TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON: Is Sam Witwicky the Most Useless Lead Character in Sci-Fi History?

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (2011) – Directed by Michael Bay, Starring Shia LaBeouf, Josh Duhamel, John Turturro, Tyrese Gibson, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Patrick Dempsey, Kevin Dunn, Julie White, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Peter Cullen, Hugo Weaving, Leonard Nimoy, Charlie Adler, and James Remar.

To answer the question posed in the title of this review: Probably not. On another day I might spend hours combing my Blu-ray and DVD collection, soliciting feedback, and perusing IMDB to try to find a worse lead character, but today I don’t have the time or the inclination to be bothered splitting hairs. After watching DARK OF THE MOON last night, I’ve struggled to find anything useful that Sam Witwicky brings to this installment of the Michael Bay TRANSFORMERS trilogy and I can’t come up with anything. He is a dreadful lead character sitting in the middle of a perfectly fine CGI orgy.

As he enters the film, we discover that Sam (Shia LeBeouf) has been dumped by Megan Fox and is now shacking up with Carly Spencer (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) in Washington, DC. He hates his life because he’s been out of college for three months and doesn’t have a job, yet. He’s mad because he’s saved the world a couple times and he can’t tell anyone and the government won’t help him find gainful employment. Carly doesn’t care about any of this, though. She loves Sam enough to buy him a lucky bunny rabbit and pay all of the rent. Sam doesn’t care about that, though, because all he wants to do is b*tch and moan about how awful his life has turned out to be since he, you know, saved the world a couple times.

Plus, his parents are coming to town! In a week! And if he doesn’t have a job by then, well, you know how parents are!

Ugh.

This basically goes on throughout the entire movie – Sam whines, Sam complains, Sam cops a bad attitude, Sam gets possessive with his girlfriend, Sam plays big man because he knows he’s a little man. It’s … so … tedious.

Watching DARK OF THE MOON it’s easy to see that the TRANSFORMERS story has progressed beyond the Sam Witwicky character. As much as Sam complains about not having an important life and being left behind as the Autobots play nice with the military, the truth is that the overall story really has left him behind. Michael Bay and his scriptwriters have done nothing to make us think Sam Witwicky even needs to be in this movie. DARK OF THE MOON is a military movie, and would have been much better served with Josh Duhamel taking over lead acting duties. Lt. Colonel William Lennox is smart, assured, in a command position, and, oh yeah, works with the Autobots every flipping day as a high ranking officer in NEST, which apparently stands for Networked Elements: Supporters and Transformers.

Honestly. Someone got paid to come up with that.

When Sam is on screen, DARK OF THE MOON grinds to a halt. There’s a whole subplot with him, Carly, and Carly’s boss, Dylan (Patrick Dempsey) that only gets mildly interesting when Dylan is revealed as being the Decepticons’ human liaison in their attempt to take over the world. Before this reveal, Dylan exists as a character just to make Sam look small. And Sam obliges by looking and acting small. Instead of being super appreciative of his girlfriend for being with him, he gets all jealous, which makes him even whinier and more insecure. We don’t need this angle; or if we’re going to get this angle we don’t need the “Sam can’t get a job” angle, because it doubles down on the lamest aspect of the movie. It’s almost like everyone got a blind spot with Sam and forgot this is a popcorn flick and not a male parody of Jane Austen. Dempsey is perfectly fine in the film; while not as extraordinarily gifted actor, he can handle fastballs in his zone and that’s what DARK OF THE MOON asks him to do. Casting is so much about finding the right actor for the right role, about knowing what an actor can do and what a role requires and then finding a perfect match.

Which leads us to Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. Because she’s a model with no prior acting experience (Bay apparently worked with her on a Victoria’s Secret advertisement), and because Michael Bay is a pervert, I’m required at this point to say something about her looks and inability to act. When DARK OF THE MOON was originally released, I remember some magazine (Entertainment Weekly, I believe), making at dig at her by saying she was Bay’s new robot or something, and while she’s not a very good actor, DARK OF THE MOON doesn’t require very good actors. John Malkovich is in the film, but it’s not exactly like they’re asking him to do Dostoyevsky. Huntington-Whiteley is supposed to be Sam’s hot girlfriend who her boss is trying to sleep with, and she does that well enough with that. (She has a sort of blank look on her face that I don’t find overly attractive, but she does have a British accent, which helps. You get the feeling, though, that Bay cast her just for her opening scene where his camera lingers on her legs and ass.) It’s not like the four or five scenes where she’s required to bring emotion to the role are going to make or break the film, after all.

The problem with her character is just that she’s sort of pointless to the main plot. Just like Sam is sort of pointless. DARK OF THE MOON would have been an infinitely better film if this whole Sam/Carly/Dylan subplot was not here and the focus was kept on the characters who get name-dropped in the title.

You know, the TRANSFORMERS.

There’s a reason why the film isn’t called SAM WITWICKY: HE NEVER STOPS WHINING.

I really hate the way Sam treats Carly. When a Decepticon kills a worker (Ken Jeong) at the job Sam gets thanks to Dylan, he jams Carly in his car and hauls over to the top secret NEST base in DC. She wants to know what’s what and why he’s freaking and he basically tells her, “Sit there and shut up.”

I’m sure the decision was made to keep Sam in the film because he was so central to the first film and such a big part of the sequel, but he’s just not needed in this one. Perhaps if they’d made him part of NEST, with a job he wasn’t allowed to tell his girlfriend about, there would be a reason for his nervousness when it came to Carly and her super-rich, playboy boss. As the film plays out, though, Sam is either an annoyance or in the way.

When DARK OF THE MOON sticks with the Transformers and the military, it’s a pretty good action picture. It still annoys the hell out of me that they make all of the Transformers look awfully indistinguishable when they’re in robot mode. It’s literally like someone gets paid a dollar for every single, separate part they can jam onto the robots. They might look reasonably cool in a still frame, but when they start moving around, it’s just a bunch of flashy metal and brief flashes of paint.

I dig the Transformers plot in the film. During the big war on Cybertron, Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy) piloted a craft with super technology and it gets blown up and crashes onto the moon. This is the “secret history” that led to the Apollo program. Flash forward to the future and Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) finally finds out about all this after an incident in Russia, which introduces us to Shockwave (Frank Welker), and goes and rescues Sentinel. After bringing him back to life, the seen-it-coming-a-million-miles-away twist of Sentinel’s betrayal happens and then there’s plenty of awesome robot action.

The sequence in Russia with Optimus and Shockwave is pretty great. The highway chase scene is pretty great. Sentinel’s betrayal is pretty great. The storming of Chicago is pretty great.

The problem with all of this, however, is that the film doesn’t have enough faith in the Transformers plot without adding in all of this human junk. Megatron (Hugo Weaving) is basically an afterthought. It’s like they forgot that the main reason there is a Transformers movie is because of the Transformers. Did they even make a Sam Witwicky action figure back in the day? Whose favorite moment from the cartoon involves Sam being a whiny, self-entitled punk? Sam is so useless and so annoying that he just gets in the way. Michael Bay also brings back John Turturro’s annoying secret agent Simmons, though thankfully he’s toned down the craziness. He has perhaps the best line of the film, too, when he says to Sam, “Years from now they’re gonna ask where were you when they took over the planet? And we’re gonna say we just watched.”

I’ll give Bay credit, too, for making this film feel like an ending. While these movies have never really felt like a proper trilogy, the final action sequence feels like it’s a final battle. Optimus is in total take-no-sh*t mode, insisting the Autobots “will kill them all.” He personally takes out both Megatron and Sentinel. I could have watched two hours of the storming of Chicago instead of just an hour. This is where the film really takes off, where it gives Sam something useful to do, rescuing Carly and storming the city with Epps (Tyrese Gibson). Epps sets the tone for the second half. No longer a part of NEST, he tells Sam he’s going with him. When Sam asks why, Epps tells him, “These assh*les killed my friends, too.”

I mean, yeah. Turn this bad boy into a Western and we’re getting somewhere. Sam and Epps, NEST, the return of the Autobots … this is good stuff. This is popcorn entertainment at a really high level.

Unfortunately, having to sit through all of that Sam junk in the first half is like a movie theater refusing to give you your popcorn without first reading you all of the nutritional information and forcing you to eat spinach before you can have your snack.

I can’t believe this is the last TRANSFORMERS film, though. This franchise simply makes too much money. I wouldn’t even be opposed to Michael Bay coming back, but it’s time to let the Transformers take over their own franchise, become more well-rounded characters, and dump the Witwicky kid. Or at least give him something useful to do. DARK OF THE MOON doesn’t reach the heights of the first TRANSFORMERS movie, but it is a big improvement on REVENGE OF THE FALLEN.

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One thought on “TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON: Is Sam Witwicky the Most Useless Lead Character in Sci-Fi History?

  1. That’s my biggest beef with the first two TRANSFORMERS movies: I couldn’t tell one robot from another and during the fight scenes it’s impossible for me to tell who’s doing what to what.

    And if you ask me, Sam Witwicky should be replaced with his parents as they were the best thing in the first two movies.

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