Nothing new in new ‘Transformers’

Transformers: Dark Of The Moon, the third film based on Hasbro’s Transformers action figures, slavishly follows the earlier movies’ box office-busting formula. Simultaneously, the bigger, noisier new film devolves into seemingly never-ending, pulverizing action and destruction.

Shia LaBeouf returns as Sam Witwicky, the kid whose used car turned out to be a transforming alien cyber-being, aka autobot, in the first Transformers movie. Sam’s comic relief-positioned parents (Kevin Dunn Ron and Julie White) are still around, too, even though their post-college son is living in New York City. Like many recent grads, he’s engaged in a frustrating search for a job.

But there’s also a big change in the new Transformers characters and cast. Sam’s former girlfriend, Mikaela, is out of the picture. Portrayed by Megan Fox in the previous two films, Mikaela is replaced by Carly, played by long-legged former Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. The new girl gets the same ogling attention from the camera that Mikaela got.

Sam, except for the scampering presence of his diminutive autobot sidekicks (Transformers’ equivalent of Star Wars’ R2-D2 and C-3PO), is living a mostly non-Transformers life with Carly. To his distress, his girlfriend is the favorite pet of her intimidating, super-rich businessman boss (Patrick Dempsey).

The autobots, including their noble leader, Optimus Prime, and Sam’s former car, Bumblebee, have allied themselves with Earth’s human governments to fight domestic threats from terrorists and the like. Nevertheless, Optimus and his friends keep watch for their true enemies, the decepticons.

Following some grainy revisionist history including the Kennedy administration and 1969’s Apollo 11 moon landing, the decepticons raise their gnarly heads again as their plot to, as usual, lay waste to the Earth, lurches to fruition.

Decepticons tend to be serpentine and subterranean but they also can be mechanized birds of prey. Modern computer animation allows the bad beasties to enact whirlwinds of ruin within seconds. The wildly violent sequences of annihilation that just one decepticon inflicts upon the office where Sam works is but a taste of epic disaster to follow.

Even as autobots, decepticons and, at a vastly smaller level, humans, wage a war that will determine Earth’s future, Transformers: Dark Of The Moon gives some real actors a few good lines ansd characters.

A pair of veteran scene-stealers, Oscar winner Frances McDormand (the human in charge of supervising the autobots) and Oscar nominee John Malkovich (Sam’s Autobot-fascinated boss) bring some entertaining human interest to an otherwise cyber being-dominated movie. And Dark Of The Moon achieves a coup through the resonant casting of sci-fi legend Leonard Nimoy as the autobot voice of Sentinel Prime.

An exceptional human cast, of course, can’t stop Dark Of The Moon - directed, as always, by Michael Bay - from largely repeating 2007’s Transformers and 2009’s Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen. The main difference is more battles, wider destruction, more scenes of puny humans running and shouting amidst decepticon blasts and mayhem. And the long, pummeling, numbness-inducing battle that concludes the new film may produce more indifference than excitement.