“Transformers: Dark of the Moon,” written by Ehren Kruger, directed by Michael Bay, 152 minutes, rated PG-13.
If you’re looking to define maximalism, a good place to start would be Michael Bay’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” An exhibition in excess, the third installment mends some of the franchise’s wounds left behind by the obnoxious, low-brow sequel “Revenge of the Fallen.”
The unlikeliest of heroes, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) has traded in Megan Fox for Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. It’s the first time Bay asks you to suspend disbelief in “Dark of the Moon,” but it won’t be the last.
Three months out of college and Sam is hopelessly searching for a job in D.C., grasping at straws and trying to “smooth-talk” his way into any company that will take him. A small performance from John Malkovich helps make this montage worthwhile.
But Sam knows that no nine-to-five job will satisfy him. After all, he has saved the world twice. He’d much rather aid the Autobots than sit behind a desk, but they’ve formed an alliance with the U.S. from which Sam is excluded.
While on a recognizance mission to Chernobyl, the Autobots reveal that the government has covered up the crash landing of a vital Cybertronian aircraft on the dark of the moon. The ship, piloted by Autobot leader Sentinel Prime, was carrying hundreds of pillars – teleportation devices that could be the Decepticons’ greatest weapon against Earth.
Unsatisfied with the job he eventually lands, Sam forces his way back into the action, and with his help the Autobots and the government embark on a space race against the Decepticons to retrieve the pillars. It’s mostly just an excuse to watch Michael Bay do what he does best – blow stuff up in a big way.
Bay makes two smart decisions from the get-go: First, he tones down the role of Sam’s mother (Julie White), whose humor only works in the tiniest of doses. Second, he wipes away any trace of Mudflap and Skids, the two most annoying Autobots from “Revenge of the Fallen.”
Now for the really good stuff.
As Bay turns Chicago into his playground of twisted metal and destruction, you begin to realize that his imagination is as limitless as his budget. Keep in mind that imagination and originality are not the same.
Humans cut through the Chicago sky while being chased down by Decepticon fighter ships; skyscrapers teeter over an Autobot-Decepticon warzone; and our heroes are stuck on foot (one in heels) in ground-zero, in what easily ranks as one of the longest action scenes of the year.
Most directors couldn’t even conceive how to translate a vision with such an astronomic scope to the screen. Nor would they care to try. Ever the audacious filmmaker, Bay does, and he manages to bring the scene to life without getting it too muddied up in special effects. Many will argue that the hundreds of millions going into “Dark of the Moon” should enable any director to do whatever the hell they want successfully. I disagree. This is just what Michael Bay was born to do.
In taking big risks, sometimes he fails. In “Dark of the Moon,” it mostly works.
Michael Bay wants his audience to feel like a kid in a candy shop – overwhelmed and always wanting more. If there’s a time to give the devil his due, it’s now.