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Movie Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon (PG-13)


Kernel Rating (out of 5): half-popcorn-kernal

Length: 157 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Age Appropriate for: 12+. A lot of the violence here is between the Transformers, so children may not be as affected, but we’re still talking executions, decapitations, torn-out body parts and other terrible stuff. Lots of humans die in various ways, too; there’s also cursing; some homophobic, race-related and sexual humor; and suggested sexual situations.


With the thoroughly frustrating ‘Transformers: Dark of the Moon,’ how much lower does Michael Bay sink? So low. So, so low.

By Roxana Hadadi

A decade after Sept. 11, 2001, and Michael Bay is still milking one of our nation’s worst tragedies for entertainment value. In “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” which will equally enthrall, bore and offend you, Bay makes the film’s major action scenes, major players and major moral themes about the war on terrorism and its casualties. But “Dark of the Moon” is in 3-D, so you’re supposed to laugh at the racist stereotypes, ogle at the Victoria’s Secret model in a starring role, cheer for America and be happy when the robots viciously tear each other apart amid imagery undeniably influenced by the attack on the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City. Keep it classy, Bay.

None of what happens in “Dark of the Moon” is that different from Bay’s previous two films in the series, 2007’s “Transformers” and 2009’s “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” Both milked patriotic themes and assigned personalities to the Hasbro characters that didn’t exist before — yes, in the original toys, comic book and animated TV show, Optimus Prime, leader of the Autobots, was a good guy and Megatron, leader of the Decepticons, was a bad guy. Their moral discrepancies were very clear, since Megatron was such a jerk and Optimus Prime such a gentleman.

But those differences didn’t need to be further spelled out through tedious speeches about the needs of the many versus the needs of the few, or sacrifices made in the name of freedom, or noble causes everyone should defend. Optimus and Megatron didn’t talk a big game like Bill O’Reilly, Pat Buchanan or any other talking head, and Bay’s insistence that his versions of the characters do so makes light of what has happened in our country since Sept. 11. Really, American youth need talking robots to tell them about politics and what the U.S. stands for? Can’t they just watch the news, or — gasp! — read a book? Blasphemy, I know.

Basically anything, though, would be better than “Dark of the Moon,” a typically disjointed Bay blockbuster. Only the special effects have improved: The Transformers look far better than the muddy grey messes they were in the previous two films, with better clarity and depth to the robots’ faces and movements. You don’t need to see it in 3-D, though; characters only fly in your face once or twice, and the fights aren’t elevated because of the technology.

The rest of the film is awful, of course. The first hour is an aimless mess, setting up plot developments that are essentially forgotten when the film’s final third of action begins. The characters are as sketchy as ever, especially that of Carly, portrayed by model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. (You’ve of course heard that actress Megan Fox is gone, allegedly fired from the film after comparing Bay to Hitler; her character Mikaela is never seen onscreen and is only referred to disparagingly by others as “that girl.”) And the entire production is so self-important, pompous and needlessly convoluted that it’s impossible to tell who Bay is hoping to reach.

Children will probably be scared by all the violence and destruction, and even if they’re not scared, be wary of taking them; countless humans are murdered — blown up, thrown out of windows or slashed apart. There’s also robot-on-robot violence similar to “Mortal Kombat,” with decapitations and ripped-out body parts; cursing; sexual suggestiveness, like lingering shots of Huntington-Whiteley’s body and cleavage; and some mature themes about slavery and the end of the world. Though “Transformers” was born out of toys, anyone young enough to play with those action figures maybe shouldn’t be seeing this movie.

Teenagers, however, will probably be all over this one. “Dark of the Moon” begins with a cover-up, suggesting that the space race of the 1960s between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. was fueled by a crash on the moon. The alien spacecraft was from Cybertron, the Transformers’ home world, and carried Autobot leader Sentinel Prime (voiced by Leonard Nimoy, sadly), who was fleeing with a technology that could save Cybertron from the devastation created by the war between the Autobots and the Decepticons. After the Americans got to the moon first, they tried to keep their discovery a secret — but young college graduate Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) begins to realize something is amiss when a high-level official (Ken Jeong) at the contracting firm where he works tries to tip him off to something about the Decepticons.

Some other stuff happens to move the plot along, like scenes in Chernobyl, an underground Russian club, a top-secret intelligence base overseen by the wooden-yet-steely Secretary of Defense Charlotte Mearing (Frances McDormand) and a bizarre press conference held by former federal agent Seymour Simmons (John Turturro), but don’t worry, you won’t remember it. I sure don’t!

What is memorable is the film’s climactic final fight scene, held in a shell-shocked Chicago that borrows its ravaged buildings and enveloping chaos from Sept. 11; the characters in the film even refer to the city as “Ground Zero.” Human heroes slide along the side of a collapsing building, looking unsettlingly like those who fell from the Towers that day. One specific glass structure takes forever to fall apart, and Bay frames it over and over again just like the news footage we’ve all seen on loop. Everything about it, from how Bay creates the city’s skyline and the fighting, is unbelievably eerie.

Also unbelievable is how the various actors treat the film: LaBeouf is manic, aggressive and over-compensating in his portrayal of Sam, who is bitter that he’s saved the world twice but has to work in a mail room; Jeong is goofy and absurd, allowing Bay to slip in some homophobic humor; Huntington-Whiteley is a more active actress than Fox was, but she’s still just eye candy; and McDormand has an Oscar and shouldn’t be in this at all. There are robots who are obviously meant to be caricatures of black people, and the film’s only Hispanic character is a “hoochie mama” who wears revealing clothes to work. Bay really gets diversity, you know?

He also really gets how to make money, so undoubtedly people will flock to see “Dark of the Moon.” It’s true that the visuals are more intricate this time around, but the brazen use of a national tragedy to fill in gaping plot holes and remedy poor scriptwriting? No amount of impressive slow motion or 3-D can fully remedy an error so flagrant and troubling.

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