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Originally published Tuesday, June 28, 2011 at 9:53 AM

Movie review

'Transformers: Dark of the Moon:' Plot, 3-D change for the better

A movie review of "Transformers: Dark of the Moon." The third part in the franchise takes a giant leap forward in 3-D technical achievement and plot cohesion.

Special to The Seattle Times

Movie review 3 stars

'Transformers: Dark of the Moon,' with Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Frances McDormand, Patrick Dempsey, Tyrese Gibson. Directed by Michael Bay, from a screenplay by Ehren Kruger. 154 minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of prolonged sci-fi action violence, mayhem and destruction, and for language, some sexuality and innuendo. Several theaters.

quotes That review was stunningly difficult to read; almost like trying to watch a Transformer... Read more
quotes I thought is big dumb fun. If you love Bay's movies, you'll love this, if you don't... Read more
quotes uh.. ok. So how's the movie? Read more

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MOVIE REVIEW 3 stars

A plot element that's nearly as important to "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" as its mega-machine battle between evil Decepticons and benevolent Autobots is the movie's offensive to gain back control of 3-D. Both struggles fare pretty well based on genuinely impressive technical feats and the adequately engaging story this unapologetic explosion of summer escapism delivers on its (literal) blockbusting road to box-office bonanza.

Director Michael Bay has been on a PR campaign touting the 3-D thing, even enlisting guru James Cameron to cheerlead about the value add of the premium experience. They may not be entirely off the mark judging by the extravagantly effective design of enormous spectacle sequences between the intricately articulated robots in hyper- realistic settings.

Designed rather than directed is an apt description of this third franchise installment, with Bay acting as architect rather than auteur in what remains essentially a love affair between a boy and his toys.

That said, "Dark of the Moon" is almost an object lesson in lucidity next to the incoherent muddles of parts one and two. The signature noise and bombast remains, but this time it's possible to understand what's happening — not just in character dynamics, but also in the spatial relationships between people, machines, cataclysm and the endless one-upsmanship of physical destruction.

In a prologue that explains the real reason for the Apollo 11 moon mission — an Autobot spacecraft crashed there after a civil war on the machines' home world Cybertron — Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong discover what is later revealed as unconscious Autobot Sentinel Prime and hundreds of fuel pillars that activate a teleportation space bridge.

Jumping to present day, we rejoin the real-world struggle of still highly agitated Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf). He can't tell anyone about how he saved the world with his Autobot pals in the first two movies, nor can he find a job. But he's living with a hot new girlfriend (dead-eyed Victoria's Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), and he gets an adrenaline fix when ultra-villain Megatron schemes to recharge the comatose Sentinel Prime and turn him to the Decepticon dark side.

Exposition like this starts sounding like so much gibberish, but "Dark of the Moon" makes it bloom on its own terms, fusing an actual semblance of reason into all those supercool action sequences.

Though cartoonish, the human characters are closely drawn, and there's not so much dialogue-as-stage-direction (i.e., "Go, go, go!"). What does remain is plenty of excusable self-seriousness in lines like "We have an Energon alert!" and "The Decepticons are coming for Sentinel Prime!"

In his finest masterstroke, Bay recruited Leonard Nimoy to voice Sentinel Prime, and there are a few Mr. Spock jokes that articulate a fundamental whimsy that's shot through the expensively fake gravitas of the big, busy action. It may be good fun, but there's also lots of mass murder in the Decepticons' machinations to enslave Earth.

Fear not, for Michael Bay is a proud patriot. Though he takes immense glee in an apocalyptic finale that leaves Chicago a ruin, our flag was still there, yet waving o'er the land of the free and the home of the Autobots.

Ted Fry: tedfry@hotmail.com

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