Transformers: Dark of the Moon Review

Transformers: Dark of the Moon marks an uptick in quality for the franchise.  After a sickeningly disappointing second outing the third movie is a much better time.  There are still tons of problems but I enjoyed it.  It’s a fun ride full of insane special effects and action.  That stated I know this is going to get very negative, very quickly, so I want to give you my final score now and just let this shit descend into madness.  I give Transformers: Dark of the Moon a 7 out of 10.  Now let’s rev up the hate machine.

I will provide this version SPOILER-FREE meaning everything I write is something you will already know if you’ve seen the trailer.  An unedited spoiler-filled epic plot evisceration will be posted after this.  If you’ve seen the movie read both reviews, if you haven’t stick to this one.

We open up on Cybertron (home to all things that transform), watching the Autobot ship we will come to know as “The Ark” being pursued by Decpeticon fighters.  Aboard the ship is an Autobot, Sentinel Prime, who has built a device which could turn the tide of the Cybertronian War.  Before Sentinel could get the device off-world he was shot out of the sky by the Decepticons.

In the early 1960’s The Ark crashlands on Earth’s moon which is discovered by the American government.  President John F. Kennedy jumpstarts the space shuttle program in order to investigate the impact.   Apparently in the 60’s nothing ever has hit the moon before.  Much like Edward James Olmos, the moon’s face is apparently just kinda holey.

Granted travel from Cybertron to Earth could have taken 10’s of thousands of years how does the government just become aware of the Transformers in the 1960’s?  They’ve had Megatron in custody after Sam’s granddad found him under the ice.  I guess you could explain it away by saying certain members of the government are on a need-to-know basis.  However JFK treats the moon crashing as a pretty big fucking deal and he was the G’damned Pres-O-Dent!  Why spend billions on the space program to investigate what could have been nothing when you have been housing an alien in the Hoover Dam since 1935?

Plot holes aside, the government decides to focus their efforts on the shiny new possible spacecraft on the moon.   They start up the space program and 8 years later fly to the moon and find the derelict Autobot spaceship.   The crew of the Apollo 11 embark on a secret mission to locate the spacecraft.  Inside they find a bunch of dead Autobots.  What the astronauts don’t know is that there is still a barely living Sentinel Prime hanging out in the ship’s cargo bay.  Despite this incredible discovery, the crew retrieves a few small items but never shows much interest in going back, citing extreme costs of landing on the moon.  This is the fantasy government which would just stop pursuing alien technology because it costs too much.  That isn’t a plot hole, just a fucking fantasy.  Maybe they just remembered they had Megatron locked away.

Our title screen appears and the movie proper begins as any good Transformers movie should (I guess), with a long look at Megan Fox’s replacements ass.  This is a lengthy shot of her walking around with the camera following her, in 3D by the way.  It’s kind of jarring.  Unfortunately the shot changes to show that Shia LaBeouf has not been replaced with a worse actor than he, probably because that is impossible.  At any rate, we then spend the next hour following Sam in his disappointing life as an ex-hero (for what exactly?).  Sam is bitter because he lives with his wealthy, hot (ehhhh) girlfriend but is not involved with the Autobots anymore.  It’s stated that the government sent him to college and bought him an apartment but Sam wants more!  Didn’t this greedy fuck ever watch “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”?

“STOP MAKING ME DO THESE MOVIES!!!”

Interspersed with this horseshit is the B-plot of the movie, the secondary one which deals with the actions of the Autobots, because we all know The Beef is the real star of the TRANS-FUCKING-FORMERS!!!  It’s revealed that the Decepticons are AWOL and the Autobots are biding their time working for the government smoking out them Al Quedas…AMERICA FUCK YEAH!!!

While the Decepticons may be keeping it on the D-L, they are secretly planning to….DUM DUM DUM…take over the world!  Megatron, who is now clad in a tattered burlap sack because he’s cold (???) is chillin’ in the Serengeti.   Along with Megatron is the sidekick for this movie, Laserbeak.  Starscream is also there but he’s not really important anymore.  Megatron sends Laserbeak to off some NASA scientists who hold a secret that is so shocking that they showed it in the trailer for the movie.

On with the movie… The NEST team who we will remember (or not) from the first two films are tag-teaming a mission with the Autobots to Chernobyl because there were some reported Decepticon hi-jinx going on.  This turns out to be a very elaborate ruse to lure the Autobots there.  The Decepticons and their newest henchmen Shockwave attack them, kill a shitload of humans but don’t scratch the paintjobs on any Autobots.  The Autobots recover evidence of the existence of Sentinel Primes’ ship and mount an effort to recover the ship and its cargo.

After a brief trip to the moon Optimus and crew return to Earth with Sentinel Prime (voiced by Leonard Nimoy) in tow.  Sentinel is in “sleep mode” and requires Optimus’ spark from the Matrix of Leadership to reactivate.  Optimus grants unto his former leader life and the two pal around solving crimes in 19th century London.  Oops, sorry.

Sentinel and Optimus share some good old fashion bonding and exposition scenes where Sentinel tells Optimus of the device he was escaping Cybertron with.  So what will be the MacGuffin in this movie?  If you guessed “poles” you’d be correct and have either seen the movie or are psychic, one of the two.  These poles create a “space bridge” which can be used to teleport…ummm..stuff.  How this could save Cybertron is beyond me but roll with it.  The poles have two conditions though, there are thousands of them but only one matters, the control pole, which “Yes”, sounds like a porn.  Also Sentintel Prime is the only one that can use them….because he has the WEP key I guess.  (Nerd joke +100)

From here on out the movie really gets going.  It’s about an hour in before we get our first major action sequence which interestingly reuses scenes from Bay’s previous bomb “The Island” because I guess they figure no one saw it, so why not.  The main plot kicks in and there are twists and turns and none of it really makes any sense when you actually take the time to think but it’s all very much glossed over. The moment something happens that requires some thought, something BLOWS THE FUCK UP!!!  Oh yes, there will be explosions…mind numbing, ass shaking, bowel moving explosions.  When you absolutely positively need something blown the fuck up, especially in slow motion, you call Michael Bay.  When you need interesting characters and a cogent storyline call someone else.

“Less talky. More ‘splody”

Bay directs the movie like a squirrel on speed might.  He just swings the camera around, tilts it, shakes that shit up and down.  He somehow manages to use the 3D aspect better than any movie before it though.  I would suggest watching it in 3D.  I generally hate 3D but it’s used brilliantly in this movie.  Most movies get much darker when you pop those ugly ass glasses on but Transformers manages to stave off the dimness.  The movie looks wonderful and the visual effects really do look as realistic as a giant robot movie could look.  There were a couple moments where there were close-ups of the robo-faces and the words didn’t really look like they matched the mouth’s movements but it is not glaring.

I do love the visuals however I have one major gripe.  One of the biggest problems I have had with this franchise from the beginning is sticking to the drab color palette.  It makes it very hard to tell in a fight when two large silver things are clanging into one another.  I think they have done a much improved job of making it clearer who is fighting by zooming the camera out to show more than just close-ups.  In the previous two films the action was cramped so it just looked like metal shit hitting metal shit.  By moving the “camera” back we can better tell what is happening.

Another slightly annoying flaw is that the movie fails to introduce us properly to the new Transformers.  In a scene three Decepticons confront Ironhide and another Autobot, I was unaware of who 4 out of the 5 characters were.  The three Decepticons I am assuming are Larry, Moe and Curly and the Autobot’s name is Hector.  Care to prove me wrong?  I had no clue who was speaking during the conversation and the only way I could tell who won the fight was there was no sad music playing after, so I guess go Autobots!

The design of new villain Shockwave also disappointed me greatly.  In the cartoon Shockwave is a Cyclops with a purple paint job.  In this iteration he still in mono-optical but he is gun metal gray.  Why not just go for broke and paint him purple?  Are the filmmakers thinking it wouldn’t look realistic?  If so, you’re making a movie about giant fucking robots!  It would really be less confusing during action scenes if 90% of the characters weren’t shades of gray.

While the movie is a proverbial “visual feast” the sense of intelligence and characterization is a literal famine.  Let’s start with who should be the stars of the movies, the Transformers.  My previous meandering bullshit about Optimus aside, he is handled poorly as ever and does not resemble even his self from the first movie.  In this film he is just a murdering menace who frequently taunts Decepticons before killing them, shouting “You die” at every turn and just being a callous douchebag.  It may be more realistic than an altruistic aged warrior who wants nothing but peace in a war-torn world, but’s it’s not as interesting.   I don’t think Bay & Friends ever really understood the character, thus the complete lack of continuity with anything familiar from the cartoon.

As for the rest of the cybernetic characters in the movie, they are only differentiated by mildly differing color schemes and stereotypes.  They are merely a collection of accents thrown together with the exception of poor Bumblebee.  While he does a good job of ninja-kicking Decepticon ass he spends most of the movie getting berated by Sam for going off on world-saving missions and not hanging out with him.  Fuck Sam!  The rest of the Autobots are well, boring.  Ironhide is back, sort of.  The rest of the team are an Ferrari who (surprise) speaks how a racist thinks Italians speak, an elderly Einstien lookalike named Que and two Nascars.  You might think they would have redneck accents, this being a Bay film and all.  Nope, they have British and Irish accents.  Why they have accents are beyond me.  Oh yeah that annoying Joe Pesci-bot is back and this time he has a friend who is a racist stereotype of a black person.  So Bay eliminated the racism from the twins by replacing them with other racist characters.  Stay classy Mike.

On the evil side of things, Megatron is in this movie for all of ten minutes and does very little besides jump start the plot.  Hugo Weaving, who voices the character, must have been busy working on “Captain America: The First Avenger”. There are large chunks of the movie where Megatron is missing.  During the film’s hour long action climax / orgy of special effects, Megatron is just chilling in an alley.  It takes some balls to take your main villain and replace him mid-stream.  I guess Megatron’s character is still recovering from his team up with The Fallen.

For most of the first half of the movie Laserbeak is pretty much the focus from a Decepticon point of view.   Laserbeak in the movie is way more interesting and gets more shit done than any villain in any of these movies.  Introducing Shockwave looked like it could pay huge dividends but honestly while he does stand out they could have just called him Generic Villian #3.  Previous films’ baddies Starscream and Soundwave appear but do little.  The movie uses a plot device to clone random generic Decepticon baddies that take place of actual characters because writing interesting characters is hard.  Also there is a giant robotic worm-thing which is kind of just there to justify things blowing up.  It’s kind of stupid.

The brightest star of the show would have to be the recently added Sentinel Prime who is voiced expertly by Leonard Nimoy.  Nimoy’s gravelly voice brings some gravitas to the production.  When Optimus and Sentinel have their tet-a-tet it seems somehow more important than it really is with the great voice work by Nimoy and Cullen (Optimus).  While I did really enjoy his addition he also provides the film with some really strange WTF moments.

Sentinel Prime, the Tom Selleck of the Autobots.

A giant franchise-fucker of a problem is that in movies based around the idea of giant transforming robots we spend less and less time with said robots and more time with insufferable humans.  Michael Bay’s frenetic direction, love for pratfalls and Three Stooges humor doesn’t fit into the movie I want to see.  The dialogue is unbelievable and every single character acts in a way that no one would find acceptable in real-life.   Every character is unlikable except for Josh Duhamel and Tyrese who are too boring to be offensive.  I truly don’t understand how nearly every human character could be so unlikeable, unrelatable and just so plain unreal.

The prime (HA!) offender in the series is Shia LaBeouf.  That is an absolutely monumental statement when the dude’s co-stars are Megan Fox and a walking lingerie ad.  At one moment in the franchise Sam Witwicky was a sympathetic character, and then he opened his fucking mouth.  In this movie Sam bitches and whines, then bursts fits of anger at the slightest provocation.  Sam yells at his parents, his girlfriend, her boss and his loyal protector / best friend Bumblebee.   When he is not bitching, he is expecting credit for saving the world and wants everything handed to him.  I shouldn’t want for the main character of a film and the audience’s avatar to die a brutal death every second he is on the screen.  Seriously, Sam is supposed to be our touchstone to reality.  He is the person we would be in that situation; well he is supposed to be.  I have greater hope for humanity that we wouldn’t act like whiny spoiled assholes if put in that position.

“Stop crying Bee, you know I love you. I just get a little carried away sometimes”

I absolutely loathe the way Michael Bay gets his actors to perform.  Every line of dialogue is spoken like the character just did a line of coke right before Bay yells “ACTION”.  The dialogue is poor at face value but the performances dial the absurdity to a million.  Every character is a smart-ass who delivers their dialogue like they are on speed.

The supporting cast is dreadful.  I hope you liked John Turtorro from the first two movies, because he’s back and this time he’s brought along his gay German bodyguard….what?!!!  Sadly of the new characters, he’s not even the worst.  Michael Bay’s characters are not defined by any personality but by their wacky quirks, jobs or races.  Ken Jeong plays the crazy Asian (or every fucking Ken Jeong role ever!), John Malcovich plays the douchey boss, Frances McDormand plays the obstinate government head honcho.  Each do so with nothing interesting to offer and no value beyond either forcing the plot along or what I’m assuming are supposed to providing comic relief.  The casual racism meter is off the charts again as we get Italian, Black, Asian, German, Russian and gay stereotypes galore.

As for our Megan Fox replacement, Rosie Huntington-Whitely is a terrible actress.  That’s not to say the franchise misses Megan Fox.  While Huntington-Whitley’s Carly may be a downgrade it’s only slightly so.  Bay camera-humps the ever-loving shit out of this woman too.  I never thought I’d get sick of looking at a supermodel’s body but after a while I was pretty much thinking “Could we stop looking at her tits and maybe focus on the giant fucking robots again?”.  It goes from being kinda sexy to very pervy, I can see why Megan Fox quit.

Rosie Huntington-Whitley the budget version of Megan Fox. It’s like the Wal-Mart’s relationship to Target.

Like this review, the pacing of the film is problematic.  Mr. Bay does not live in the same plane of reality as the rest of us.  There is no reason why a movie based on a 22 minute long cartoon needs to be 157 minutes long.  If you cut out all the stupid human tricks you’d need about an hour and a half of robotic warfare with humans as secondary characters.

A typical movie has a three act structure with the setup, confrontation and resolution.  This movie spends way to long on part 1 and part 3 and completely ignores setting up a coherent plot.   We don’t need an hour establishing characters we already are familiar with.  The filmmakers had two movies to set up Sam; we don’t need to see all this shit.  We all know he’s an insecure, neurotic douche, move the fuck along with the giant robot battles.  Also we don’t need to focus on the human vs. Decepticon battles.  All we want is Autobot vs. Decepticons.  Humans are a byproduct of the story being set on our miserable planet.  Why all the focus on us vs. them?

Despite being a wizard at filming action Michael Bay is a terrible director.  It seems like the biggest problem Bay has is remembering what happened in previous movies.  The continuity from movie to movie is just a nightmare.  I’d forgive it but it’s kind of ridiculous.  Besides that I wish the screenwriters were competent about crafting a legitimate story for the current film. Why are there such glaring plot holes?  Does no one read this shit before they turn on the camera?

Watching a Michael Bay film is a lot like training a dog.  At first there is a lot of shit but after a while it’s quite an enjoyable experience.  The first hour of this movie is painfully dull, clumsy and idiotic.  If you can survive the initial onslaught of stupidity and approach the movie like it was written by a child you’ll be fine.

“Wait! You’re saying I did two of these movies already?”

All petty bitching aside I really did enjoy the movie.  It’s a strange phenomenon.  While I was in the theatre I honestly had very few complaints in my mind’s running commentary (aside from wanting Sam to die).  Almost immediately after the credits buyer’s remorse set in and I began to think more about what I watched.  The more logical side of my brain began to reboot after being pummeled into oblivion by explosions akin to an A.D.D. addled student’s reaction to a jingling set of keys.  I started to realize I had seen something of great style but very little substance.  It was a lot of filler but very little nutrition.  “Transformers” is the Twinkie of the movie world.  This is a transforming robot movie so it really shouldn’t be expected to be great, I would have settled for logical however.

In the end the Bay-helmed Transformers series is kinda like LeBron James.  It shows all the promise in the world; it’s genetically superior to most other movies.  It comes with special talents right out of the womb.  We’ve seen it grow, watched it round into form in its early childhood and then descend into mediocrity when it really matters.  “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” is a fucking revelation in comparison to the second film and is entertaining but it’s a lousy effort for the potential it has.  The premise is a simple one, giant robot aliens fight each other.  It’s an easy plot taken to ridiculous heights because simple just doesn’t cut it in Hollywood.  There is no reason this should be fun to look at but fall apart upon the slightest search for intelligence.  Yes, I value “turning your brain off” kinds of movies but this one tries to convey the feeling that is much headier material than a movie based on a cartoon which was basically an awesome commercial for toys.

All in all this wasn’t a painful experience to watch.  I’ve long since divorced myself from the idea that I would be getting a faithful adaptation of my favorite cartoon.  The movie is loud, dumb and doesn’t give a shit.  I guess the audience shouldn’t either.  Do I think everyone will enjoy the movie?  Definitely, if you are a lifelong fan you may have problems akin to mine but casual fans should love it.   It’s escapist cinema on par with Bay’s earlier films “The Rock”, “Bad Boys” and “Armageddon”.

Trivia-time!!!

Sentinel Prime in the TF universe is actually the Autobot that passes on the Matrix of Leadership on to Optimus as he dies in battle on Cybertron.

Leonard Nimoy previously voiced “Galvatron” in “Transformers: The Animated Movie”.

Megatron’s vehicle form in the movie is based on the cartoon’s character, Scourge.  He is an evil version of Optimus Prime.

SPOILER ALERT!!!  In the film’s novelization Sentinel Prime kills the racist twins Skids and Mudflap.  Also in a major departure from the movie Megatron and Optimus have to team up to defeat the crazed Sentinel Prime.  Now that is something I would have rather seen.

My only hope is that they died slowly and painfully.

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One thought on “Transformers: Dark of the Moon Review

  1. LOL – I love the comparison between the movie and LeDouche James. Great job on the article and welcome back!

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