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Transformers 3: The dark side of filmmaking

Shia LaBeouf in a scene from "Transformers: Dark of the Moon"

Jaimie Trueblood/Paramount Pictures

2 out of 4 stars


Arriving in theatres in time to dominate the upcoming American Independence Day weekend, the third Transformers movie is another hefty slice of mayhem from director Michael Bay.

The Transformers movies, based on the Hasbro toy series of the early eighties, trace the adventures of Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) and his fraternal bond with a collection of mostly giant alien machines called Autobots who are engaged in an ancient war against other machines called Decepticons.

Anyone who finds these alien names a stumbling block (shouldn't Decepticons call themselves something more deceptive, like "Sincere-icons"?) has not embraced the to-hell-with-logic spirit of Bay's cinema. These are movies that introduce the combatants and proceed directly to the money shots - flying objects, crashing vehicles and collapsing buildings - with the occasional cutaway to a slender feminine silhouette or a close up of pouty lips. At times, the chaos he creates within the film frame is so abstract and exaggerated - think of him as Action Jackson Pollock - it can feel exhilarating, but the relentlessness is exhausting.

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After 2009's Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, in which the visual and narrative incoherence seemed to have achieved some historical nadir, Bay promised to reign in his special effects for Transformers: Dark of the Moon, the first movie of the series in 3-D.

To his credit, during the first hour and a half or so of this two-and-a-half-hour epic, there are several lucid stretches. A brief prologue establishes that the 1960s space race was really about the Russians and Americans attempting to recover a crashed Autobot spaceship, or "ark," on the moon. As we catch up to the present, the evil Decepticons are back at it, out to destroy the Autobots and enslave humanity.

Shortly after the title appears, we move to the domestic present day and get our first view of English actress, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who replaced Megan Fox as Sammy's girlfriend (the view is actually of her derriere, which in Bay's shorthand stands for "romantic interest"). The girlfriend is named Carly, and she's living with and supporting Sammy, who has now grown up to be an unemployed recent college grad. When he meets Carly's suave ultra-wealthy boss (Patrick Dempsey), he's in a hurry to join the workforce.

Soon, Sammy gets hired by an eccentric new boss (John Malkovich, with gleaming teeth and a wig), and an even stranger colleague ( The Hangover's Ken Jeong) leads Sammy back to the world of warring machines where he can be a hero again. The movie also brings back Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson as Sammy's military allies, plus John Turturro, hamming it up as the mad genius, Simmons, and Frances McDormand as the tough, sexually ambiguous head of national security, who keeps barking out, "Don't call me ma'am."

But don't worry about remembering the characters - the movie certainly doesn't. In the final hour of the film, in which Decepticons seize the city of Chicago, Sammy and Carly are mostly reduced to ducking and running. Here, Bay really comes into his own. The music swells in ear-splitting crescendos, giant robots toss cars in the air, paratroopers fall from planes, space ships speed between skyscrapers, while other twisted glass buildings turn into midway slides.

Occasionally, a tense orange-tinged human face appears out of the clouds of blue and black rubble, reminding us that, after all, it's the fate of humanity that's supposed to be at stake here.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon

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  • Directed by Michael Bay
  • Written by Ehren Kruger
  • Starring Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley and Tyrese Gibson
  • Classification: PG
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