Moviegoers by now have a good idea what they’ll get from a Transformers flick: gigantic shape-shifting rock-’em sock-’em robots, equally cartoonish humans and mind-boggling levels of mass destruction. This third movie in the series not only delivers on all counts but is better than what anyone who saw 2009’s universally panned Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen might expect. Transformers: Dark of the Moon definitely has its flaws, but criticizing this virtual videogame for not being more respectable or restrained would be like damning a demolition derby for not being the Bolshoi Ballet.
On the positive side, director Michael Bay puts some jaw-droppingly impressive mayhem onscreen, including the final-act devastation of downtown Chicago that sets a new standard for citywide CGI catastrophes. A thrilling escape from a toppling skyscraper is as outrageously over the top as it is unforgettable. Bay also has gotten better at giving viewers a less rushed look at the action, frequently shifting to slo-mo during rapid mechanical transformations and frantic battles.
Ehren Kruger’s screenplay has a clever premise. The real reason President Kennedy vowed that the United States would put a man on the moon ASAP is because an unknown object crashed there. Apollo 11’s secret mission involved taking a look at what turned out to be a wrecked ship from Cybertron, homeworld of the living machines known as Autobots (the good guys) and Decepticons (the very bad guys).
When Autobots leader Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullen) learns this info has been kept from him even though the Autobots now function as a secret military arm of the US government, he is none too pleased. He revives the lost ship’s pilot Sentinel Prime (Star Trek‘s Leonard Nimoy), an “Autobot Einstein” inventor of game-changing military technology. Unfortunately, twice-vanquished Decepticon leader Megatron (Hugo Weaving), now bumming around Africa and desperate for revenge, also gets word of the discovery.
On the human side, the everyman hero of the first two movies Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) has graduated college and received a medal for his world-saving efforts but can’t find a job. What he has found is the most beautiful girlfriend on the planet, a pouty blond goddess named Carly (Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley in her first film role). Usually attired in white and very tight outfits that don’t show anything vaguely resembling underwear lines, Carly is so professionally successful and unbelievably desirable it’s impossible to see why she ever hooked up with the immature and considerably less-together Sam. (It was equally difficult to discern why the departed Megan Fox, who played Sam’s girlfriend in the first two installments, would put up with such a boyish boyfriend. So at least the movies get points for consistency.)
Sam’s annoying comic-relief parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White) make an unwelcome reappearance, taking up residence near his loft in an RV. As returning Army officer William Lennox, Josh Duhamel is so wooden he seems bored. And even the most devoted fans of world-class carnage may feel overserved as the movie approaches the two-and-a-half-hour mark.
But wow, are some of the computer-generated characters ever scary cool – especially a massive serpentine monstrosity that’s big enough to squeeze a skyscraper in half and looks like a stainless-steel version of a Dune sandworm.
Although the 3D is adequate, removing those aggravating glasses reveals how much brighter and better-looking the picture must be in 2D. Sometimes “more than meets the eye” ends up being less.