by Dwight Brown
For New Pittsburgh Courier
(NNPA)—It’s on! After a lackluster sequel the Transformers franchise gets its mojo back. “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is the first event movie of the summer, and though it is not perfect, it’s a contender for sci-fi action film bragging rights.
Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) can’t get any respect. He’s saved America from giant, savage robots, has been commended by President Obama, but can’t find a job in Washington D.C. and is mooching off his lovely girlfriend, Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). He finally gets a gig in an office as a mailboy, and sooner than later an enigmatic, geeky Asian dude (Ken Jeong, “Hangover”) hips him to a devious master plot that could devour the earth.
As Sam tries to avert an Armageddon, evilly plotted by the Decepticons, he butts heads with the head of the CIA (Frances McDormand). He’s aided by his old armed-forces pal Lennox (Josh Duhamel), as he heads to Chicago for the ultimate throw-down. The nemeses’ diabolical scheme involves the powerful, hidden treasures on an ark-type Autobot space ship that crash-landed on the dark side of the moon and was sought after by the Russians and discovered by the American Apollo astronauts back in the ’60s. Sam gets help from his transformer pals, The Autobots (cars, trucks and gadgets that “transform” into robotic fighting machines): Bumblebee, Ratchet, Ironhide and Sideswipe are all led by the alpha Transformer, Optimus Prime.
If you are new to the Transformers series, don’t worry if you get a little lost. Though the narrative is a bit tricky and complicated, you don’t have to discern the entire storyline to follow the proceedings. The plot, as devised by writer Ehren Kruger, is just thick enough to stick to the ribs and give the characters reasons to fight for their lives. The bond between Sam and Carly is a mere cotton candy romance. The rivalries between the factions are just functional. This is an extreme action film inundated with movement, fights, flights, escapes, daring rescues, and bombs bursting on cue on a caliber unseen except in summer blockbuster wannabes.
Director Michael Bay (“Bad Boys,” “Pearl Harbor”) goes heavy on the blaring musical score and loud sound effects to accentuate his jaw-dropping battle scenes. He is less successful milking real drama or comedy out of this movie, but who cares. He painstakingly builds the storyline, suspense and thrills up through the first two acts. (Be patient.) Then he unleashes the torrent of phenomenal, kinetic, choreographed motion in the final act. He humanizes the Transformers and makes them feel like family as they fight to save the earth, which is in danger of being invaded and enslaved. Be prepared to be awed.
Shia LaBeouf has made other films (“Wall Street 2”), but Witwicky is his signature role in a movie series he can call home. He’s on fire. Running, jumping, dodging, throwing punches, shooting. And when he can, he gets in a one liner, the kind that gives his character verve. Frances McDormand is all business as an uptight government official. Patrick Dempsey, as Carly’s evil boss, makes a nice, devious villain.
Tyrese Gibson has become the go to man, if you need a strong male buddy to back you up. Huntington-Whiteley is pure eye-candy, she pouts like a super model.
Bay and LaBeouf are given a huge helping hand by the visuals: cinematography, Amir M. Mokri (“Bad Boys,” “Fast & Furious”); art direction, Benjamin Edelberg; set decoration, Jennifer Williams; editing, Roger Barton, William Goldenberg, and Joel Negron; and a special effects team that is top-notch. The stuntmen deserve praise to, as it’s hard to figure out when the lead cast is doing their own tumbles. Yes watching the massive machines brawl like over caffeinated robots on steroids is flabbergasting. But the most thrilling scenes involve the armed forces jumping out of planes and wingsuit flying down to targets like bats, or skyscrapers getting snapped in half like celery sticks.
Go for the action. Skip the drama. Stay for the battles scenes. Leave energized. You won’t know how much this film has affected you until you pass a huge 18-wheeler truck and hear its engine roar. You’ll turn around and wait to see it transform itself into an Autobot.
(Visit NNPA Film Critic Dwight Brown at www.DwightBrownInk.com.)