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Tuesday 25 July 2017

Film Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon * * *

The action scenes
in $200m blockbusterTransformers:
Dark of the Moon are impressive
The action scenes in $200m blockbusterTransformers: Dark of the Moon are impressive
The action scenes in $200m blockbusterTransformers: Dark of the Moon are impressive

Paul Whitington

Michael Bay's Transformers: Dark of the Moon arrives in your cinemas missing one vital ingredient of a highly successful formula. There's no Megan Fox, a body blow for the franchise's almost exclusively male and teenage constituency, and whether they will find her replacement, ditsy English model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, an adequate substitute is very much a matter of taste.

Fox was apparently removed from proceedings after comparing Bay to a noted Austro-German dictator: that's fighting talk, but I can see one area where the estimable Megan might have been able to draw fruitful parallels.

The Fuhrer was fond of long, windy speeches, and Bay believes that noisy films about shape-shifting robots merit Lawrence of Arabia-style lengths.

The first two lasted two hours and 20 minutes, and this one is even longer, at two hours 35. That's pushing it, and the film's climactic battle scene across poor old Chicago stretches the patience very thin indeed. It's the culmination of a bloated, $200m exercise in excess. But, in fairness to Transformers: Dark of the Moon, it's actually pretty entertaining for the most part and a damned sight better than its utterly tedious predecessor, Revenge of the Fallen. In fact, Dark of the Moon manages to reclaim some of the jokey charm of the first Transformers film, thanks to a tolerable script and an absurdly classy supporting cast.

Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) has graduated from an Ivy League college and is now living in Washington DC with his glamorous new girlfriend, Carly (Huntington-Whiteley).He's trying to find a job when he becomes aware that his old friends the Autobots -- and the Earth itself -- are in deep trouble.

In a moderately clever back-story, we discover that the 1969 NASA moon mission actually involved a covert search for the wreckage of an explosion scientists had monitored on the dark side of the moon.

Astronauts discovered the wreckage of an alien plane and brought back a report. What they didn't know was that the ship had belonged to the Autobots (the good guys), and was lost in a doomed battle for their planet with the Decepticons (as bad a bunch of robots as you could hope to meet).

The ship contained technology that will allow the Decepticons to colonise the Earth, and Optimus Prime and the Autobots must race to stop them gaining the upper hand.

In their way stands human bureaucracy in the shape of Frances McDormand, who plays an understandably meddlesome US Secretary of Defense. What an actor of her calibre is doing in a film like this God only knows, but she's not alone.

John Turturro returns as the excitable CIA agent Seymour Simmons, and John Malkovich, of all people, shows up as Sam's histrionic employer.

No one has ever accused Fox of being a great thespian, but she looks like the new Meryl Streep next to Huntington-Whiteley, an aimless beauty who stumbles clumsily through her lines and seems prone to attacks of catatonic bewilderment.

Patrick Dempsey plays a suave rival for Carly's affections, and Leonard Nimoy adds a touch of sci-fi gravitas to the proceedings as the voice of veteran Autobot warrior, Sentinel Prime.

But the actors aren't the main attraction here, and I must admit Bay knows how to stage a robot fight. His action scenes are most impressive, and 3D greatly enhances their already spectacular effect. There's a lot more variety in the action segments than there was in Revenge of the Fallen, and the soundtrack seemed altogether less blandly deafening.

But everything that Bay has to say about Decepticons, Autobots and the battle for Planet Earth could have been accomplished far more efficiently in under two hours. At least 15 minutes of his climax could have been dispensed with, to his film's advantage.

Still, Dark of the Moon has plenty of impressive moments, and there'll be far worse blockbusters than this along later in the summer.

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