SUMMER MOVIES: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

I saw the first Transformers while in Iraq and it truly brightened my days there.  I watched my terrible camcorder recorded copy over and over again, usually skipping to the “good” parts and reveling in the escapism of the whole thing.  In a rare instance, I felt that a childhood toy film/game adaptation had been done right.  It wasn’t anything particularly groundbreaking, but the fact that Michael Bay was directing instilled a confidence that at least the explosions would look pretty.  However, there is a lot of integrity and ingenuity to be found in the otherwise adolescent and pea-brained plot of the original.  Also, Megan Fox in a jean mini-skirt and bare midriff.  I could think of worse ways to spend a few hours.

Then along came the mess known as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, a scatterbrained, headache-inducing mess that ramps up anything that was even close to subtle in the original to epic proportions; the wacky comedy, the plot holes, the uninspired acting, etc.  It was all put under the cinematic microscope and magnified into a dizzying, abysmal movie-going experience that left me rolling my eyes at the excessive emptiness of it all.  How does so much money, effort, and energy get injected into something so lifeless?

The news of an inevitable third film with the majority of the original cast/crew returning was expected, but the expression of regret over the second film by those same individuals made me think that they had learned their lesson and were dedicated to delivering a more satisfying experience in the third outing.  Well, it turns out, they did and they didn’t.

Here’s the deal: I like Michael Bay.  He is all style and pizzazz, explosions and mayhem, all wrapped up into the moniker of “Bayhem.”  I dig it.  He’s one of the few directors out there who can create action that leaves you reeling with adrenaline and excitement.  His earlier films, Bad Boys (1 & 2), The Rock, Armageddon, The Island, all had some visually striking and adrenaline-fueled sequences, sometimes upheld with great actors eeking out “good” performances, while others had great actors eeking out “shit” performances.  It’s completely inconsistent and totally up to said actor to make something out of their role.  It’s obvious that Bay has nothing to do with it.

Bay’s kryptonite is story, character, and overall acting.  That’s a huge fucking rock of kryptonite, my friends, and a rather unfortunate one.  If Bay had half the story instincts that better filmmakers like Spielberg, Eastwood, or Ridley Scott had, he’d be a bona fide auteur.  As it turns out he’s more of a stylistic showman.  And the thing is; I’ll take him as that.  Regrettably, but I’ll take it.  I still cross my fingers that he’ll find a script or some sort of direction (pun most definitely intended) that will guide him to the utmost exploitation of his talents.  Until then, I’ll take the “Bayhem.”

Transformers: Dark of the Moon, delivers the Bayhem.  Short and simple.  If that’s all you want, then you are good to go.  No need to read any further.  Explosions, slow-motion dolly shots, you name it.  All the ingredients are in place.  Now, if you were hoping for a better script, better story, and more character development, stop right fucking there.  What did you think this was?  The fucking Godfather?  No.  Sorry.  End those expectations right now.

We return to our protagonist, Sam Witwicky, played by the enigmatic force that is known as Shia Lebouf.  Lebouf has got a passionate charm about him and I think that he is one of the most unexpectedly talented actors working today.  I think he’s got some great performances in him that have yet to shine through.  That being said, I think his Sam Witwicky is the life of Transformers and without him the story is absolutely nothing.  He’s more interesting than anyone else in the film, due largely to the fact that he personifies the general audience that pays to see a movie like Transformers.  And, there’s nothing wrong with that.

However, even Lebouf’s charm and wit can only carry him so far, and the screenwriters on all three films have failed to bring us any closer to understanding what makes Sam Witwicky tick than they have in trying to make sense of any of the senseless plot threads in the trilogy.  Such a shame, because Lebouf/Sam deserved more, as did the audience.  However, I’m thankful that we are able to follow Sam in his journey, if even only in small doses of brevity.

And this is where TF3 falls into the same ol’ territory as the sequel.  Bay has a problem with any kind of serious tone.  It never feels genuine.  Every sequence where the stakes are high or the protagonists are trying to unravel plot threads and find themselves in a tough situation; it’s all handled with the utmost levity.  As soon as it gets serious, Bay injects the ridiculous, thereby robbing the situation of ever being taken seriously.  Every scene ends in one of two ways; a stress-breaking joke, or an eye-roll inducing moment of hero cheese.  There is never just the moment where we can appreciate what just happened.

It’s as if Bay is the annoying friend you bring to the movies who cracks a joke every time something serious happens, just to get a laugh out of you and to never let the moment take a turn to genuine emotion.  Dude, let us enjoy the moment, let us soak it in, don’t tell us how to feel at every turn.  One of my chief complaints of Bay’s Armageddon was that it never slowed down for a fucking second.  These oil riggers fly to space to dig a hole in a meteor and none of them take a moment to just look out at the stars or take in their surroundings to confess how they feel about what’s happening.  Not for one second!  It’s completely unrealistic and robs the film of being related to the audience.

TF3 is chock full of simply ridiculous plot points and characters.  The motives of many characters are so irrational and unbelievable that it almost feels like the humans are the aliens and the robots are the humans.  As Sam attempts to find a job as a post-grad, he struggles with proving his worth, especially after two movies worth of autobot assistance warfighting.  He’s kicked Megan Fox to the curb and is now dating a Victoria’s Secret model in the form of Rosie Huntington-Whitely, who is British, hot, and boring.  Seriously, it’s so distracting that Megan Fox isn’t in this.  Why couldn’t the bitch just get her shit together and apologize to Bay for likening him to Hitler and just got back to work?  It’s as if Princess Leia had dropped out of Return of the Jedi for calling George Lucas a bearded fucktard.  Stupid.  It’s not that Megan Fox brought much to the table other than her hotness, but at least she was consistent.

As for the supporting cast?  Who cares?  I mean, really.  The most character development of the human military cast is seeing their rank change between films.  Other than learning that Josh Duhamel had a newborn in the first film, we learn absolutely NOTHING about him in the proceeding films.  The only thing we know for certain is that he is about as highly trained as Jack Fucking Bauer, seeing as he knows how to use every single piece of military equipment known to the U.S. and abroad.  In trying to showcase how badass the U.S. military is in all his films (and, yes, they are badass) Bay instead makes the U.S. military look exceedingly unrealistic.  No one Soldier, Sailor, or Marine can do everything.  Sorry to break the myth, folks.

The sad part is that Bay could’ve cut so many of those bullshit scenes that go on way too long and advance the story by barely a smidgeon and instead focused on letting us know a little about these people we’re supposed to be rooting for.  Apparently, Duhamel having a perfect hairstyle is enough for us to root for him.  Patrick Dempsey shows up in a villainous role, whose motives and actions completely defy any sense of rationality.  Frances McDormand and John Malkovich, two actors who have more than proven their talents in the past, must’ve been starved for work and needed an addition put on the house.  Unfortunately, Bay’s ruse to get top name actors in his film to lend credibility to it backfires.  Instead, it steals all credibility away by making the actors look like buffoons.

So, I’ve slayed the story and the acting, aside from Lebouf, who gives us more of the same, which isn’t really a bad thing.  He’s the most fun thing about the whole trilogy, character-wise.  So, what about the Bayhem, particularly the 3D Bayhem?  Well, it’s all there and then some, and is probably the biggest credit to what would otherwise be a retread of everything we’ve seen before.  Not since James Cameron’s Avatar, has there been a film shot for 3D in such a way and it shows.  In fact, it’s one of the few I’d recommend seeing in 3D (if at all).

The most inspired moment of the film is when Duhamel’s Army unit does their wing dive out of an aircraft into the skyscraper-laden city of Chicago.  The 3D camera is mounted to the stuntman jumping out of the back as if you are actually doing it yourself and it truly feels as if you are exiting an aircraft (something I am well-versed in, believe me).  It’s such an awesome moment and great use of 3D that it is suddenly sullen when you realize that you know NOTHING about the guys who are doing it.  Such a cool moment ruined, once again, by the lack of character.

After numerous complaints about not being able to follow the action in TF2, Bay has slowed down a lot of the action considerably, ensuring that you feel the impact of every punch, blast, and slam and see it from start to finish without a shred of doubt as to whose cyberguts just got blown out.  Which brings me to the next topic; the robo-violence.  I have no problem with it and don’t think it’s really all that extreme, but some parents may feel differently.  I mean, none of these guys are dispatched in a “kind” way.  From my perspective, it feels consistent with real war, where hesitation and mercy can cost lives, so I suppose seeing Optimus act quickly and effectively in killing off decepticons is believable to that end.  I have seen this mentioned in a few trusted reviews and I think it’s a difficult balance to find.  The same “kids” that are paying to see Transformers are the same kids playing Call of Duty, which doesn’t pull any punches (literally).  That’s some steep competition, so the expectation to deliver some hardcore roboviolence is a given.

At the end of the day, TF3 is overblown, exciting, irrational, and adrenaline-fueled adolescent entertainment with some cool 3D effects and an annoyance factor that can’t be ignored by any informed moviegoer.  Is it better than the second film?  Absolutely.  Is it better than the first?  Not really, just more action and explosions (and 3D, including a shot right up Huntington-Whiteley’s ass…for real).  Should you go see it?  Fuck, man, I don’t know.  Do you like Bayhem like I do?  Then, sure.  Do you despise the Transformers as it is?  Then, no, you should not.  The best you can get out of TF3 is to take it for what it’s worth and whom it’s meant for.  Otherwise, you’ll likely despise it.






8 Responses to SUMMER MOVIES: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

  1. Transgenders roll out July 5, 2011 at 6:14 am #

    Nice wrap up Paul. I can appreciate the action/fx only films. I don’t need to believe a performance by a guy who rides in robots…but it better look sweet. TF2 is better everytime I watch it probably because I see sumpin new each time.

  2. Zaki July 5, 2011 at 8:02 am #

    Great write-up. We had the same thought about Malkovich doing the flick so he could put an addition on his house. 🙂 And I totally agree about the gliding scene just feeling tossed in, no matter how awesome it looks.

    • Paul Shirey July 5, 2011 at 3:14 pm #

      Such a shame, because it was the best part of the movie IMO. That says a lot right there.

  3. Andy July 6, 2011 at 12:31 am #

    Good points all. My biggest issue (of many) was that the first 90 minutes of the movie could have (and should have) been edited into about 45. You sort of touched on this. It was so damn meandering and pointless that by the time the “Bayhem” kicked off properly, I was already annoyed and enjoyed it less as a result. Plus- for every respected actor eating Bay’s scraps for a few nickels, we know NOTHING about any of the Transformers. This was the biggest failing of all three damn movies. The Transformers never got to be characters in their own movies. So it’s fun to watch them bash into one another but it doesn’t matter because you don’t know them. You don’t care. And Optimus, the only robot given any personality, is completely schizophrenic: he goes from a noble hero to cold-blooded murderer and back again. Gah! What a waste.

    But yeah, the skydiving scene in 3D was pretty cool. It made my tummy flip flop.

    • Paul Shirey July 6, 2011 at 4:07 am #

      Yeah, that is another great point, which I have noted, but did not mention in my review. Who the fuck are these “autobots” and why do they matter? It would help if we knew more about their origins, their ambitions, and ultimately what they want out of their little robotic lives. I mean, I get that it’s just a gimmicky toy/cartoon of the ’80’s made into a big budget movie, but still…with all that money and talent, this is the best they can come up with? I mean, you could pick your favorite autobots by way of design or voice, but not much more.

      As humans, we have a general idea of what an ideal life would be. We have ambitions, dreams, goals, and desires. Do these robots simply exist to serve humanity?

      Great point, which I skewed over. I settle for the Bayhem and for what it’s worth, but certainly I don’t forgive them for missing every opportunity afforded them to tell a great story. Most of us have dreamed up better stories while playing with the toys back in 1987.

  4. Andy July 6, 2011 at 6:15 pm #

    Well all that would be nice (I can’t tell if you’re being sarcastic) but I wouldn’t even go that far. I would just settle for letting some of the robots have, you know, LINES. Like there was that badass red one with the arm blades… but he never says a thing. We don’t even know his name. He’s just… there. And there was that weird old one with the hair. He shows up and starts talking like we’re supposed to know him. Then he dies and we’re like “well who the hell was he anyway?!?!?”. We got one scene in the first movie where they introduce the 5 core Autobots (which was good because now we know who we’re watching), And that’s it. For the rest of the movies, Transformers enter and exit totally randomly. We don’t even know they’re names! I don’t need “development”, I just need to know who the fuck they are. Maybe I’m asking too much from Bay to actually introduce his audience to the characters he uses in his movie. But he had no problem doing it in The Rock or Armageddon. It just proves that the robots really are just toys to him instead of the stars of the show, as they should be.

  5. Paul Shirey July 6, 2011 at 11:18 pm #

    No sarcasm. Seriously. A character needs character to be a character. Otherwise, they’re just cardboard cutouts. Like the Transformers. You bring up a point that always eluded me. Where in the FUCK did all the autobots in the subsequent sequels come from? They are just randomly there. Did they crash to earth like the first autobots or did the autobots “make” them? Do autobots reproduce? How do they “create” life? It doesn’t have to be Stanley Kubrick weird, but some semblance of explanation would’ve been a lot better than watching an effeminate Alan Tudyk get in a bar fight.

  6. Andy July 7, 2011 at 1:46 am #

    Exactly. Makes no sense. And what the hell was Tudyk doing?!?!? Bay’s recipe for “comedy”: take recognizable actor and make that act completely bizarre and nonsensical. Man oh man. I miss the subtle nuance he displayed in Bad Boys.

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