and mentor, Sentinel Prime, hoping he can be revived.  Meanwhile, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is frustrated about his lack of employment since graduating from college despite having helped save the world twice.  Living with new girlfriend Carly Miller (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), Sam is also angry that Carly is working for the superrich playboy Dylan Gould (Patrick Dempsey) at his giant accounting firm/venture capital company, overseeing his collection of exotic cars.  Finally able to get a job in the mail room of an aerospace company, he’s approached by co-worker and conspiracy theorist Jerry Wang (Ken Jeong) about Sam’s involvement with alien robots and something about the dark side of the Moon.  When Jerry is killed by a Decepticon called Lazerbeak, Sam decides to approach retired Sector 7 agent Seymour Simmons (John Turturro) to figure out why the Decepticons killed Jerry and what they are up to.  Soon, the pair discovers several former American and Russian space program workers have died under mysterious circumstances recently and they decide to visit the secret base from which the Autobots and humans are headquartered.

If you think that synopsis is hard to follow, you should have tried following the story of the movie!  It is a very convoluted plot that requires an enormous amount of coincidence to keep all the various clunky parts moving forward.  I don’t mind fate playing a role in the story of a film, but “Transformers:  Dark of the Moon” stretches any amount of sci-fi/action film credibility to its breaking point and beyond.

The movie also tends to drop in facts that have no basis in this or the previous two films or are just flat wrong.  For instance, there’s a spaceship which appears late in the film and we’re told several Autobots arrived in it.  As I recall, all the robots in disguise landed on Earth in what appeared to be meteors and no ships were involved at all.  Certainly nothing that could be mounted to a space shuttle.  Also, consulting a map of the Moon, the Sea of Tranquility where Apollo 11 landed, isn’t anywhere close to the dark side of the Moon.  And the “dark side of the Moon” is really a misnomer.  The rotation of the Moon matches its orbit around the Earth so it keeps the same side facing us.  The side we never see is lit by the sun for half of its approximately 28 day orbit.  There are other examples but you get my drift.  The script plays fast and loose with details of this created universe and the real one.

Most of the human actors don’t come off looking very good in the movie.  Shia LaBeouf spends the majority of his time screaming as he and his CGI stunt double get thrown around by various explosions and robots.  Any other dialog he delivers mostly sounds petty and petulant.  Replacing Megan Fox in the thankless role of Shia’s on-screen girlfriend, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley actually comes across as slightly more than a Victoria’s Secret model, but only slightly.  While gorgeous to look at, even when slightly smudged by dirt, she isn’t given much to do but look pretty and be threatened by Decepticons and others.  She is given some of the smarter lines in the movie and plays a pivotal role in the conclusion; but, her sudden burst of cunning seems out of character and merely an easy plot device.  John Turturro plays his character as if he needed medication and hadn’t taken it for a while.  His manic energy, while briefly entertaining, grates on the nerves after a time and you just want him to shut up.  The one actor who shines in the film isn’t in it nearly long enough.  Ken Jeong, as the conspiracy theorist co-worker of Sam’s, steals the movie out from under both the humans and the robots.  While the character probably wouldn’t have been able to hold a job for very long in the real world, his antics, lack of inner editing and willingness to throw his dignity out the window provided a refreshing respite from the blandness surrounding him.  It was a shame he was dispatched so quickly and could have been an asset to the rest of the film.

“Transformers:  Dark of the Moon” is not a good film; however, I liked it.  Despite all that’s wrong with it (and there’s plenty more than what’s mentioned above), the movie is entertaining.  I’m ashamed I just typed that sentence, but it’s true.  I had a blast at the film.  While it is probably 30 minutes too long, the two and a half hour running time seemed to fly by.  Perhaps it’s the child that still dwells in my psyche that finds the concept of sentient alien robots living on Earth, hiding in plain sight as cars, trucks and jets, a fascinating idea.  While the film is an insult to every viewer’s intelligence, it bombards you with transforming robots, explosions, machine-on-machine violence and hot babes, and you give up your free will and accept it as your new cinematic master.  If you think about the various points of the film where logic is chucked out the window for yet another CGI or action shot, the movie will collapse under its own preposterous weight; however, if you click the “off” switch in your rational brain and allow the Michael Bay goodness to just wash over you, you’ll find a fast-paced, dazzling summer popcorn movie that appears to have put all its reported $195-million budget on the screen.  You can’t ask for much more than that from your entertainment.  O.K., a modicum of intelligence would have been nice but that’s getting greedy.

“Transformers:  Dark of the Moon” is rated PG-13 for intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality and innuendo.  As the robots fight, some injuries cause a red fluid to spew out.  Children might be upset with that.  Young children may also question why the pretty girl straddles that man in the bed.  Is that really a conversation you want to have with your kids because of this movie?  There is also a fair amount of foul language scattered throughout the film.

“Transformers:  Dark of the Moon” is what many critics see as the very definition of what’s wrong with Hollywood movies:  Product placement and toy sales driving the creation of a film and leaving any semblance of a coherent plot, relatable characters and meaningful, human story by the wayside.  While it certainly isn’t art, I thought it was enormous fun.

“Transformers:  Dark of the Moon” gets an embarrassed five guitars.

Two fantasy films, one about talking animals and the other about killing your boss, aim to please this week at the local multiplex.  Vote on the film I review next.

Zookeeper—Kevin James is a lonely zookeeper trying to win back his ex- girlfriend with a little bit of help from the animal kingdom.

Horrible Bosses—Three friends devise a convoluted and seemingly foolproof plan to rid themselves of their respective intolerable bosses...permanently.

Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice currently in theatres.

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