Transformers: Dark of the Moon – Review (3)


Michael Bay delivers action in spades, but again fails at telling a story

Face it, nobody makes an action movie quite like Michael Bay. Depending on who you are that’s either a good thing or a bad thing. Having gotten the rub from producer Jerry Bruckheimer on a number of films, including one franchise property (Bad Boys), Bay left the now carnival barker – honestly, Bruckheimer seems more concerned with creating franchises than entertaining movies these days – to stake his claim as the preeminent action auteur with a side venture as a producer of numerous horror movie remakes.

Bay’s latest, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, is the grand finale in a movie franchise based on the Hasbro Transformers toy line. So it’s come to this; we’ve gone from books to video games to comic books to toys. And you wonder why people think Hollywood is creatively bankrupt. Having seen the first two movies in the series I had a general idea of what to expect: tons of action and Bay-hem, and a story riddled with bad jokes, weak human characters and people staring vacantly at objects that are more than meets the eye (but aren’t really there). Needless to say, my expectations weren’t dashed. The visuals are amazing and the story still has its problems. The good thing is that it is more digestible than the mess Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen turned out to be.

Bay admitted dissatisfaction with the sequel and directed blame to the writers’ strike. The strike interrupted script rewrites and revisions. Viewers didn’t seem to mind its unintelligible plot. They were drawn to the visuals of Rockem-Sockem robot destruction porn. Some may have even enjoyed the racist overtones by a pair of Autobot transformers (and these are the good guys!). The problems stem from crafting a mythology involving the Autobots and Decepticons and have it take place on Earth. Seriously, had they decided to ditch the screenwriters altogether and work with storyboard artists only they may have been better off. That way you could avoid having to fashion a script around human characters and have their arcs intersect with the robots in disguise.

It’s difficult to criticize the action sequences, because that’s Bay’s hallmark. These are the money shots that people fork over their own money to see. The bulk of the action is contained in the city of Chicago, but Chernobyl and Washington, D.C. are also scathed as the Decepticons regroup to wage war with the Autobots. The destruction scenes deliver as they are supposed to but when paired with a narrative they stretch to an unnecessarily long 157-minute feature.

Ehren Kruger, who joined the franchise with the second installment, is the sole credited screenwriter with Dark of the Moon. Infamous for screwing up the Scream franchise when he penned the third film in the series (he’s also rumored to have done rewrites on Scream 4), Kruger seems to dumb things down for audiences, inserting scenes that attempt to explain the “science” of the Transformers’ technological advances and what it all means. Then there are those scenes that attempt to expand on the Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) character with him trying to find a job while trying to maintain some semblance of being the man in his relationship with new girlfriend Carly (Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). Not helping his situation is getting relationship advice from mom and dad, and being emasculated in his presence of his girlfriend’s “dreamy” boss (Patrick Dempsey).

Just as Quentin Tarantino altered history when he had Adolf Hitler be pumped full of lead in Inglourious Basterds, Transformers: Dark of the Moon takes liberties with the space race of the 1960s. The Apollo missions to the moon were in response to an event: a crashed Transformers space ship. Forty years later, Optimus Prime (voice of Peter Cullen), late in knowing this discovery, takes a team of Autobots on a salvage mission to the moon. They return with Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy), one of the architects of Cybertron (their home planet), and a father figure to Optimus, leader of the Autobots. Resurrected by Optimus, Sentinel shows no intent of assimilating or being a helping hand in assisting the United States take out foreign enemies.

Decepticons Megatron (Hugo Weaving), Starscream (Charlie Adler), and Shockwave (Frank Welker), still fuming at the loss suffered in Egypt in the last film, return to make Earth their personal sandbox – again. As far as humans go, Sam Witwicky is joined by series regulars Lennox (Josh Duhamel) and Simmons (John Turturro). Notable additions to the cast include Frances McDormand and John Malkovich, both forgoing prestige in favor of paychecks.

Transformers 3 is every Michael Bay film rolled into one. It also follows the same wash, rinse, and repeat set-ups and blow-ups of the previous two films. Stuff explodes. Shia LaBeouf screams like a girl. The Transformers once again give better performances than the human characters. A woman is presented as a sex object, much to delight of thirteen-year-olds.

To the film’s credit, though, it is the best use of 3-D technology in a feature since How to Train Your Dragon. Bay had been on the “nay” side of 3-D, but James Cameron changed all that. Discussions between the two resulted in Bay giving 3-D a shot. Part native 3-D and post-production conversion, Transformers: Dark of the Moon is remarkably good in certain sequences. However, to get the most out of the technology, Bay had to slow his transitions. Instead of his usual two point five seconds for each cut, it’s now three seconds! Motion blur is still prevalent in sequences involving fast cuts, but for those set pieces where the action is continuous for more than a few seconds, the 3-D looks good. Not quite an immersive experience like Avatar, but it’s a step in the right direction.

So has Michael Bay redeemed himself for the fetid Revenge of the Fallen? Somewhat. Having enjoyed the first Transformers, suffered migraines from the sequel, the third is okay, but is a script nightmare. Too much exposition presents pacing problems for the rest of the film, and bad choices in goofy humor derails enjoyment, but it’s still a visual smorgasbord. If you manage to stick with it through the first 90 minutes you’ll be rewarded with a lengthy humans vs. robots sequence that would make any action fan wet his pants, especially if he finished guzzling down a large Coke leading up to the grand finale and was determined to not leave.

Director: Michael Bay
Notable Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Josh Duhamel, John Tuturro, Tyrese Gibson, Patrick Dempsey, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Peter Cullen (voice), Leonard Nimoy (voice), Hugo Weaving (voice)
Writer(s): Ehren Kruger

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