Theatrical Review: TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON

by: James Wallace
June 28th, 2011

Writer: Ehren Kruger
Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Shia LaBeoufRosie Huntington-WhiteleyJosh DuhamelJohn TurturroTyrese GibsonPatrick DempseyFrances McDormandJohn Malkovich
Studio: Paramount Pictures

I think it’s safe to say we all remember TRANSFORMERS: REVENGE OF THE FALLEN. I mean, how could we not? Despite being a box office success with theater-goers, the film was a head-on collision with critics who accused it of being too over the top with its cartoonish characters, nonsensical plot, and good, old fashion racism. Of course, who could forget the not-so-quiet departure of actress Megan Fox as well? But here we are two years later, with some lessons learned by Michael Bay & company and another opportunity for him to transform our hearts as he first did in 2007 with TRANSFORMERS. And here is Michael Bay with TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON to show us that over the top is not in his vocabulary - and he rips up the dictionary as he does it. The term “balls to the wall” may not have been invented for this film but it is certainly redefined. Get ready to get kicked in the nuts and bolts. 

When we last left the Autobots, they had just saved our planet yet again by thwarting yet another attempt by the evil Decepticons to restore their reign (something about blowing up the sun or something). Now, within a world where everything is wrapped in political red tape like a Christmas present, the alien automobiles are garaged by our government as they are treated like more foe than friend via National Intelligence Director Charlotte Mearing (Frances McDormand).

As for their young Earthling ambassador, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf), he’s having his own version of the same problems. Out of the kangaroo pouch and into the world, finally on his own as his parents (Kevin Dunn and Julie White) tour the states in their party bus - a plot point that may or may not be attributed to the film trying to phase out characters that occupied a little too much screen time previously, whether they be pothead parents or jive-talking ice cream trucks. You’d think that after helping to save the world (twice) and personally receiving a medal from the President, young Sam would be recognized for his efforts and given a cushy government job, right? Or at least a company car, while his, Bumblebee, is off helping Optimus and N.E.S.T. secretly fight terrorism under the radar? Well, Mr. Witwicky seems to be facing the trials and tribulations of many a modern college graduate as, despite having an Ivy League education and a resume with references that would make Jack Bauer jealous, he simply can’t find a job (an obvious attempt by screenwriter Ehren Kruger to inject some signs of the times).

Luckily, he’s got a new angel of a lady who’s more than supportive and empathetic to his situation. No, literally, she’s former Victoria Secret Angel-turned-actress Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who delivers an apropos performance considering her "actor-slash-model" status and antithetical nature to Fox and both of their characters' roles in Sam’s life at a given time. Her consistently white-clad Carly is the winged Goddess on Sam’s right shoulder if his former flame was the dark devil on the the left (She broke up with him? He broke up with her? That’s all the mention that’s made of Megan Fox’s Makaela Banes). He feels nurtured and at home with his new lady, but out of place in his life, uncomfortable in his own skin, which is now healed from the cuts and bruises of battle. He seeks action, adventure, and danger. He wants to matter in a world that doesn’t recognize what he’s done for it and why it matters. But fate will soon call on Sam once again, as he must ban together with the Autobots to save the human race from an ancient Cybertronian threat - a conspiracy forged between the Decipticons, humans, and an unlikely enemy, rooted in some of mankind's most historic events, cover-ups, and conspiracies.

And what a threat it is. Seriously. Whereas most films only hint at the cataclysmic and horrifying doom, death, and destruction of our planet by the bad guys just as the good guys get there to stop it, DARK OF THE MOON goes to that dark place. People die. And in true Bayhem, lots of people die. And in classic Bayhem, some of those people die as a result of a high-speed highway chase/freeway fight. This is the Judgement Day/Future War that we have been promised but have only been teased about in cinema (nevermind that we see it in this unrelated robo-centric franchise). The stakes are high and you feel it in this film. Better yet, you see it. But it’s not just about the relentless action sequences that Bay frames and executes to perfection. Or that this film takes the FX and Transformer designs to levels that the first could only imagine. Or that the film is the best example of a hard PG-13 we’ve seen to date. Or even that it’s a step in the right direction for 3D that actually lends itself to the film let alone is bright enough to be visible. It’s that you are actually emotionally invested enough to care about the people caught between the explosions.

Emotionally invested in the human characters is one thing (which you most definitely are here) but emotionally invested in a giant robot that’s made of nothing more than 1's and 0's...it’s something that is pure storytelling and filmmaking at its best. Pixar has done it for us with WALL-E. Disney has done it with THE IRON GIANT. But a Michael Bay film...TRANSFORMERS, no less? Yep, believe it. At the heart of it, this franchise has always just been about a boy and his first car - something a lot of us can relate to. Nevermind that his first car turned out to be an autonomous robotic organism from a long, lost planet...under the hood of this high-speed machine known as the TRANSFORMERS franchise has been a beating heart fueled-injected by emotion, which Kruger - on his own this time around without Roberto Orci or Alex Kurtzman - finally finds the pulse of  after three films and Bay successfully captures on screen, with both moments of tension-filled and emotional action.

If the events in DARK OF THE MOON feel like The Future War, then boy turned man Shia LaBeouf is our John Connor, as the actor’s performance here is one of his strongest to date in the zero to action hero role of Sam Witwicky, now a fully developed character arc after three films. LaBuff is more like it as, aside from literally bulking up, the actor brings a beefed up sense of confidence to the quirkiness of Samuel. It helps that LaBeouf is surrounded by a great cast, all who got the “balls to the wall” memo and applied it to their performances. If I may use the phrase "top-notch insane" in a positive manner, you’ve never seen Alan Tudyk, Patrick Dempsey, John Malkovich, or John Turturro quite like this.

Thus, with the dictionary ripped to shreds, along with a skyscraper...scratch that...a few skyscrapers and a freeway...no, wait a whole city...okay, okay...pretty much the entire planet, and the playbook on action filmmaking rewritten, Bay and company are back to prove that wrongs can be righted and that artists can and do actually listen to what the masses have to say about the art they make. Along the way, they prove that action and story can coexist and equally engage the audience. Above all, they prove that the third film in a trilogy can be its best.

Grade: B+

Seeing how there’s so many places a DARK OF THE MOON review could go but there’s only so much space, discuss your thoughts below! What’d you think of the retellings of historical events like Chernobyl and classic conspiracy theories like the Moon landing? How bout the inner-cutting of real historical footage and the digital mapping of faces? And the transformative cameos? What about Rosie Huntington-Whiteley as the new damsel in distress? Did the runtime bother you or did you love every second of it and want more? We want to hear what you thought!

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  • Nathan

    James, I’m glad you got to review this. I just finished shooting the video for my two man review of this film today and hopefully will be done cutting it tomorrow. I’ll send it to you when I’m done. I really loved this film. It was the perfect combination of everything Michael Bay has been known for over 20 years for and is exactly like the Judgement Day we never got from Terminator. A total blast!

  • Nathan

    James, I’m glad you got to review this. I just finished shooting the video for my two man review of this film today and hopefully will be done cutting it tomorrow. I’ll send it to you when I’m done. I really loved this film. It was the perfect combination of everything Michael Bay has been known for over 20 years for and is exactly like the Judgement Day we never got from Terminator. A total blast!

  • Nathan

    James, I’m glad you got to review this. I just finished shooting the video for my two man review of this film today and hopefully will be done cutting it tomorrow. I’ll send it to you when I’m done. I really loved this film. It was the perfect combination of everything Michael Bay has been known for over 20 years for and is exactly like the Judgement Day we never got from Terminator. A total blast!

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