[EDITOR'S NOTE: Fearless Sarah D. Bunting of Tomatonation.com is making it her mission to watch every single film nominated for an Oscar before the Academy Awards Ceremony on February 26, 2012. She is calling this journey her Oscars Death Race. For more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here. And you can follow Sarah through this quixotic journey here.]
I had to watch the second Transformers for a previous Death Race iteration, so I thought I knew what to expect -- i.e., not much, but perhaps a faint hope that the formidable Julie White would return as Sam Witwicky's mom.
She did, and she's accompanied by a host of other heavy-hitting actors, as well as fight-sequence upgrades; this may be one of the few franchises that's improving with each outing. John Turturro is back, along with his character's manservant Dutch (Alan Tudyk), and they're both having a ball; ditto John Malkovich as Witwicky's intense, Teddy-KGB-ish boss and Frances McDormand as the head of the NSA. My notes have something about how the casting kinda puts the "Oscars Death" in the Oscars Death Race, but while the script isn't Faulkner, it isn't terrible -- or at least the actors keep the pacing on track.
The plot isn't much, of course -- the Autobots and the Decepticons race to re-activate a technology that spent years buried on the moon, a good guy is actually a bad guy, can Earth be saved, etc. Leonard Nimoy plays the compromised Prime, Sentinel, and the man came dressed to play…if by "play," you mean "yell."
But the point of Transformers: Dark of the Moon isn't an acting master class, obvs, although it's courteous of Bay to include one. It's the crunchy beatings, and these work significantly better than those in Revenge of the Fallen -- apparently, the production worked out a clearer color scheme for the 'bots in both car and 'bot form so it's easier to keep track of who's who in a punch-fest. It can still get a bit muddled, but it's better. And while the movie is much too long, it alternates kablam sequences with humor that usually succeeds: characters spluttering lines like "I don't care about your exotic milk, I care about respect!" while "You Light Up My Life" plays in an elevator; making Patrick Dempsey's skeezy character even more hateful by having him use the word "liaise." And I didn't mind the old Megan Fox, but Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, whose previous experience is as a model, is likable and a real pro at dashing through rubble in high heels. (Also, speaking of 'bots, does "Rosie Huntington-Whiteley" sound like it came out of the British Name Gener-A-Tron 5000 or what?)
I had fun watching it, despite several pieces of questionable taste (the skull that rolls into the foreground after a Decepticon crashes onto a civilian car; Dutch's…whole thing) and significant denial vis-à-vis Shia LaBeouf's crying ability. Even the flashback to the Kennedy White House is so over the top, it's kind of awesome -- not least because the actor looks like Peter Noone strapped a loaf of sourdough to his head. …As you do.
It's nominated in tech categories, and could win Visual Effects -- Bay's team knows how to give CGI physical heft in a way some of the other nominees don't -- but I suspect Hugo takes that. The film itself was a solid 150 minutes of AC when it came out but needn't be bothered with now.
Sarah D. Bunting co-founded Television Without Pity.com, and has written for Seventeen, New York Magazine, MSNBC.com, Salon, Yahoo!, and others. She's the chief cook and bottle-washer at TomatoNation.com. For more on how the Oscars Death Race began, click here.