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Thursday July 18th 2024

Transformers: Dark Of The Moon | 2011

Transformers Dark Of The Moon film location: Milwaukee Art Museum
Transformers Dark Of The Moon location: Dylan Gould's automobile art gallery : Milwaukee Art Museum, Milwaukee | Photograph: wikimedia / garydenness

It’s overblown and overlong but, as the USA’s most photogenic city gets destroyed in spectacular fashion by Very Big Things hitting each other, Dark Of The Moon is a great improvement on Revenge of The Fallen.

The 1969 Apollo programme was, as we now all surely know, ordered by President Kennedy following the detection of an alien craft on the moon. The movie’s ‘White House’ really is in Washington DC, but it’s not on Pennsylvania Avenue. The government bigwigs are seen arriving at the similarly classical American Red Cross Headquarters, 430 17th Street at D Street.

And the interior, where decades later Sam Witwicky (Shia Labeouf) meets Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley) after collecting his medal from President Obama, is the O’Byrne Gallery of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution) Constitution Hall, 1776 D Street NW.

There’s no Witwicky house this time round, with Sam and Carly together occupying an artfully distressed loft in ‘Washington DC’. Since this apartment has an excellent view of the Chicago Cultural Center and is overlooked by the angled profile of the Crain Communications Building on Chicago’s North Michigan Avenue, you won’t be surprised to hear that it’s in the heart of Chicago’s central Loop, on North Garland Court just south of East Washington Street.

The film mixes up Washington DC and Chicago quite recklessly, and also manages to incorporate quite a bit of Detroit. For instance, when Colonel Lennox (Josh Duhamel) is briefed about a mysterious discovery in Ukraine, he’s in the stunning lobby of the Fisher Building, 3011 West Grand Boulevard in Detroit, a landmark 1928 skyscraper built by the Motor City’s Fisher family with proceeds from the sale of its autobody company to General Motors.

Transformers Dark Of The Moon film location: Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments, South Michigan Avenue, Chicago
Transformers Dark Of The Moon location: the abandoned ‘Ukrainian’ town of Pripyat: Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments, South Michigan Avenue, Chicago | Photograph: wikimedia / Thshriver

Lennox is immediately dispatched to investigate, but the glum, deserted Soviet-era buildings of ‘Pripyat’, the town alongside the remains of the Chernobyl reactor, are back in Chicago. The Michigan Boulevard Garden Apartments, more commonly known as the Rosenwald Apartments, 4600 South Michigan Avenue at East 47th Street in the Bronzeville district, are a large South Side housing project now standing empty and abandoned.

South of the Illinois state line in Indiana, the ‘Chernobyl’ reactor site itself is an old cement plant on the shore of Lake Michigan, now part of the grounds of the Majestic Star Casino on Buffington Harbor Drive, in Gary.

Transformers Dark Of The Moon film location: Chicago Post Office Building, West Van Buren Street, Chicago
Transformers Dark Of The Moon location: the ‘Department of Health and Human Services’ – NEST HQ: Chicago Post Office Building, West Van Buren Street, Chicago

If you saw The Dark Knight, you might recognise the ‘Department of Health and Human Services’ which serves as the secret ‘Washington DC’ HQ of NEST (Non-biological Extraterrestrial Species Treaty). It’s Chicago’s enormous Old Post Office building, 433 West Van Buren Street, which served as the ‘Gotham’ bank robbed by the Joker (Heath Ledger) at the opening of Christopher Nolan’s epic.

There’s another trip out of state, this time north to Wisconsin, to find the ostentatiously flashy automobile art gallery owned by ostentatiously flashy billionaire Dylan Gould (Patrick Dempsey), where Carly works as curator.

It’s the postmodern Quadracci Pavilion of Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 Art Museum Drive, Milwaukee. Built in 2001, designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava and worthy of a corporate plutocrat, the gallery houses the soaring cathedral-like space of Windhover Hall with its vaulted a 90-foot-high glass ceiling, the Reiman Bridge, a pedestrian connection to the city, and the spectacular Burke Brise Soleil, a movable sunscreen with a 217-foot wingspan that unfolds and folds twice daily. Don’t miss.

Calatrava’s designs were the inspiration for the look of the sets built for the planet Xandar in Marvel’s 2014 Guardians Of The Galaxy.

Even further away is a detour to Africa, and Tanzania’s Serengeti National Park, where the wounded and quite bonkers Megatron, along with Soundwave, are lying low – and scaring the wildlife. The Serengeti ecosystem is located in north Tanzania and covers around 12,000 square miles to south-western Kenya.

Known as one of the Natural Wonders of Africa, the park hosts the largest terrestrial mammal migration in the world and is famous for its substantial lion population, making it one of the best places to a pride of the big cats in its natural environment.

Director of National Intelligence Mearing (Frances McDormand) makes it very clear that – medal or no medal – Sam’s input at NEST is not required. Which is a shame, since he’s the one to figure out that the whole moon escapade has been a set-up by Decepticons to get Sentinel Prime back to Earth, and that there are hundreds of Pillars – devices used by the nasty robots to open up wormholes in space – stashed on the Moon.

Fearing Decepticons will be soon coming for the Prime, Sam sets off back to NEST and, sure enough, there’s an immediate energon alert on the ‘DC Parkway’, betraying the presence of the ‘Dreads’ in the form of three sinister black Chevy Suburbans.

The ensuing highway pursuit is in East Chicago (which, despite the name, is in Indiana), along Cline Avenue, passing over Indianapolis Boulevard, among the white circular tanks of the BP Whiting Refinery.

As the chase hots up, the road becomes the familiar Terminal Island Freeway down in Long Beach, south Los Angeles, where Sam is suddenly ejected from – and recaptured by – the transforming Bumblebee on the Commodore Schuyler F Helms Draw Bridge, spanning Cerritos Channel, which separates Long Beach from Terminal Island. Since it’s relatively easy to close this stretch of freeway without causing a major traffic snarl up, it’s frequently used for on-screen mayhem – such as the  ’copter chase in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Keen-eyed movie buffs might also recognise the draw bridge as the one from which the van slowly plunges in Christopher Nolan’s Inception.

A serious injury to an extra on-set meant the part of the car chase which would have included the accident was replaced with shots from Michael Bay's 2005 film The Island.

Transformers Dark Of The Moon film location: South Indiana Avenue, Chicago
Transformers Dark Of The Moon location: the Mexican standoff in ‘Washington DC’: South Indiana Avenue, Chicago | Photograph: Google Maps

The ruckus ends down in Chicago’s Near Southside, with Sideswipe and Ironhide destroying Dreads Crankcase and Crowbar after a Mexican standoff at the junction of South Indiana Avenue and East 23rd Street.

In a desperately pragmatic move to save his home planet of Cybertron, it turns out that the revered Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy) has cut a sneaky deal with the Decepticons to open up a space bridge and bring a whole lot more Decepticons from their resting place on the Moon.

He sets up a series of Pillars around the Reflecting Pool in Washington DC, though the increasingly megalomaniac Megatron is more concerned with blasting the huge statue of Abe from his seat in the Lincoln Memorial and taking over the position himself.

While Autobots battle Decepticons on Constitution Avenue at 4th Street NW in front of the Capitol, the Primes Sentinel and Optimus slug it out on the steps of the Ulysses S Grant Memorial overlooking the Capitol Reflecting Pool, where Sentinel reveals his true motives: “On Cybertron we were gods. Here they call us machines.”

Transformers Dark Of The Moon film location: Meadow Brook Hall, South Adams Road, Rochester Hills, Michigan
Transformers Dark Of The Moon location: Dylan Gould's mock-Tudor mansion: Meadow Brook Hall, South Adams Road, Rochester Hills, Michigan | Photograph: wikimedia / Wm Chris Rowland, II

If you hadn’t already twigged, smooth operator Gould is revealed as a bad sort when Sam discovers him entertaining Carly in his posh mansion. His Tudor-revival house is Meadow Brook Hall, 480 South Adams Road, a National Historic Landmark in Rochester Hills, about 25 miles north of Detroit. Another property built with money from the fledgling auto industry, it was commissioned in 1929 for Matilda Dodge Wilson, widow of automobile pioneer John Dodge. If you want to take a peek into the lifestyle of the old-school wealth, the 110-room mansion has been carefully preserved with the original furnishings and art, ornate plaster ceilings and Tiffany stained glass.

It gets worse. Not only does Gould have designs on Carly, he reveals his family has all along been in cahoots with the Decepticons and, holding Carly hostage, orders Sam to uncover the Autobots’ strategy – or else.

It’s time for Sentinel to make his move, addressing the United Nations in New York to demand the exile of all Autobots from earth. Amazingly, that really is the UN’s General Assembly Hall. The organisation is becoming increasingly film friendly (Alfred Hitchcock had to fake the interior with studio sets and matte paintings for North By Northwest), and has recently been seen in Sydney Pollack’s The Interpreter and Steven Soderbergh’s Che.

The Xantium, the craft needed to transport the exiled Autobots, is prepared for launch at the the Kennedy Space Center, Merritt Island, Florida, where Sam meets up with old ally Epps (Tyrese Gibson).

Merritt Island, most of which is a wildlife reserve, is reached by I-405 from Titusville, on the coast 50 miles east of Orlando, or Route 3 north on Bennett Causeway from the town of Cocoa. See more of the Center in Ron Howard’s Apollo 13.

A missile attack on the Xantium immediately after launch seems to take out the Autobots for good, leaving the world at the mercy of Decepticons.

Transformers Dark Of The Moon location: Trump Tower, North Wabash Avenue, Chicago
Transformers Dark Of The Moon location: Dylan Gould’s glitzy penthouse: Trump Tower, North Wabash Avenue, Chicago

Sam has other priorities, tracking Carly down to Gould’s ‘Lower Penthouse’, which he naturally discovers in Chicago's glitzy Trump Tower, 401 North Wabash Avenue. This was the tower under construction during filming of The Dark Knight which provided the site for the final hi-rise hand-to-hand confrontation between Batman and the Joker, and it goes on to provide the glitzy lobby of 'KSI Tower' in Transformers: Age Of Extinction.

Transformers Dark Of The Moon location: Jewelers Building, 35 East Wacker Drive, Chicago
Transformers Dark Of The Moon location: Sentinel Prime sets up the five Pillars on the rooftop: Jewelers Building, 35 East Wacker Drive, Chicago

Just across the Chicago River, Sentinel Prime demonstrates his excellent taste in architecture by setting up the master Control Pillar, intended to bring Cybertron into the Earth’s atmosphere, atop the Jewelers Building, 35 East Wacker Drive at North Wabash Avenue. There’s yet another Batman connection – the wonderfully elaborate 40-story tower was seen as the exterior of Gotham City Courthouse in Batman Begins.

Giving the order to seal off the city of Chicago, Sentinel demonstrates the ruthlessness of the Decepticons with a gratuitous – but spectacular – attack on the Loop.

Sam and Epps are busily rounding up help, though inexplicably around the area of the old Packard Plant in northeast Detroit, from a house at 5570 Canton Street on the corner of East Palmer Avenue, and a block north from the Packard Motel, 1500 East Grand Boulevard at Canton, with what has become the battlecry of all screen fightbacks: “Let’s roll!”.

Arriving from the south of Chicago, the crew encounters a landscape of wholesale urban devastation, not on Lakeshore Drive (which would have been a nightmare to close for filming) but on the McCormick Place Busway, where it runs beneath the East Congress Parkway. The Busway, opened in 2002, is a low-level private road designed to allow shuttle buses direct access from downtown Chicago to the McCormick Place Convention Center.

It appears the destruction of the Xantium was merely a ruse – who could have seen that twist coming? – and the Autobots, under Optimus Prime, arrive to take the battle to the Decepticons.

Sam and Bumblebee commandeer a downed Decepticon craft and rescue Carly from Trump Tower, just about making it away between the twin ‘corncob’ towers of Marina City before crashlanding. But when the ship bounces to earth on the roadway, it’s scooting north on Griswold Street between Grand River Avenue and Clifford Street in central Detroit.

Which Sam’s assurance to Director Mearing via a drone camera that he’s “eight blocks from the Decepticon’s building”, it’s quite a bit of a fib.

On hearing that the Autobots are still alive, the Wabash Street Bridge and State Street Bridge across the Chicago River are raised on the orders of Megatron to defend the Pillars.

Transformers Dark Of The Moon film location: LaSalle Street, Chicago
Transformers Dark Of The Moon location: the Driller tears up the roadway: South LaSalle Street, Chicago

No battle in Chicago would be complete without a major setpiece on South LaSalle Street in front of the Board Of Trade Building (remember The Joker overturning an 18-wheel truck here in The Dark Knight?), and now it’s the turn of the giant burrowing Driller to rip up the road, as Brains and Wheelie dither in front of the elaborate entrance to 120 South LaSalle Street.

In the next installment, Transformers: Age Of Extinction, the alien craft again gets chased down South LaSalle.

The vast, crumbling edifice, in which Sam and the Autobots take time out to regroup and Optimus orders the Wreckers to stage a diversion, is the old Michigan Central Station, 2198 Michigan Avenue, west of downtown Detroit.

Built in 1913, the once beautiful building was abandoned and vandalised over the years. The good news is that it was bought by Ford in 2018 and is currently being renovated.

The grand, disused rail terminal was a Michael Bay favourite, having previously appeared as a downtown Los Angeles building at the climax of the first Transformers movie and also featured in The Island. More recently, it turns up again in Zach Snyder's Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice.

Lennox and his troops are on hand, flying over Lake Michigan and Navy Pier. Equipped with the new must-have wingsuits, they dive from the ’copter Willis Tower (better known by its former name of Sears Tower), 233 South Wacker Drive, as cover.

Sentinel gives the order to launch the many Pillars which have been carefully secreted at photogenic locations around the world, including the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia; central Hong Kong; and Bannermans Island Arsenal on Pollepel Island in New York.

Transformers Dark Of The Moon film location: City Methodist Church, 6th Avenue, Gary, Indiana
Transformers Dark Of The Moon location: Epps and his men take shelter inside a bombed-out church: City Methodist Church, 6th Avenue, Gary, Indiana | Photograph: wikimedia / Peter Fitzgerald

Separated from Sam and Carly, Epps and his men take shelter inside a bombed-out church. This is neither Chicago nor Detroit. It’s the City Methodist Church at 6th Avenue and Washington Street in downtown Gary, Indiana, a picturesque ruin you might have seen in the previous year’s reboot of A Nightmare On Elm Street.

From here on, though, it’s the real Chicago, with Sam and Carly cornered by Starscream in an alleyway in the middle of the parking structures on East Benton Place on east side of Wabash Avenue. The ever-resourceful Sam is able to hook the robot’s eye with a grapple glove and ultimately blow its head off with a boomstick.

The main battle takes place around the Jewelers Building and the landmark structures on Wacker Drive and North Michigan Avenue.

At the instigation of Gould, Soundwave and Barricade decide to execute Autobot prisoners, starting with Que, on North Michigan Avenue in front of the Wrigley Building.

The opportunity to showcase Chicago’s visual splendour takes precedence over geography so, when snipers take their position on the ornate roof of the Tribune Tower, opposite the Wrigley at 435 North Michigan Avenue, to take out the eyes of the Decepticons, though the beautiful wrought iron staircase they use to access it is that of the Rookery Building, back at 202 South LaSalle Street, the Chicago landmark used as the HQ of Eliot Ness in Brian De Palma’s 1987 The Untouchables and the ‘New York’ toy store in Home Alone 2.

Transformers Dark Of The Moon location: Wyndham Grand, 71 East Wacker Drive, Chicago
Transformers Dark Of The Moon location: Shockwave is blinded and killed: Wyndham Grand (previously Hotel 71), East Wacker Drive, Chicago

Another team parachutes from Trump Tower to attack the Decepticons from the ground on Wacker Drive, where Shockwave is blinded by snipers outside the entrance to Wyndham Grand, 71 East Wacker Drive, before Optimus finishes him off and uses his laser cannon to destroy the Pillar.

Formerly known as Hotel 71, the 39-story tower provided the temporary Penthouse for Bruce Wayne in The Dark Knight while Wayne Manor was being rebuilt.

All that remains is for Sam to finishes off Gould as he restarts the Pillar, beneath the ornate clock on the Jewelers Building at the corner of East Wacker Place and North Wabash Avenue, and Optimus to confront both Sentinel and Megatron for a final battle to the death on the LaSalle Street Bridge, a few blocks west.