Transformers: Dark of the Moon is a film that plays to its strengths. Massive action scenes, frenetic scope, and a fully realized 3-D environment are what summer movies are all about -- and Transformers: Dark of the Moon offers maximum amounts of these throughout the 154-minute running time. The last hour is big, bigger than anything we've seen all year, highlighting director Michael Bay's prodigious visual gifts. Thankfully, the story and tone have been (mostly) cleaned up from previous iterations, allowing an audience to focus entirely on the (admittedly simplistic) good vs. evil spectacle playing out in front of them.
The film opens on the Transformer home planet of Cybertron, detailing the civil war that occurred between the Decepticons and Autobots. One side was evil (the one with "deception" right there in the name!) while the other was comprised of solid, upstanding mechanical citizens, who believed mightily in personal (Autobotal?) freedom. Sadly, on Cybertron, tyranny is winning in a complete rout over freedom, so the last of the Autobots are forced into a desperate attempt to escape their doomed planet. They crash-land into the moon (the DARK of the moon) which alerts Russian and American space agencies to an alien presence. From then on the space race is simply a contest to be the first to see alien technology up close. This summer has been all about toying with historical events (X-Men: First Class), but that's a discussion for another time.
Back in present day, on Earth, the further adventures of Sam Witwicky continue, only this time the lad has switched out a brunette (Megan Fox) for a blonde (Rosie Huntington Whiteley). Our hero is down on his luck and on the hunt for a job. For saving the world (twice), he's received a medal from President Obama, but he's still a recent college graduate who depends on his sugar momma girlfriend for meals. Thankfully this entire sequence is handled firmly tongue-in-cheek, for Witwicky's life is pure summer escapism. Sam's parents visit (of course they do) to chide him about his lack of career momentum and he meets his girlfriend's boss, (played by Patrick Dempsey), creating instant jealousy. Mercifully, Transformers: Dark of the Moon isn't all about Sam's life, and trouble is brewing for THE ENTIRE EARTH. Sorry, slipped into Michael Bay tone there for a second.
In the time that has passed since Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen Autobots have become stalwart American allies, helping out with international relations in a manner only befitting giant transforming machines. They pay a little visit to Iran, fix things right up, and then they're tasked to Chernobyl to investigate some curious Energon readings. Which is right about where all hell breaks loose.
Said hell is not something that should be spoiled, nor would words effectively convey the mayhem achieved in the film. Transformers: Dark of the Moon vaults into the third act with more explosions than a fireworks factory. The gas pedal has been pushed in, a cinder block placed upon it. Yes, the plot is 20 percent illogical, and sure, the "let's stop for a one-liner" phenomenon is in full effect, and the "romance" angle is completely forced. It hardly matters: an aggregate of 15 bad minutes is no biggie, especially juxtaposed against the largish amounts on entertainment injected throughout. Gone is the idiocy of the rappin' robots, replaced by decent amounts of levity from all corners. On that front, I laughed more than a few times during this film, and it wasn't of the unintentional Revenge of the Fallen variety. Everything is more crisp, more taut, the action placed right out in front, where it belongs.
Bay also remains at the top of his game where the details are concerned. The mighty USS Stout (DDG 55) gets some screen time, with real combat photography used (naturally). Wingsuits are also leveraged for maximum adrenaline, showing Bay's willingness to evolve with the tactics and techniques of actual combat. He's also clearly become more comfortable with the Transformers supporting cast, Shockwave debuts, while Soundwave and Sideswipe are back in the fold.
The acting is also present this time around, with Shia Labeouf turning in his best work of the series. Frances McDormand also elevated the material, selling lines that a lesser actor might have stumbled with. Though inadvertent Team America homages did leave a little room for cringing, the sheer scale of Transformers: Dark of the Moon was most impressive. The city of Chicago was transformed into a giant CGI playground, and anyone who thought action movies had run out of things to do should catch this film, where squirming at the level of protagonist peril became the physiological norm. The "significance" factor of Dark of the Moon is huge, the stakes high and momentum furious.
Easily the best Transformers of the series, Dark of the Moon is everything that's boisterous and lively about our big studio cinema. Though it's not a perfect film, it's a perfectly enjoyable one, masterfully crafted for the big-screen experience.