After the mess that was "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," moviegoing audiences would be forgiven if they didn't expect much out of "Dark of the Moon." Perhaps it was that very realization that drove Michael Bay and company to pack everything but the kitchen sink into "Dark of the Moon." Loud, bombastic and loaded with explosions, "Dark of the Moon" may not win any dramatic awards, but it is nearly two-and-a-half hours of robot porn at its finest.
The story starts out with a flashback to the ending moments of the War for Cybertron, as Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy) attempts an escape from the war-torn world. His ship damaged beyond repair, Sentinel crashes into the dark side of Earth's moon and remains dormant. The impact was noted by NASA and was the impetus for the Apollo space program. Shortly after landing on the moon, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin discover the Autobot ship, but the information is classified beyond top secret.
In the present day, Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) is shown chasing down a Decepticon through Chernobyl and Pripyat, resulting in the discovery of an Autobot drive module. Incensed, Optimus demands to know why the Autobots were not told of humanity's prior contact with Sentinel's ship. He mounts a rescue mission to the moon, after which the Autobots learn of Sentinel's secret weapon: a space bridge that can transport matter across the universe. From there, "it's on" as both sides marshal all their forces in an attempt to control the bridge.
Though the basis of the plot is fairly straightforward, there are enough twists and turns in the story line to keep viewers entertained. Some of the plot points are telegraphed pretty far in advance, but not all of them are immediately obvious. Given the surprisingly high number of characters, the exposition can feel a bit overdone at times; however, given the last movie's lack of a coherent plot, we'll forgive the screenwriters' bit of indulgence here.
At the very least, Bay managed to make good use of the extraneous story segments by going all-out with his casting choices. For example, John Malkovich's role as Sam Witwicky's boss could probably have been cut, but after seeing the film, it's a good thing it wasn't. Malkovich managed to take what was an insignificant role and completely own it.
Another notable surprise was Alan Tudyk as Dutch, the personal assistant to Agent Seymour Simmons (John Turturro). While Turturro plays the maniac Simmons with gusto, Tudyk brings an impressively multilayered approach to the quirky assistant facing down a few personal demons of his own.
Gears of War fans should keep their eyes peeled for the character of Hardcore Eddie, a Special Forces member who appears in the second half of the film. He is played by none other than Lester "Cole Train" Speight.
With all that said, the best cameo of the film goes to Buzz Aldrin. Known for both his space-faring adventures as well as his "take-no-crap" attitude — in late 2002, he famously decked a conspiracy nut that was harassing him, but no charges were pressed — Aldrin scores even more points on the cool meter here when he has a face-to-face with Optimus.
Bay also has to be given credit for keeping the action flowing throughout the film. Even in the first half-hour, which is almost all setup, the director ensures that no segment drags on too long. Humor is added throughout by the intelligent use of mini-Transformers Wheelie and Brains (the two get the majority of really good one-liners) and not-so-subtle references to other sci-fi franchises, with Star Trek and Highlander being two of the most obvious.
It would all be for naught, though, if the film didn't have some gratuitous robot porn, and "Dark of the Moon" has it in spades. Transformers of all shapes and sizes appear here, including the absolutely massive Digger and the iridescent Decepticon dropships.
Action scenes are wisely composited with a medium-range depth, giving the audience a clear view of all the rock-'em, sock-'em fun. Just watching the Autobots and Decepticons tear each other apart in such a visceral way (not to mention destroying the city of Chicago in the process) is like watching a childhood fantasy play out on the big screen. "Dark of the Moon" realizes all of the epic combat that we visualized as kids when playing with the toys. Sure, it's over the top, but we wouldn't have it any other way.
The robot action is punctuated by some equally impressive human stunt sequences. Particularly notable here is the wingsuit skydiving flight through the skyscrapers of downtown Chicago. It may be CGI enhanced, but damn if it doesn't look cool.
Although we viewed "Dark of the Moon" in 3-D and the effect was well done, it's not a movie that really benefits from the 3-D effect. Things would look just as good in 2-D, so if you want to splurge, go for the IMAX presentation. Otherwise, a standard screening should be fine.
Over the top in more ways than one, "Dark of the Moon" makes up for any perceived lack of depth by enthusiastically embracing its subject matter. Story-wise, the original "Transformers" film is still the best, but from a pure adrenaline point of view, "Dark of the Moon" is impressive. It's best to simply ignore "Revenge of the Fallen" and pretend it never happened. "Dark of the Moon" is the sequel that Transfomers fans have been waiting for, and Bay delivers the action in a big way.
"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" is rated PG-13 and has a running time of 2 hours and 34 minutes. It is showing in 2-D, 3-D and IMAX.
Editor's Note: Transformers: Dark of the Moon is currently available for the Nintendo DS, Wii, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360. Be sure to check out our full video game review to see how it stacks up to the film.
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