Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Film Review)

(Theatrical release poster.)

Written by C.E. Chambers and published at C.E. July 15, 2011.

Since the Hollywood film industry has had a fascination with actresses with generous lips for 20 years, why aren’t we seeing more African American women on the large screen?  If someone thinks this is a racist comment, read “They Took Our Music—Now They’re ‘Taking’ Our Lips” (Ebony, April 1991).

How does replacement actress, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, measure up to sultry Megan Fox who was discarded during the pre-production of this film?  Huntington-Whiteley, a Victoria’s Secret super model, proves she’s more than just long, long legs and pillow-shaped lips.  Maybe her one-dimensional character isn’t required to do much more than fit into slinky haute couture and act seductively toward (a surprisingly unresponsive) Shia Labeouf, but she’s self-assured and compelling enough on screen to guarantee this won’t be her last film.  (Labeouf, who reprises his role as Sam Witwicky, looks as if he’s stunned at being cast as Huntington-Whiteley’s love interest.  Is there a critic brave enough to comment on their kissing scene?)

To be sure, her upper class English accent is an advantage over the sloppy diction of many of America’s young actresses.  Okay, that probably wasn’t on Director Michael Bay’s mind when he asked her to perform in the first scene by s-l-o-w-l-y walking up a flight of stairs in her underpants.

Huntington-Whiteley has another talent.  She performs many of the same stunts as Shia Labeouf — but in high, stiletto heels.  She sprints vigorously for her life through treacherous heaps of rubble as the evil Decepticons use formidable alien technology to level much of Chicago, and she slides precariously down unending panels of glass on a toppling high rise building.  (This brings to mind a vintage quote: “Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels.”)

Did Director Michael Bay have an ulterior motive — besides accentuating Huntington-Whiteley’s runway legs — for asking her to risk a sprained ankle or two?  According to IMDB’s biography of Huntington-Whiteley, she’s quoted as saying, “I had to wear heels the whole way through filming.  When it came to our kissing scene [with Labeouf], I said ‘Please Michael, let me take my shoes off.  I feel so unelegant and I feel so unfeminine,’…and he said ‘No.  You’re giving small men across America hope.’ ”

Ah.  The 40-foot tall, clanking hunks of metal with legs that don’t quit must be for the women across America.

This third installment in the “Transformers” franchise is inundated with spectacular visual and special effects, exhilarating stunts, and enough pyrotechnics to satisfy a career pyromaniac.  The pace is unrelenting and the plot is full of intrigue.  It’s an exciting addition to the sci-fi action flick genre — except for the convoluted storyline that makes people go cross-eyed when they try to explain it, including this writer.

The oh-so-wise and benevolent super race of shape-shifting mechanical Autobots are employed in secret peace-keeping missions around the world, always on the alert for their arch enemies, the  power-hungry Decepticons.  The malevolent robots show up for one last epic battle.  They have teleportation devices called Pillars at their command that have the ability to “reshape the universe,” and they plan to strip the earth of its resources and use earthlings as slave labor.  This is, by all accounts, the last film in the series.

Shia LaBeouf (who never cracks a smile) plays Sam Witwicky.  Rosie Huntington-Whiteley plays Carly, Sam’s posh girlfriend.  Josh Duhamel returns again as Capt. Lennox, Tyrese Gibson returns as Sergeant Epps, and John Turturro as Agent Simmons. Duhamel and Gibson are attractive, gripping members of a Special Ops team (former Navy Seals and Army Rangers worked with them so they would believably portray experienced soldiers).  John Malkovich and Frances McDormand also star.

However, everyone wants to know why Megan Fox, who played Sam’s girlfriend in the first two films, is missing.  Talk to different Hollywood industry insiders and you’ll hear disparate stories.  Some lay the blame on Director Bay, saying he was rude and crude, a real “a—hole” to work with.  In fact, actor Sean Connery ostensibly became enraged while working with Director Bay on “The Rock” (1996), and yelled, “You little sh-t, I’m not going to let you treat people like this!”  Megan Fox griped in an interview that he made her audition for the first “Transformers” film by washing his Ferrari.  (Read Rose Huntington-Whiteley’s complaints about Bay here.)

However, other insiders say Fox was a world-class “b-itch” on the set who acted as if she wanted to be anywhere but in front of a camera.

What is known for certain is that Fox compared Bay to “Hitler” in an interview for a British magazine.  This didn’t sit well with Executive Producer, Steven Spielberg, who said, “Fire her right now.”  (Fox’s appeal as Mikaela to male fans is so entrenched, however, that a couple of the characters in this film, including her ex-boyfriend, Sam, make snarky comments about her in order to justify her disappearance.)

In this film, Sam, a robot-magnet, has progressed from a teenager to a college graduate who can’t get a job.  (Maybe he shouldn’t wear jeans to interviews at large corporations?)  He’s embarrassed at his financial dependence on his doting girlfriend, Carly, who receives a $200,000 car as a “work perk.”  (What universe is this supposed to be happening in?)  He bitterly complains that he’s “saved the world twice.”

As is customary in Hollywood films, Republicans must be introduced for no other reason than to mock them.  During one of his job interviews, Sam shares that he received a medal from “Obama” for his heroics.  (He’s always “Obama,” never “President Obama.”)  The CEO replies: “In this office we’re mostly Republicans.”  The subtext is everyone knows the e-v-i-l Republicans are masters of exclusion; Sam will have to look for work elsewhere.

Sam is finally hired as a mail clerk for a large company and is drawn into deep intrigue by another employee who knows the truth behind NASA’s first mission to the moon in 1969.  An alien aircraft called the Ark had crash landed there in 1961, when President Kennedy was in office, and Americans and Russians were subsequently in a secret race to the moon to investigate it.

Meanwhile, Sam’s massive mechanical friend, Optimus Prime, discovers a fuel cell from his home planet of Cybertron in Chernobyl, Russia, of all places.  The Autobots travel to the far side of the moon to explore the Ark and discover their aristocratic former leader, Sentinel Prime, in the remains of the spacecraft.  He appears near death but Optimus Prime eventually restores him to full vigor.  In a touching scene, Optimus, the Olympian-sized robot, kneels in great homage before the “Einstein of his civilization.”

This is a small idea of the convoluted storyline, and I haven’t even mentioned the hour-long action scene at the end.

A sample of the dialogue:  Frances McDormand, who plays the apoplectic Director of National Intelligence, demands to know why sexy Carly, who has zero clearance, was permitted into a heavily secured, classified site.  Capt. Lennox prevents her from being thrown out by saying, “She comes from a military family.”

Oh, well, then.  That must mean I have an instant pass to the Pentagon.  It’s reassuring that the U.S. military, whose soldiers are most often [wrongly] portrayed by Hollywood as sadists, nincompoops, or psychopaths, can be relied upon to rescue a badly-contrived plot.

(Leonard Nimoy does the voicing for Sentinel Prime, and Peter Cullen reprises the voicing for Optimus Prime.)

(Rated PG-13: general mayhem and chaos, riveting explosions, a few swear words, female in underwear, slight salaciousness, sexy male robot voices)

(Written by C.E. Chambers and published online July 15, 2011.)

Link to “They Took Our Music — Now They’re Taking Our Lips,” Ebony magazine, April 1991

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