True to the old saying "more than meets the eye," "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" takes an iconic moment in American history and turns it into an action blockbuster that's a dream for conspiracy theorists and Hasbro collectors.
(Yes, I know that "Doctor Who" just got done rewriting the history of the moon landing ... but this version's got Buzz Aldrin - for real).
Even more intriguing than how "DOTM" twists reality is how the movie works not so much as an action-adventure story but as more of a full-scale alien invasion epic in the mold of "War of the Worlds."
The movie takes its PG-13 rating seriously, pushing its limits in places. But that's to be expected in a movie that portrays the brutal occupation of an entire American city by a force that has zero regard for human life, and takes every opportunity to show it. "DOTM" is easily the most violent of the three "Transformers" flicks, and has more human carnage than the first two combined (if near-instant cremation by death ray can be really be considered horrific). There's a fair share of human-on-human violence as well but nothing so gruesome.
As in previous installments, Shia LaBeouf owns his wacky time on screen as Sam Witwicky. In what he swears will be his last outing in the franchise should it continue, his character pulls out all the stops and really takes his place as a hero alongside ever-dependable N.E.S.T. grunts Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson. Actually, there's a fairly significant sub-plot (yes, I said plot) about all that, and it comes together as a nice counterbalance to all the action.
Megan Fox's pouty Mikaela isn't missed at all, with Rosie Huntington-Whiteley joining the cast as a more-than-suitable upgrade of a leading lady. John Turturro is predictably camp as the vainglorious former Agent Simmons. Adding their considerable talents to the cast are Patrick Dempsey, John Malkovich and Frances McDormand. Ken Jeong ("The Hangover") and Alan Tudyk ("Firefly") make brief, but memorable, contributions as well.
Of course, it wouldn't be a "Transformers" movie without the enormous voice talent of Peter Cullen as Optimus Prime - Cullen gave life to the character in the mid-'80s and it's been his by right ever since - just as it wouldn't be a "Transformers" movie without Prime's undying optimism and faith in mankind. Leonard Nimoy, already forever enshrined in Cybertronian lore for his role as Galvatron in the 1986 animated theatrical movie, delivers an impressive performance as the tragic Autobot Sentinel Prime (and gives a nod here and there to his "Star Trek" heritage, too). Standing out among the Decepticons is Shockwave, a fan favorite from the original toy line, cartoon and comics who is brought to life by Frank Welker, the prolific voice actor who has played Fred in nearly every "Scooby-Doo!" incarnation since 1969 and was the voice of Megatron and many other Decepticons in the "Transformers" animated series.
With a great cast, there's not a lot to gripe about in DOTM - Michael Bay films are flashy and loud, with more drama occurring off screen than on, so you generally know what you're going to get. In this case, that means big action set pieces, big explosions and big robots. I saw it in 3-D but wasn't blown away by the effect, but then I don't go to movies to marvel at the typography of the credits, which was where it stood out the most.
The climactic disaster-pocalypse and its resolution share certain parallels with David Tennant's swansong in "Doctor Who: The End of Time," but thanks to the British sci-fi show's niche audience most of the "Transformers" moviegoing public won't be troubled with that realization. Those foul-mouthed, trash-talking Autobot twins that generated so much bad buzz from 2009's "Revenge of the Fallen" are nowhere to be seen (I think), but that doesn't mean there isn't an annoying/offensive robot or two to take their place. But Bumblebee is achingly heroic and loyal, and Optimus kicks major bad-guy butt - and for once in a "Transformers" movie, the humans really get to show what mettle can do against metal.
"Dark of the Moon" is a solid step up from its two predecessors.