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July 5, 2011

REVIEW: New ‘Transformers’ is loud, clunky, but visually impressive

CLAREMORE — Optimus Prime is having a bad day.

“At one time, we were a peaceful race of intelligent mechanical beings” says the alien robot who moonlights as a semi-trailer truck at the outset of "Transformers: Dark of the Moon."

Now, there is no more peace, most of his race is gone, and the remaining mechanical beings aren't particularly intelligent.

In other words, it stinks to be him.

For the audiences of “Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” it’s a different story, especially if you’re into loud, not particularly intelligent, yet occasionally entertaining cinema.

"Dark of the Moon," is the third installment in the ongoing saga of a franchise which itself has done some transforming along the way, starting out as children's toys before morphing into a cartoon and later a movie franchise which became star Shia LaBeouf’s meal ticket.

Not that it’s saying much, but “Dark of the Moon” is an improvement from part two’s “Revenge of the Fallen,” closer in spirit to the original “Transformers” movie (from 2007), and it does have it’s moments, but that’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of explosions along the way.

It begins interestingly, with a sequence establishing a UFO crashed on Earth’s moon in 1961, and the desire to investigate it was the secret impetus for the Apollo missions.

Director Michael Bay convincingly combines actual footage with his own fiction, showing Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong landing on the moon and taking a peek at the mysterious alien wreckage.

But before we forget we’re watching a Michael Bay movie, the scene quickly cuts from the mystery on the moon to a shot of a girl’s underwear-clad rear.

The owner of aforementioned underwear-clad rear is  Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley), the girlfriend of franchise hero/underdog Sam Witwicky (LaBeouf).

She and Sam live in Washington D.C., where he is trying to find work after having graduated from college.

Sam is frustrated about having saved the world (twice, so far) with nothing to show for it.

All the good Transformers — the Autobots — are working with the U.S. government as international peace keepers, waiting for the bad Transformers — the Decepticons — to emerge from hiding.

Things heat up when it's revealed the moon wreckage included secret Autobot technology which would have helped the Autobots win their war against the Decepticons, had it not crashed on the moon.

Further, an Autobot believed to have been deceased, named Sentinel Prime (voiced with dignity by Leonard Nimoy), has been located, and he's eager to help Optimus Prime (again, voiced by Peter Cullen) and the others keep this newly discovered tech out of the Decepticons’ mechanical mitts.

The Decepticons, led by a damaged Megatron (Hugo Weaving) are biding their time, it seems.

From here, the story grows more complicated as it goes — suffice it to say, the screenplay isn’t exactly the movie's strong point, but then, plot isn’t exactly what fans of these movies are really there to see.

Bay's sense of humor is (as usual), sophomoric at best, with most of his attempts at comedy falling flat for being too broad, clunky, or just plain stupid.

But Bay does play to his strengths, here, namely, frenetically-choreographed action sequences, shot and edited to the point of near-sensory overload.

Filmed in 3D, “Dark of the Moon” is visually stunning, with the camera holding on images longer than in the previous “Transformers” films, allowing the audience to appreciate (if that’s the right word) the upgraded CGI Transformers.

The last act in the movie (which weighs in at a whopping two hours and 40 minutes) is basically one big battle — the perfect combination of loud noises, explosions, and adrenaline overkill at which Bay is truly a maestro.

All in all, “Dark of the Moon” wasn’t the worst movie one could see this summer, although whether one would enjoy it depends on their “appreciation” for the previous movies (most notably, the original).

Had “Dark of the Moon” been a much shorter movie (by about half its running time), it would probably have a broader appeal, but as it stands, its will largely please those who have already made up their minds to like it — for them, this movie will provide for a welcome (if loud) distraction from the summer heat.

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is rated PG-13 for moderate profanity, some vulgar “humor,” Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and lots and lots and lots and lots of things blowing up.

“Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is now playing in Claremore at the Claremore Cinema 8. For a list of showtimes, call (918) 342-2422.

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