I feel like Goldilocks. It’s not as good as the first one, but it’s not as awful as the second one. So, if that doesn’t make it just right, at least it makes it better than the second one and with some summer movie chases, fights, and explosions that make it popcorn-worthy.
It begins with a prologue that cheekily re-imagines the space race of the 1960’s as a secret mission to learn more about a mysterious rocket that crashed on the dark side of the moon in the late 1950’s. Archival footage of Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, and newsman Walter Cronkite is used to make it appear that in the brief moments our first moon landing was not visible from earth, the astronauts were exploring a cavernous machine. Even the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear accident is tied into cold war-ear secrets about what was found on the moon.
Then, we are in present day where Sam (Shia LeBeouf) returns as Sam Witwicky. Still in high school in the first movie, he is now out of college and looking for a job in Washington D.C. It’s tough these days, especially when you’re not allowed to put “saved the world — twice” on your resume for reasons of national security. Sam also has a new girlfriend named Carly (model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). The departure of Megan Fox is explained in a few short lines. No one seems to miss her.
Sam meets Carly’s boss Dylan (Patrick Dempsey), a fabulously wealthy but very arrogant businessman (think Dr. McSleazy) and tries not to be jealous, even after Dylan gives Carly a $200,000 Mercedes. But, you know, blah blah and the bad robot decepticons are back, blah blah the head of National Security (Frances McDormand) tries to keep Sam away from his friends the autobots, and blah blah all something will do something if Sam doesn’t get that tractor beam out of commission, I mean knock out that pillar that has “the ability to reshape the universe” and build a bridge to another world (didn’t we just see that in “Thor?).
And then the humans fight each other and the robots and the robots fight each other and the humans. In 3D. Various characters turn out to be not what we thought. There are surprise guest cameos. And at two and a half hours it goes on much too long (believe me, they could have lost an hour and had a nice, brisk evening at the movies). McDormand, Ken Jeong (stuck with an embarrassing attempt at homophobic humor, literally with his pants down), and John Malcovich are completely wasted. Huntington-Whiteley is better at posing than acting — but she’s got legs and knows how to use them. And we once again do not get enough of John Duhamel. John Turturro wore out his welcome well before the first one ended but Alan Tudyk makes the role of his aide into something enjoyably off-kilter. It’s too loud, it’s too long, some of the battles are hard to follow, the action is entertaining and so is the but relief that it isn’t as awful as the last one.
Parents should know that this movie has non-stop peril and violence with characters injured and killed and city blocks destroyed. There is frequent strong language, some crude, and some weirdly inappropriate sexual comments from Sam’s mother (again).
Family discussion: How did the film-makers use the look and sound of the robots to let you know who was good and who was evil? What animals and characters inspired the designs? How do the views expressed by the human characters relate to some of the political arguments of our time? Why do the autobots trust Sam?
If you like this, try: the first “Transformer” movie, and learn about the real story behind the space race with the brilliant miniseries “From the Earth to the Moon”