“Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash.” – Pink Floyd

Transformers: Dark of the Moon (June 29, 2011)     2.5/5

Directed by Michael Bay (Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks Pictures)

Before the critics scream “damn you, Hollywood!” and audiences line up for their $17 IMAX-3D tickets, let’s just stop for a second.  To begin with, let’s consider a few things about the Transformers franchise.  2007: With Transformers, pyromaniac, quick-cutting connoisseur Michael Bay made arguably his best film.  Complete with giant, fighting, space robots and military elements typical of a Bay storyline, the movie also featured a few story aspects from producer Steven Spielberg; the friendship of protagonist Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) with his living Camaro / alien robot Bumblebee, as well as his pining for the hot girl at school, Mikaela Banes (Megan Fox).  The visual effects were outstanding, and the film had a wonderful sense of humor, to boot.  But it wasn’t perfect. There were continuity errors, editing flaws, and other typical Bay touches.

2009: With sequel Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, the media basically confirmed that Michael Bay is the biggest tool in Hollywood.  Walking into shooting without a script, losing that Spielberg magic, and overindulging on everything audiences lapped up with the first film, TF-2 was a mess.  Critics bashed it to smithereens, called Bay a talentless hack, and ultimately left Revenge of the Fallen with several, possibly well-deserved Razzies.  Yes, there were plenty of worse films in 2009 (Does anyone still remember G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra?  Hopefully not, or else you might be tempted to sit through the upcoming sequel to that childish turd).  But the reason TF-2 sits so unfavorably upon the minds of those who watch movies for a living is not because of its incoherent story, wooden characters, cringe-worthy dialogue, horrid editing, racism, sexism, and overblown running time – but the fact that among these poor aspects, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen made over 800 million dollars.  The cry of outrage among critics was less for Bay, and more for audiences.  Bay simply gave undemanding viewers more of what they wanted.  The film industry is a business, after all.  And although TF-2 wasn’t a good film, it wasn’t nearly is disastrous as it was made out to be.

2011: The third film in the Transformers series is released.  This is that last trip to Hasbro nostalgia for both Bay and LaBeouf, and meanwhile, Megan Fox has been fired from the production after referring to Bay as a Nazi (Rumor has it Spielberg made the decision.  Have you seen Schindler’s List?  Then you can imagine why.)  Once again, the production and release had been pushed forward (going into the project, Bay actually thought the film was slated for July 2012), and the departure of Fox led to various rewrites, all among Bay’s promise that Dark of the Moon would be a lot better than Revenge of the Fallen.  Is it?  Well … yes and no.

The film begins with the premise that the space race of the 1960s was actually in response to a Transformer spacecraft landing on the moon, and that this occurrence is now part of a dastardly Decepticon plot to somehow morph their planet of Megatron onto Earth, and then enslave the human species.  The opening sequence of the film is no doubt the best 15 minutes in any of the Transformers movies, combining vintage newsreel with what “really” happened during those exciting and tumultuous years for both the U.S. and U.S.S.R.  But then, after the title disappears from the screen, we are left with a precise shot of Rosie Huntington Whiteley’s ass.  For all of those who hated Revenge of the Fallen, welcome back to Bay-town!  Sam (LaBeouf) is now looking for a job in D.C. and Carly (Whiteley) is his new, too-good-looking-to-be-true girlfriend.  Bay hand-selected this former Victoria’s Secret model, and any inclination to believe she sucks at acting is completely valid.  To put it simply, her performance blows, and is complimented by others in which great actors are really not given anything to work with.  These include (but are not limited to) John Malkovich as Sam’s boss, Patrick Dempsey as Cary’s, Francis McDormand as a government-type, Ken Jeong as a whacko coworker, and John Turturro reprising his role as … well, I’m not really sure what he is anymore. 

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen is a better Transformers movie than its predecessor, considering it provides humor (while being restrained), and action (with awe-inspiring 3D), while also providing that dose of fatal poison for IQ-impaired audiences – human emotion.  So why is TF-3 not that great of a movie overall?  Well, it still contains those flaws that weigh most of Bay’s movies down – the scenes that end abruptly and are placed in odd spots, those subplots that are incoherent and unnecessary, and the characters that disappear soon after they are introduced (Malkovich), as well as those whose presence is light as a feather (such as Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson in their respective “military” roles).  But despite these disappointments, or rather, lack of improvements from Revenge of the Fallen, there are a few aspects of Dark of the Moon that are highly successful.  The script (by TF-2 cowriter Ehren Kruger) is filled with cool ideas.  I always enjoy when films bring fictional elements to historical situations, especially when they involve robots who turn into cars … IN SPACE!  Anyway, fanboy coolness aside, it is a shame that very same script makes such an effort to muddle the story with nonsensical subplots, and ultimately, provide that tinge of incoherence.

At the end of the day, however, it does indeed fulfill its purpose, mostly because as the fibers of the plot finally connect and provide for coherent storytelling, it is all abandoned for the sake of a 50-minute battle sequence as the Decepticons completely LEVEL Chicago.  Yes, this sequence is WAY too long, and provides no justice to the intriguing bits that were onscreen not too long before.  However, it would be a lie to say the action isn’t breathtaking.  Working with artists and technicians who worked on James Cameron’s Avatar, Michael Bay shot most of Dark of the Moon in 3D, and has surprisingly put this technology to the best use since we saw the Na’vi prance around Pandora.  Although the action sequences are edited rather poorly, the attention to detail in each shot is hard to miss, and although the color in the film may be ugly at times, the images are beyond cool, and the package as a whole is an awe-inspiring piece of destruction.  If only the film functioned as a cohesive whole.  Unfortunately, Michael Bay is not concerned with such matters.  He is instead focused on assuring his audience doesn’t get bored for 5 seconds at a time, a technique that makes for more of a brainwashing exercise than a film.

You’d be hard bent to not get a kick out of some, if not all of Transformers: Dark of the Moon, but you’d also find yourself not bored, but longing for something else.  Maybe a film that had transition scenes; that actually built up to a climatic sequence or moment without simply leveling it on you, instead believing you don’t have the attention span for that sort of thing.  As true as this is, the most important thing the Transformers sequels have lacked is that Spielberg spirit, that emotional connection that is achieved not through yelling, crying, and noise, but through wondrous storytelling.  And as the Transformers series is rebooted without Michael Bay (as it no doubt will), let’s pray for something like that.  However, the purpose of this review is not to bash Michael Bay, who has made quite a few decent films using his ADHD-technique, including action-thriller The Rock and the unfairly panned blockbuster, Armageddon.  The purpose is to tell you how good Transformers: Dark of the Moon actually is.  So what’s the verdict?  See the star rating above.  With all of its flaws and successes, TH-3 ends up being just that – a failure with glimpses of awesome.  And besides, you already know whether you’re going to show up at midnight, pay for that $17 ticket, and watch Bay play with his toys.  If you’re not onboard, as always, you’re better off playing with your own.        

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