If you’re a fan of special effects and seek entertainment on the big screen, a few hours of escape and some righteous butt-kicking and loud explosions, and if you’ve already enjoyed Transformers and have forgiven Michael Bay for Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, you’ll love Transformers: Dark of the Moon.
The story starts out with a conspiracy that reaches back 50 years to the Cold War, the Apollo program and even the disastrous meltdown of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. With overlap from X Men: First Class and the yet-unreleased horror film Apollo 18, the first 45 minutes or so were really good, far better than I expected. Then the entire film collapsed into incoherence propelled forward just as much by setups for sarcastic repartee and embarrassing homophobic jokes as by anything to do with the increasingly absent storyline.
Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBoeuf) is back as the clumsy nerd-done-well, now living with gorgeous Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). Inexplicably, they’re in a relationship and sharing a funky warehouse apartment that has enough space that Autobot Bumblebee can actually ride up a freight elevator and park in the living room.
The mythos of the Transformers series revolves around distant planet Cybertron, which was home for both the Autobots and Decepticons until a battle tore the planet asunder and destroyed the Autobots, except those who made it to Earth. Boss Autobot Sentinel Prime, it turns out, invented a secret weapon to preserve his race but crashed into the far side of our moon on his way to Earth. Oops.
Zoom forward to 2011, and the Autobots are working in parallel with the American military from their secret NEST headquarters in the middle of Washington, D.C.
Meanwhile, Sam is trying to get a job, girlfriend Carly is working for handsome, crazy wealthy and predictably evil biz CEO Lennox ( Josh Duhamel), and Sam’s parents Ron (Kevin Dunn) and Judy ( Julie White) visit just long enough to be annoying and start the homophobic humor that contributes to the film falling apart. Smart-aleck New Yorker Simmons ( John Turturro) is back too, though this time he’s part of the military-industrial complex, which is odd given his anti-establishment personality in the prior films.
There’s always some cliché establishment bureaucrat in these sort of films, and this time it’s Secretary of Defense Charlotte Mearing ( Julie McDormand). There’s a great cameo in the film from NASA astronaut Buzz Aldrin (playing himself). I can only wonder about his opinion of how the film wove his Apollo mission into the storyline.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon isn’t a complex story, however, but beautiful women, sexy cars (including a sweet Mercedes SLS AMG), jive-talking robots — though this time we have English street thug Transformers rather than the far more offensive African-American racist stereotype Transformers from T2 — and big, bam, boom, explosions and destruction in glorious 3D. In that regard, it’s a complete success. The film is visually amazing, from its scenes on the moon to the occupation and destruction of Chicago.
Two stars because of the great visual effects, not because of the story or acting.