Transformers: Dark of the Moon: Not Much More Than Meets The Eye

Last time a Transformers movie came out, I gave it a positive if patronizing review, and I received a lot of grief for it. It was an overlong, confusing, joyless affair, but nevertheless, the crowd was wildly entertained, and the fever pitch of the crowd around me is admittedly infectious. Watching Transformers 2 later by myself… it was easy to re-evaluate. I’m pleased to report this time around, Bay has come up with the best action of the series, likely due to the extended shot length and necessary planning it takes to shoot in 3D. The characters mean little to nothing, the same flaws in tone and pacing exist, and it’s still pretty damn hard to figure out what robot is on whose side in the thick of battle… but if you were even mildly entertained by the second, the third will give you more of the same. If you hated the second, this one will likely frustrate you in the very same manner.

Quick plot rundown: Apollo 11’s landing on the moon was in response to an alien spacecraft crashing there. Turns out something called The Ark, holding Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy) and a universe-changing technology, was shot down while leaving the Transformers’ home planet and ended up on the dark side of the moon (hence, title). Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBoeuf) has a new girlfriend, Carly (Rosie Huntington-Whiteley)– he’s attempting to find a job, while Carly has a plum job with a sexy boss (Patrick Dempsey) that makes Sam jealous. He stumbles upon the truth, and when Decepticons try to kill him, he’s thrust back into the thick of things. Find Sentinel Prime and his secret weapon, and rescue him from Decepticon danger. And when they do… well, let’s just say Optimus Prime (Peter Cullen) and the military heroes from the first two films (Josh Duhamel and Tyrese, among others) will have no idea how to stop what comes next.

Let’s get the bad out of the way, and it’s all things you expect. While the human element is brought more into focus this time around, the characters are stale. LaBoeuf hams it up more than ever in this film, Huntington-Whiteley just has to look good in tight clothing (a Michael Bay staple), and actors such as John Malkovich, Ken Jeong, and Frances McDormand really could have all been cut from the film entirely and not been missed. In fact, they film would have benefited, since it’s two hours and forty minutes long. The humor of the film is strange– the tone goes from aggressively earnest and patriotic to broad jokes while death surrounds them. In particular, Malkovich boxing with Bumblebee may be the weirdest expenditure of studio money on special effects all year long. The first hour and a half has plenty of things that could have been cut to make for a tighter, more engaging film. And per usual, I had trouble telling which metal hunk was good and which metal hunk was evil…

… though to his credit, Bay does better about that this time around. He clearly paid a lot of attention to how to make 3D benefit his film, and truthfully, the 3D is the best thing about it. It’s the best looking live-action film in 3D that I can think of, with bright colors and some amazing uses of the technology. My favorite use, which almost merits paying admission by itself, is when people diving out of planes into a battle zone have the 3D camera strapped to their head. Now, I’ve seen several films with much-ballyhooed high-jump stunts, be it Dark Knight or Mission: Impossible 3, and I’ve always sat back and wondered, “Why not just do it with CGI? No one would know.” This makes the effect of an actual man jumping from a plane *feel* real, and it places you right in the thick of the action. This particular style of shot is used twice in the film, and it’s awesome each time. Equally awesome is the sequence in which a slowly falling building requires falling in and out of offices, sliding down the sides of the building, and so forth. It’s the human element to the action that these films are often missing.

When I say the “human element,” I mean that no one really gives a shit about two CGI robots fighting one another. They’re obviously fake, the Transformer characters aren’t built up enough that we care about them, and it’s tough at times to tell all but the main few apart (though Leonard Nimoy lends gravitas for the first time to a robot this go around). Here, we have human beings stepping into the battle. We have human beings getting killed. And, most importantly of all, we always have human beings directly in the line of fire, keeping the tension high. Sometimes, the action gets so cluttered and hectic that we forget the human beings are there. But those few moments in which we focus of Sam, Carly, Dylan, and the military men, the movie begins to feel like a movie even critical snobs would like. The general public likes these films– they are full of patriotic rhetoric (though some of the blatant 9/11 references, especially the “let’s roll” made me uneasy), women stereotypes, ethnic stereotypes, gay jokes, and loud explosions. It’s why though I didn’t care for the second film, which had the most offensive stereotypes of all, I could admire the fact that Bay crafted it with business savvy. Don’t let his “it wasn’t good enough” speech he made a month ago fool you: he made the film he wanted to make, and he successfully grabbed the interests of the Americans who paid 400 million dollars to see it again and again.

Here, he’s done an even better “job,” and he’s pushed himself to make a better movie while maintaining the crudities that Americans enjoy. It’s hard to give these films a grade I fully agree with, since I believe I’m not the target audience. I gave the last one 2.5 out of 4 kernels, primarily because it wasn’t boring, it was entertaining enough despite its many problems, and I asked myself the question that no critic should ask himself: “If I think something isn’t great, but everyone around me is in love with it, can all of them be wrong?” (If I could go back to change it after my second viewing, I’d make the 2.5 a 1.5.). I realize now that the entire Transformers 3 audience can place a different value on what they want to get for their $13.50. I wanted to care more, at least thirty minutes could have been cut, and it’s still confusing and patronizing despite improvements. However, if you think you will ever want to see it, you should see it in 3D theaters, because it shows what a crafty filmmaker can do with 3D, and it shows Michael Bay can still stage dynamic, frenetic action with the rest of them. It’s bloated, jingoistic, offensive, loud, exciting, earnest, and never boring. It’s Michael Bay.

Note: I give it 2.5 kernels, because while it may have scenes and pacing much worse than a 2.5 kernel film, it has some thrills and sequences much better than a 2.5 kernel film.

~ by russellhainline on June 30, 2011.

4 Responses to “Transformers: Dark of the Moon: Not Much More Than Meets The Eye”

  1. I can’t tell you how much I agree with your review. There were some of the most awkward scenes and scenarios I’ve seen, leaving me looking more dumb struck than Malkovich. I felt they carelessly threw in humor and tried to make me go on a bipolar roller coaster, from laughing to socked to sappy with romantics. I am a little sick of the focus on the hot supporting actress, it’s not about her, nor should it be, but as you said, that is Bay’s staple. The story would benefit immensely from a good editor, easily losing 30+ minutes. Not to mention, I cannot stand the shaky camera look for action packed scenes. It make me dizzy and lose focus on the dueling car engines.

    Keep up the reviews!

    • Losing thirty minutes minimum would have made *such* a difference in this film. I totally agree.

      Thanks for the comments! I’ll be sure to follow you on Twitter.

  2. It’s an improvement over the second one, which isn’t saying much, but still is a very fun blockbuster filled with action, destruction, romance, robots, and Michael Bay once again letting loose on all the special effects and action there is to let loose. Good Review! Check out mine when you can!

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