The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Bumblebee, ready for action in the Windy City.

Watching Transformers: Dark of the Moon is like watching two separate movies. The first of the two movies I didn't care much for; the second one I absolutely loved. Unfortunately, the first movie is the longer of the two. Given that DOTM runs two-and-a-half hours, it would be accurate to say that I enjoyed 2/5 of it. But I enjoyed that 2/5 much more than I didn't enjoy the other 3/5, so I can't really recommend DOTM, nor can I not recommend it. This review is a mess already.

Movie #1 is all about how NASA actually planned the first moon landing because some sort of alien activity was detected there, and JFK wanted our boys to find out what it was before the Russians did. Following years of being hidden by the government, the moon mystery comes to light again, seriously igniting the war between the evil Decepticons and the benevolent Autobots. It may, in fact, result in the end of Earth. Thankfully, Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) is around to lead the charge, along with his good friend - and lead Transformer - Optimus Prime.

This movie isn't awful, although it's not particularly good either. For a film ostensibly about fighting robots (and one based on a line of Hasbro toys, no less), there's a helluva lot of exposition. The storytelling is deeply sloppy. It tries to set up what happened with the moon landing, why things were covered up, what the Decepticons are trying to do, what might happen if they succeed, and what the Autobots plan to do in response. While that sounds fairly straightforward, the screenplay by Ehren Kruger jumps around in a hyperactive manner that robs it of coherence. I often wasn't sure why things were taking place, or what certain characters' motivations were.

Movie #1 is also overstuffed, as it tries to squeeze in subplots for Sam's new girlfriend (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), her boss (Patrick Dempsey), Sam's cuckoo employer (John Malkovich), a conspiracy theorist (Ken Jeong), and a government official (Frances McDormand). Additionally, there are subplots for many of the characters from the two previous Transformers installments, including those played by Josh Duhamel, Tyrese Gibson, and John Turturro. Talky, bloated, and muddled, these first 90 minutes are weighted down so much that trying to keep up with the plot becomes a chore.

Movie #2 is far better. Encompassing the last hour of DOTM, it follows the Autobots as they engage in an epic battle against the Decepticons on the streets of Chicago. What they're trying to do, unlike the earlier stuff, is simple and easy to grasp: prevent the baddies from essentially taking over the planet. This second movie is filled with crazy-extreme action and magnificent special effects. It is an enormously enjoyable ride. (A set piece involving Sam et al inside a collapsing building represents first-rate Hollywood popcorn entertainment.) Let's be honest: one goes to a Transformers picture to see robot-on-robot action. You are not short-changed in this final hour.

Should you choose to see Dark of the Moon in 3D - and, by all means, you should, if you're going to go - the visceral excitement grows exponentially. Here is as creative a use of 3D as I've ever seen. Director Michael Bay knows how to utilize it in inventive ways. The format conveys the massive size of the Transformers, as well as the movement of individual pieces as they shift. The scope of Chicago is nicely utilized in 3D, with several scenes designed to convey dizzying height. Watching Transformer parts flying out toward you during battle sequences is a kick.

Regrettably, you have to slog through the first movie to get to the second, unless you're willing to pay full price but only watch the last hour of Transformers: Dark of the Moon. It's an option worth considering. Bay should have tossed the useless characters (Turturro, Gibson, etc.) and ordered a tighter, more focused screenplay. Had that happened, this sequel might have been close in quality to the terrific original. Dark of the Moon is undoubtedly an improvement over the previous installment, Revenge of the Fallen, which is good. But it's also an example of perfectly fun action, effects, and 3D use marred by some lazy storytelling.

( 1/2 out of four)

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is rated PG-13 for intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality and innuendo. The running time is 2 hours and 35 minutes.