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Transformers: Dark of the Moon

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Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Directed by Michael Bay

Halfway through director Michael Bay’s new Transformers installment, one that begins with a world seemingly rid of the evil Decepticons and ends with no less than their dominant takeover, a thought entered my mind that I’ve been fending off for years: I think I’m done with robots.

I played with the die-cast metal toys as a child, and I dutifully bought the new plastic (and far flimsier) guys for my son. I was thrilled as the first movie approached and was somewhat enchanted when it came to the screen. Steven Spielberg gave original writers Robert Orci, Alex Kurtzman, and Ehren Kruger a simple mantra: “It’s about a boy and his car.” Transformers wasn’t perfect, but it was awe-inspiring to see boyhood fantasies recreated so well.

The 2009 sequel felt rushed and frenzied—both half-finished and overstuffed. Still, I gave it three stars and begrudgingly admired Bay’s “moralistic swagger.” Only when it reached HBO’s airwaves did I understand how crushingly wrong I was.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is better than Revenge of the Fallen. Bay has been vocal about fan complaints about hyper-editing the series and the tangled mess of steel representing nothing in particular. For this third installment, Bay uses 3-D to offer a clearer view of what’s going on at all times. The giant mechanical monsters interact with Earth’s puny humans seamlessly. Because of this laudable quality, the audience can finally relax their eyes a bit and contemplate the notion that these toys have run their course. There’s very little Bay can do that shocks the senses anymore with regard to his shape-shifting, war-happy friends, though not for lack of trying.

Dark of the Moon follows the series’ trusty protagonist Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf in full perma-scream) as he tries to enter the job market with nothing but a college degree and a medal from President Obama. Well, that and a glamorous girlfriend (Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), who wants nothing from him but half of the rent for her glamorous Chicago loft.

He finds a job in the mailroom of a firm that does God-knows-what, run by John Malkovich or possibly by Patrick Dempsey. There, he’s assaulted by The Hangover’s Ken Jeong in a bathroom stall. (Note: I’m not making this up.) Meanwhile, the U.S. government, represented here by Frances McDormand as the national security advisor, has learned of nefarious Decepticon technology being housed in the abandoned site of the Chernobyl disaster, technology that the United States found during Apollo 11’s trip to the moon in 1969. Incredibly, that mission’s Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin shows up to assure Optimus Prime—and the audience—that yep, that’s how it went down. The power of Bay/Spielberg, ladies and gentlemen.

Optimus and the Autobots fly to the moon to grab up the technology—some kind of time-space portal—and also Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy, who sounds like Galvatron and actually voiced the baddie in the 1986 cartoon feature), the Autobot leader long believed dead. Witwicky begins piecing things together, and soon he’s reunited with his best friend, Bumblebee, and the stage is set for another near-deadly showdown.

As outrageous as that plot may sound, it’s handled with a kind of calm, practiced mayhem, in the way you imagine Charlie Sheen must be good to have around at Hollywood parties; nothing here, besides Sam’s outrageously bee-stung lady friend, feels particularly unbelievable or outside the grasp of the filmmakers. But the movie’s length (around two hours and 37 minutes) and scope (Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson return as military types who can somehow gather small bands of A-Teams and execute precise, superhero-esque operations with very little strategic coordination) give you plenty of time to wonder just how important these Hasbro hulks are anymore. Would I rather they were non-speaking, technologically advanced droids and watched as Sam, his commandos, and his runway model infiltrate a war-torn Chicago? Possibly. Would I have rather seen an entirely different cast of characters who weren’t quite so used to it all find themselves in the middle of a robot war? Absolutely.

After four years at the movies and many more besides in my imagination, I’m ready to move on from the whole enterprise. I don’t hold onto hope that anyone else involved in the lucrative franchise feels the same.

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