All the technical promise of decades of “aliens invade” thrillers, from “Independence Day” through “Battle: Lost Angeles,” and the best comic character actors money can buy serve “Transformers : Dark of the Moon” well. The funniest, best-executed film in the talking, bleeding, Earth-protecting robots-that-look-like-cars-and-trucks series, “Moon” delivers the popcorn in gigantic fistfuls of fun.
It’s as head-slappingly stupid as ever, a product-placement action film. But Michael Bay’s cartoon-come-to-life rewrites NASA history and re-decorates Chicago with a gusto as over-the-top as any hammy Shia LaBeouf rant. Hey, what’s an actor to do when all the best lines go to digital robots? “I just want to matter,” says young Sam (LaBeouf), a two-time planetary hero reduced to begging for work from the likes of John Malkovich. He needs a D.C. job because he has traded the bombshell girlfriend played by Megan Fox for a higher-end model (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) who wears short, tight clothes and only has one big scene in which we note that she’s a model, not an actress.
The Autobots are ever vigilant, though there are those (Bill O’Reilly of Fox News among them) who want them exiled. And if you have any recollection of the old TV cartoon, you know that those darned Decepticons are never quite fully vanquished. This time, there’s a buried spaceship on the Moon, a half-century-long NASA cover-up and the revival of an ancient leader, Sentinel Prime (discomfitingly voiced by the great Vulcan himself, Leonard Nimoy).
Hearing Mr. Spock repeat lines from “Star Trek” movies in robot form in this context is only the second most tone-deaf thing here. Having real-life lunar explorer Buzz Aldrin on hand to legitimize the bogus NASA history is the first. But as Sam hurtles from D.C. to the Kennedy Space Center to piece together this alternate version of the Space Race, he meets an array of great character players — the returning John Turturro as an ex-CIA conspiracy buff, Frances McDormand as a new intelligence chief.
“Moon” builds to a long robot battle royale that eats up the third act, as always. But Bay, learning from the last film’s digital blur, slows down the action to let us see the machinery of war and pulls off some epic stunts to go with the effects — paratroopers swooping into Chicago on wingsuits.
Yeah, the story is one big “God in the Machine” tale: heroic but hapless humans waiting for robot rescue.
It’s all spectacle, and too much of it at 2½ hours.
“Transformers: Dark of the Moon”
Two and a half stars
Rating: PG-13 (intense prolonged sequences of sci-fi action violence, brief sexual humor, and language)
Starring: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Patrick Dempsey Directed by: Michael Bay Showing at: Derby Plaza, Chisholm Trail 8 (Newton), Landmark-Starlite I, Movie Machine, Northrock 14, Warren Old Town, Warren Theatre (east and west), Warren Theatre IMAX