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 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 (lesser) 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 and Alex Kurtzman a simple mantra: "It's about a boy and his car." Transformers wasn't perfect, but it was awe-inspiring to see their version of my boyhood fantasies.
The 2009 sequel felt half-finished and overstuffed. Still, I gave it three stars. I'm a robot apologist, you see.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon is better than Revenge of the Fallen. Bay took fans' notes about the hyper-editing and the tangled messes of steel. This third film pulls back and Bay utilizes 3-D to help us get a clearer view of what's going on at all times. The bots interact with humans seamlessly. Because of those qualities, the audience can finally relax their eyes and contemplate the notion that these toys have run their course. There's very little Bay can do that shocks the senses anymore.
Dark of the Moon follows our 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).
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 Ken Jeong in a bathroom stall. Meanwhile, the U.S. government, represented by Frances McDormand's NSA advisor, has learned of nefarious Decepticon technology being housed in the abandoned site of the Chernobyl disaster, technology that the U.S. found during Apollo 11's trip to the moon in 1969. (Incredibly, that mission's pilot, Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, shows up to assure Optimus Prime – and the audience – that yep, that's how it went down.)
Optimus and the Autobots fly to the moon to get the technology – some time-space portal – and also to retrieve Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy, no stranger to Transformers voiceover work), the Autobot leader long believed dead. Witwicky pieces things together and soon he's poised for battle.
As outrageous as that plot may sound, it's handled with a kind of calm, practiced mayhem; nothing here, besides Sam's bee-stung lady friend, feels particularly unbelievable. But the movie's length – around two hours and 30 minutes – and scope – Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson return as military types who can somehow gather small bands of A-Teams and execute precise operations with very little strategic coordination – give the viewer plenty of time to wonder just how important these Hasbro hulks are. Would I rather they were non-speaking 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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