Directed by Michael Bay. Starring Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Josh Duhamel, John Malkovich, Tyrese Gibson, Frances McDormand, Patrick Dempsey, Ken Jeong.
A big ‘The Transformers’ cartoons fan and an even bigger despiser of Michael Bay’s last two Transformers movies, I was actually blown away by the action-packed, star-studded and fan-pleasing extravaganza that is Dark of the Moon.
As a kid in the 80s I watched all The Transformers episodes on tape repeatedly. I could tell you the names of all the Autobots (the good robots) and the Decepticons (bad guys, duh). I could spot howlers in the cartoon cell drawings where in a couple of frames Starscream would be coloured like Ramjet. I loved the original The Transformers ‘The Movie’ cartoon that featured the voice of the legendary Orson Welles as the planet destroying menace Unicron — a role that he apparently abhorred doing. I still have the film, now on DVD, and the groundbreaking soundtrack. I have the original toys by Hasbro as well, probably collector’s items now.
In a lot of ways, the new film by Bay tries to capture the unique energy and fanboy spirit of the old cartoons. Finally! The guys at Paramount, Hasbro and now Viacom have listened to the fans; to the critics. Sure it’s the same old smash-em-up violence but then the original cartoons had lots of that too. But there’s a story, there is character development, a bit of heart and some of the best 3-D action I’ve seen in a while. Oh and the soundtrack/score is brilliant.
So we start off in the 60s during President Kennedy’s reign (lots of that happening what with X-Men: First Class also featuring Kennedy footage and era set up) and NASA’s space programme to the Moon. The real reason is an alien landing on our natural satellite (will they never tire of conspiracy theories about that mission?). Cut to present day and a story of intrigue and mystery unfolds. The Decepticons are keeping a low profile; the Autobots are ‘helping’ the world (i.e. America) defeat Middle Eastern terrorists but something strange is afoot as secrets about the NASA Moon mission and subsequent deaths of key players courtesy Laserbeak unfurl before us. Earthling Sam Witwicky and his new girl Carly (the hot Huntington-Whiteley, whose character is in the original cartoons unlike sexy, ‘fired’ Megan Fox’s Mikaela) must get the government to let them help and try and figure out the mystery behind the discovery of Sentinel Prime (voiced by the great Leonard Nimoy from Star Trek) and the space bridge pillars.
Okay so when I heard Nimoy’s characteristic grand voice for the Autobot Sentinel Prime I was hooked. I tell you just his voice is enough to lend a film gravitas. Oh, he originally voiced Galvatron in the cartoon movie of 1986 so it would seem he has ‘the touch’. And for a fan of sci-fi the added bonus is the countless references to Star Trek, notice solar flares used in scenes just like they did in the JJ Abrams Star Trek movie (2009). Bay seems to be learning from Abrams. It can only help.
Action. You want it. You’ll get it. Unlike the second film, the disastrous, over-long mess, Revenge of the Fallen, this one shows you the action gloriously. There’s no quick camera movement making it seem like two garbage trucks entwined doing the tango. It’s focused and I must say the 3-D adds immensely to create some spectacular vistas and sweeping stunts. The audience even started clapping after one sequence. Hell, even I applauded.
There’s a whole story arc where the Autobots are asked to leave the planet on a rocket ship. That’s from the cartoons. Of course, a lot of you may argue that you don’t have that background, but it doesn’t matter. It may mean more to me but it’ll wow you just the same when to thumping music, Optimus Prime (voiced by veteran Peter Cullen) and his small band of Autobots swoop down from apparent annihilation to save the day.
And who says there is no heart in the film. Sure the scenes with Sam and his parents are more slapstick than heartfelt. And the romance with Carly is superficial. But the camaraderie between the Autobots and between Sam and buddy Bumblebee is far stronger than previous films. The last time I shed a tear for Transformers was back in the 80s when Optimus dies in the cartoon movie. And now for this one, but don’t worry, he doesn’t die. Neither does Bumblebee.
Malkovich and Oscar winner McDormand play their parts perfectly and Bay made a rather fine decision casting them. John Turtorro as Agent Smith is funny and so is his sidekick, the camp Dutch (Alan Tudyk, remember the naked guy from the Brit comedy Death at a Funeral?). The Hangover’s Mr Chow, Ken Jeong retains his vulgar and inane persona (typecasting perhaps). McDreamy (Grey’s Anatomy) Patrick Dempsey as the bad human conspirator is good too. In fact, apart from LaBeouf and Duhamel, the cast deliver standout performances. Is this a Transformers movie, you ask? Decepticon punk!