Transformers: Dark of the Moon Review
“The Struggles That Few Will Go Through To See This Bay Film Fail Are Only Outmatched By The Lengths That Bay And Co. Went Through To Give Us A Mind Numbing, Child-like Experience.”
June 30th, 2011
"Block him, block him." Vehicles race down a semi-crowded highway, aiming for the supposed cover awaiting them in the city. A colorful array of vehicles, both civilian and military in fashion, surround a beautiful, elegant, and now iconic yellow camaro. The motley crew speed through traffic, but eventually their pursuers find an opening and gain on our merry band of heroes. Before you can think of Megan Fox's smoking hot body (which is pretty damn fast), a gnarly looking mine-sweeping vehicle transforms in mid-motion. We see all of his parts coherently move and shuffle to their respective place as this behemoth unveils himself in all his alien exoskeleton glory. On cue, a flaming blue truck transforms into the grand leader of the Autobots, and upon impact with the now roller skating Bonecrusher, Optimus tumbles off of the freeway and into the traffic several stories below. The scene is eye-canny, the excitement having nullified any other emotion save for awe... I am a kid.
The desert. Smoldering hot, from the looks of things, and even hotter as missiles and gunfire plague the screen. Decepticons converge on a small group of soldiers and N.E.S.T. operatives, hoping that what they're attempting to do, and very well dying for, will not be in vain. A bomb run commences, Sam splits to save a fallen leader, and manages to get himself killed as well. Tears roll down a tanned Fox, and Sam's parents unnecessarily show up. We cut to Sam in... robot heaven?... *sigh* I am a critic.
***The following review contains STRONG SPOILERS throughout***
***************Read only if you've viewed the film***************
Transformers: Dark of the Moon. The supposed final installment to this ball-breaking, steel bashing, Shia screaming franchise. The day that certain biased critics have loathed, and the day most fanboys have highly awaited, hoping for the series' redemption. Whatever the case, it's here. In fact it came and went, just as any other film did. It entertained, just as we'd expect any worth-while film to do. It had flaws... again, just like any other film, and most of which we called long before stepping foot within the cinema, and now, here we are - pondering over what we've just seen. Some of you may have rushed home to tweet, blog, or statusize your thoughts on the film. Some may have stood outside the theatre with friends in tow, arguing the semantics and flaws of the film along with which moments were "illest". Others may have simply gone to bed, forgotten the event, having dismissed it for... whatever, it is. Some liked it, some hated it, you know the way of things.
Some (such as myself) are, more than anything, baffled by the complete absurdity of the majority of the critics bashing the film to death, as well as the action-mongers who loved it, and the sharp contrasts of those groups. I'm appalled by it actually. Coming out of the film that I saw, with the reaction that I and nearly everyone in the audience shared (people clapped when the credits rolled), I couldn't wrap my head around the labels being thrown at this film by pompous people whose names I've never heard of, nor would I care to remember. It's evident, coming out of this feature and viewing the polar opposite reception that the films receiving online, that the struggles that few will go through to see this Bay film fail are only outmatched, by the lengths that Bay and Co. went through to give us a mind numbing, child-like experience. That's more than what I expected, and more than what those particular viewers deserved. On the other hand, fanboys were so heavily ogled by all the rich and diverse action sequences throughout, that they've no recollection of any decent sized flaws that the film maintained, which leads way to no one taking those who honestly liked the film (such as myself) seriously. Alas, I hope my embitterment leads way, hopefully, to a decent and more evenly placed review.
The film opens with a brief but fascinating view of Cybertron. This beautiful scene is narrated by none other than Optimus (Peter Cullen), who sums up the war on Cybertron, as well as what was going on at the moment of our entrance. We briefly follow an Autobot ship (the Ark, for all you know it all's out there) containing a weapon that would win the war for the Autobots, as well as the factions leader, Sentinel Prime (voiced by Leonard Nimoy). However, the Ark, en route to anywhere but Cybertron (forgot where exactly), gets "shot down" and only manages to make it to our poorly unpopulated... moon. What follows is the inevitable launch of man's mission to the moon, in what appears to be a relatively nice alternate world in which the entire space race was a response to this singular event. After our famed astronauts of old incognito-like slip away towards the Ark, they discover the fallen transformers there, though unaware of what secrets the rest of the ship holds. They return with what little they could gather and the rest is, as they say, history.
Fast forward to the present and we find the ever loveable Bumblebee and eternally troubled Shia in different places in their life. Shia, is going through a semi-mid life re-evaluation. His character, Sam, having saved the world twice and with nothing to show for it (save a medal from Obama) has been living with his semi-fresh girlfriend, Carly (Rosie Huntington Whitley), who has a respectable job, a fantastic body, and a sensible approach to things; in other words she has everything he doesn't have. Meanwhile 'Bee, Optimus, and the rest of the Autobots are once again reunited with the majority of the N.E.S.T. team from the last film, which is once again led by Major Lennox (Josh Duhamel).
It's within this fifty or so minute window in which our characters tackle their own problems big and small. While it's slightly awkward to have so many elements working to progress the tale in this first hour in order to open up room for the action dominant final hour, I found it simplistic enough, switching back and forth between two parties; heading a mistake that the second film made. In fact, had the first film not been to straightforward, I'd say this was a terrific first hour of instructions and problem presenting. I specifically enjoyed the direction in which they took Sam's character. He saved the world twice, and no one knows about it (this brings me back to my legendary last stand forum, lol... I've gotta get back to that). He's ill-content with his life, whether its searching for a crummy job, handling his parents expectations of him, or being subliminally berated by Carly's boss, Dylan (Patrick Dempsey). Overall, his life, as well as his piece of sh*t car, are no longer doing it for him. I found this a surprising direction to take the character and a rather realistic approach as well, uncommon for a Bay film.
The Autobots and the N.E.S.T. teams story is well thought out as well, despite their limited screen time during the first half of the film. We see that they have progressed together over the few years since the events of Trans:Fallen. Between new team members, the change in mission objectives for some of the Autobot operatives (helping fight other humans, taking orders from them, etc), and "take-down-a-robot" sessions, we get the sense that the team is comfortable with their jobs, and that they've steadily been progressing throughout the years. It's these small intervals that help make the overall picture better, because we get a sense that things are always progressing and moving forward. They keep the fictional world alive and believable, especially in the case of those energon detectors throughout major cities; that was an unexpected but nice touch.
Anyways, the story is there. It's nothing grandiose, nor is it overbearing. In fact, at times you may ask yourself whether there is even a plot there, but then you're quickly reminded that what you're watching (with the exception of the needless comical exchanges between Shia and just about anyone at his work place) are necessary to an extent.. In fact the actual plot of this film is fantastic. Where it fails once again is the handling of the details, such as - what are certain characters roles in the debacle, where are they in their lives, what actions need be taken by them, and who all is even necessary to the story. Once again we're given a lot of laugh-a-minute (not) characters that hinder the films overall direness, and leave it to Kruger to make Alan Tudyk, the f*cking man, a somewhat pathetic character (save for one amusing bar scene). Ken Jeong manages to get a laugh out of us during a peculiar bathroom/elevator scene, but really, his entire role is unnecessary, as is John Malcovich's. Frances McDormand provides us with a competent yet no bullsh*t taken women, which was refreshing and also unexpected. Simmons returns, played by John Turturro. Believe it or not, he's not too much this film, or at least not on the same level as he was in the other films, thankfully. Truth is, had Kruger given more thought to the small things instead of just focusing on the spectacle he could allow Bay to utilize, we would've had a far more coherent story here, and a far more enjoyable experience.
Kruger's lack of any real development throughout the final act in the film was just laziness, because he basically handed free reign over to Bay who probably appreciated the emptiness in the last hour of the film; which enabled him to pack as much action as possible into the run-time. This was also a flaw, because one can only take so much semi-climax's, destructive scenery, and gaudy robotic occurrences. That being said, the director didn't fail this final installment either. He set out to make amends for the second film. Begrudgingly or not, he gave us a hell of a finale. Using Kruger's action heavy script (or story light script, for all you "half glass empty" type people) to the best of his abilities, Michael goes on to lay down the law - from showcasing intricate and detailed set pieces, to actually maintaining a discernible story (lions and tigers and bears, Oh My!), to giving us key spectacle moments to chew on without any overbearing action (my favorite of which is the blowing up of the shuttle; beautiful shot), he simply gives us what we've wanted from the start - a movie worth watching.
Though along with his revamped strengths, he can't help but bring along his less-than-admirable flaws. We are once again witness to overloaded brutal action (though never confusing, as the senile and ill-willed often like to point out), disdainful sprints of dialogue, the random bursts of energy and patriotism, and the occasional tasteless humor. Now, Bay is not responsible for all of these things, but looking at his track record, you wonder if he ever really reads his scripts, or simply likes the stereotypes and sex jokes that often lie within the pages of his projects. Whatever the case, he could have changed what he didn't like, and for all I know, he may have changed a lot. We'll never really know, but these are none-the-less, improvement he should look into, responsible or not.
Troubles aside, Trans:DoTM boasts action, splendor, and destruction, and almost regrettably delivers more than you can carry. However, the film is merciful for those who have little tolerance for needless action, or at least it is the first hour or so into the film. From the moon landing to the activating of the pillars, the action comes in eye-canny bursts, and were the film longer, and had the third act contained half as much action, I'd say that the eventual story that would be injected in its place would balance everything out perfectly. But even without such occurrences, the film is enjoyable. Sure, it came in strides, and by "it", I mean everything worth watching, but that's unusual for a Bay film, and surprisingly a positive thing if you ask me.
The score here by Steve Jablonsky was great. In fact, in terms of summer soundtracks, this would rival Zimmer's soundtrack from Inception had the music been used more dominantly, and had I not heard some of the tunes before. I understand maintaining similar composure and riffs from the first film is a necessity, but nothing quite rivaled Zimmer's "Time" track here. Still, great stuff on the ears. It's great to know that while the film suffered from it's creative zone (writing, partial directing), and certain on-screen presence's, it was also revived thanks to the behind the scenes aspects of the film. The sound mixing is great, and never bothersome. Something I always hear about these films is that they're loud. While I'm sure those critics mean that they're loud in nature, I still recon some of them find the film literally loud, and that has never been the case for me. Call me young, and deaf. :)
The visuals of course are definitely in focus here. While I found the cinematography sketchy at moments (tilted angles, lack of Bay and Abram's traditional over use of lens flares, etc), I loved the majority of the wide shots utilized in the film. As I mentioned before, one certain scene had Shia watching the autobots leave Earth, and the sky was an orange barely purple hue, and it was fantastic. Then when the shuttle exploded, and we shifted back to Shia's frozen face of shock, I felt the entire scene was beautiful and stirring enough to warrant mention. Also, deserving of mention, or rather infinite praise is the special effects and use of 3D in this film. As others have stated, 3D is gimmicky and poorly done now, due to the lazy upconversion of films, or the poor use of 3D from the get-go. That does not hold true for this particular beauty. This film was fantastic to watch. Gazing at Cybertron (great opening for a 3D film, btw) to aerial dives from the heavens, this film utilized 3D well and seamlessly. Say what you want about Bay (though, I'd rather you didn't), but he can't be called anything less than a technical marvel and a visionary for the effects and stunts he foresaw and executed. The hundreds of animators, explosion riggers, set converters, etc... they did their jobs well. This film was technically solid through and through, and while some have unjustifiably grown tired of the mechanical beings brawls, I can't see how when he continually raises the bar for everything. From the robot's movements, to the set pieces they're around, to the blending and rendering of the characters to make it seamless; it's phenomenal, and nothing short of hard work.
Now the acting is once again hit and miss here, as per the norm. LaBeouf first and foremost gives a solid performance. This kid can act, and he does his best with what he's given. The direction in which they took his character is one of the things that made me smile with this installment, because it was a well done route (despite his work place... that was just unnecessary). He's yearning to be needed on a large scale once more, having been spoiled by two encounters of life or death situations concerning aliens and our planet. He's saved the world twice with nothing but a medal from the president to show for it. Itching for purpose and recognition, Shia's character finally continues to provide a humorous yet relatable lead for the films. In fact, it's stronger than ever, and while that's not a hard thing to achieve, it's a pleasant accomplishment. Shia makes this character. I loved the fire that would spring up in his eyes whenever the possibility of being needed would arise. It's subtle, but there, and if you look for it you'll appreciate his portrayal a lot more.
RHW provides decent eye candy throughout the film (like there wasn't enough), and as mentioned by several on this site, she replaces Fox's role as something to look at when explosions aren't going on; nothing more. However, with what little she was dealt, she does a decent job of getting enough emotion out of her given dialogue to warrant... well, to warrant something other than utter distaste and frustration. I guess that says something. The rest of the recurring cast returns to their respective roles, more comfortable than ever, and thankfully their characters are all at a place and time that doesn't require as much dialogue from them, nor does it request they spewl out nonsense every 2 minutes... no, the nonsense limit has been pushed back to every 4 minutes. All joking aside though, what do you expect? They do okay in their independent roles, and once again, I like the fact that each of them has progressed since the last film, giving them something tangible to work with, but at the end of the day do we really care all that much? Leave it be that they did good enough to keep things moving, and the irritating performances detracted from the film mildly because we didn't come to see Jeong suck on a straw or Tudyk talk in an unpleasant semi-gay german accent (though, I expected Kruger to give him more).
Nein, we came to see the finale to an age old war between the Autobots and the Decepticons, and we got it, with plenty of collateral damage flung around. Chicago in utter ruin, humans and autobots alike dying, and a few turns that may make the less keen and aware get emotional. While no one don't during any particular scene throughout the film, I saw that some had watery eyes here and there, and that's a vast improvement over the last films emotional core. While the first film in the trilogy still gives us the most humane and character driven story (thanks to Spielberg's bigger part in things, as well as Orci and Kurtzman's script), Kruger's first solo outing in the trilogy does give us a few moments to stop and realize that there are things behind these hulking pieces of metal; something we knew throughout the first film, but had forgotten in the mess of the second. It was nice to rediscover those moments, and it was refreshing to see human characters take a change as well, such as Gibson's character Epps' removal from N.E.S.T., due to no longer wanting a part in all of the death and frustration he'd experienced during the first two films. Once more, had the script been more thorough and full of these key moments, and had the editing provided balance between story, and action, we'd have had a sure-fire winner across the board, but that's not the case. Then again, you can't feel for characters that weren't there to feel for in the first place, so I feel that some who find the majority of the humans roles undeserving of emotion, keep in mind that the second film dumped a lot of making up to do on this films behalf.
Positive Features: An interesting and solid plot, fantastic visuals, strong and correct use of 3D, ripe character moments, potent and coherent action sequences, continuity in both subject matter and character actions, a fantastic score, a riveting pacing, fun little easter eggs, and the promise of bringing a fan back to his or her childhood.
Negative Features: Lack of depth to 70% of the characters, dialogue issues, crude jokes, and overly long climax, unnecessary scenes, hit and miss acting, and lack of plausible cause and believability in certain characters' actions. Oh, and "robots in disguise" no longer applied to the majority of transformers.
Looking back, this was a proud, arrogant, and deceptive trilogy. Much like the transformer race, there was a conflict in creativity and trials arose that required backlash and aggressive attention, to the dismay of all. From a strong and heartfelt start revolving around a boy leaving to discover better opportunities, we finally come upon the round-out plot of a boy moving on to a man and finding his place in the world; a simplistic and not to demanding outing for those just wishing to go out with a bang. It had its flaws, and it had its strengths, much like my review, which I apologize for if it's long or ill-paced. If that's the case I guess you could say it at least has similarities with the film. I just had a lot to say, and I took too long to say it, so half of my thought process coming out of the film is not hidden and lost to me. *sigh*
Reviewers pride themselves on differentiating themselves from the common masses, as well as from each other; letting their voices become noticeable, by fabricating an honest and unbiased opinion towards these works or shambles of art. It's sad to say that that is definitely not the case with this film, and though it's far from perfect, it sure as hell offered me a lot more than any other film has in a long while. I don't know. Maybe this installment may lead to a final fourth film (the ending was far too abrupt after all) in which Sam tackles the pleasures of marriage. Lol. Not a good idea? Who knows, it may continue to excel and better itself. Then again, the sky might as well turn orange whenever it damn pleases, people might as well mistaken my laziness for creativity, and George Clooney might as well say, "F*ck it, I'm staying single." But since that's not the case... wait. ;)
After sitting on a curb and talking about the film we just watched on a somewhat hot Tuesday night, things aren't much likely to get better. It's a Tuesday after all. I say adios to my friends and catch the elevator up to my car. Relieving key scenes, I approach my ever loyal Scion tC, give it a pat, enter the vehicle and turn the ignition. Life rumbles into the vehicle. I exit the parking lot, listening to Third eye Blind's "God of Wine", driving fifty miles an hour on a thirty mile an hour empty road, and allow the wind to enter my car as I relive favorite moments from the film. It's 2:04 am...
I am a kid again...