Monday, July 4, 2011

"Transformers: Dark of the Moon"

In the first paragraph of my theatrical reviews, I usually try to find a personal connection to the movie I’m writing about. In this case, however, I’ve decided that since there’s no way a human could connect to “Transformers 3” that I’m going to give a couple of brief disclaimers. One, I really enjoyed the first “Transformers.” I find it to be fun, if cheesy, summer blockbuster fun. Second, I don’t hate “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.” Every year there’s a film that it becomes sport to dog pile on and in my opinion, 2009’s Dog Pile Film was “Revenge of the Fallen.” Third, this review will have more to do with Michael Bay than anything else. Fourth, I am going to make a sports analogy in the concluding paragraph. Apologies in advance. Finally, the screenwriter for this film is a dude named Ehren Kruger. I say that now because for the rest of this piece, I will write as if Bay wrote the script himself because I have to believe Kruger is nothing more than a Bay puppet. No other conclusion can be drawn from this movie. So without further ado, we move on to the plot summary for “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.”

At the open, “Dark” tells us that an Autobot ship crashed on the moon in the late 50s/early 60s and that this was the real cause for the Space Race between the USA and the USSR. This sets the stage for the present day when Optimus Prime, unknowingly through the manipulation of the Decepticons, finds out about this ship and makes a trip to the Moon to bring back the near-deceased body of its pilot, Sentinel Prime, and the cargo, called the Space Bridge, that could create a terrible weapon. Meanwhile, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is floundering in the real world and unable to find a job, though he has found a new supermodel girlfriend, Carly (played by real life supermodel Rosie Huntington-Whiteley). Everything gets crazy when Sentinel turns on the Autobots and forms an alliance with the Decepticons, then forces the US government to essentially deport Optimus and his pals on a high tech spaceship that is (of course) shot down by those backstabbing Decepticons, who then begin the process of taking of the earth and using the Space Bridge to bring their home planet directly into the earth’s atmosphere. With little hope and seemingly no help from their former allies, a small force of guerrilla troops and Sam sneak into the remains of Chicago, now the Decepticons home base, to force a dramatic battle for the salvation of the planet.

Here’s the thing about “Dark of the Moon”: it’s really two, if not three, different movies jumbled together into one massive compilation. You’ve got a Michael Bay action movie mixed with Michael Bay’s version of a quirky (?) romantic comedy, mixed with an alternative reality element that plays out like “Oliver Stone Does His Best Michael Bay Impression.” In all honesty, I should probably give this film three different grades for the different parts that come together to make a semi-whole movie. The alternative history segments are by far the smallest portion of the film and are, perhaps, the best parts. There’s a serious “JFK” feel to this plotline and I bought what I was being sold. The final 60 to 75 minutes is almost entirely a CGI/FX smorgasbord that is chock full of the dramatic moments, larger-than-life explosions, and awesome fight scenes that make up most of the trailers. This segment is exactly what you’d expect from Bay and he doesn’t disappoint, at least from a visual standpoint. The first hour, however, which mostly revolves around the tumultuous relationship between Sam and Carly, is literally one of the absolute worst hours in the history of modern cinema. I don’t think I’ve EVER walked out on a film in a theater; I can hardly bring myself to turn off a DVD as I always want to know the end. At about the 35 minute mark of “Dark of the Moon”, I was just about ready to throw my streak out the window. This awkward and frustrating combination, in my mind, illustrates Bay’s entire career.

I thought long and hard about what to write concerning Bay. I don’t want to be overly critical of the guy because I’ve always said that the first goal of the movie industry is to entertain and if you’re into action movies in any way, you can’t say you’re not entertained by what Bay does. At the same time, however, you can’t really say Bay is a good director despite his long string of mega-hit films and the billions of dollars he’s raked in over the last decade and a half. Likewise, he seems to understand audiences and marketing in a way that many filmmakers do not; he grants a lot of interviews, puts together killer trailers, and seems like the most likely director to pop up in a Saturday Night Live Digital Short. But on the other hand, when it comes down to making a quality film, I just don’t think the dude gets it. Whether or not a person “gets it” is a difficult concept to convey but that’s the best way I can put it. Somehow he’s tapped into the portion of the worldwide audience, and even the part of the human brain, that wants to see some crap blow up but has no idea how to reach the intellectual side of everything. I don’t even think that he’s ignoring that side of things or that he doesn’t care about it; I just think he can’t see past buildings exploding and muscled up guys shooting guns. He wants to, and the convoluted plot twists here puts that desire on display but he can’t get there. He is a confusing, paradoxical man and his movies are almost all the same way.

No attention whatsoever is paid to dialogue (absolutely atrocious) or character development (all of these actors will be pigeon-holed by this franchise) and yet the storyline for “Dark of the Moon” is far too complex for its own good. I don’t know how it’s possible to be both overly complex and oppressively simple but Bay manages to pull that off quite spectacularly. All of these twists and turns do nothing but set up a number of bad clichés while further pushing Bay’s film further and further away from his comfort zone, which is what you get in the last hour. Plot wise, “Dark” felt to me like Bay had a big notepad full of ideas and on the front, he wrote “Transformers 3” then slapped it down on the table and told his puppet that every idea had to make it into the finished script regardless of whether or not it fits together. The motives of the Decepticons seem to change by the minute and none of it really makes sense. For example, at one time it is stated that the Decepticons want to use us as slaves to rebuild their world. Fine. Then in the very next scene, the evil robots are roaming through the streets shooting humans with laser beams that turn their targets into piles of burning ash. These two concepts don’t go hand-in-hand, Michael! If they want slaves they’ll imprison us, not eviscerate us. Come on, man.

For me the absolute worst part of the film (and a perfect illustration for how the storyline was forged haphazardly from a shoebox full of cliché action movie ideas) comes just before the final battle when Sam prepared to head off into the desolate Chicago landscape to track down the love of his life and rescue her. Moved by his determination, his Army pal Epps (Tyrese Gibson), says something to the effect of, “You’ll need this” and hands him a Glock. A Glock! The man is about to head off into a wasteland filled with falling buildings and burning cars, not to mention a fleet of alien robotic giants who are armed with lasers that can instantly reduce you to bones and ashes. But don’t worry, dude! Epps just gave you a single, solitary, low caliber pistol that holds between 10 and 15 rounds of ammo! You’ll be fine. It’s the stupidest thing that could possibly happen at this point and yet, right after this happens, the film totally takes off and becomes a wonderland of FX gooey goodness.

I could go on and on about the shortcomings and successes of this film but I’ve already rambled far longer than any of you will read. In short, Michael Bay is Mike D’antoni, head coach of the New York Knicks. D’antoni has a genius mind for offensive basketball and has created a system that guarantees exciting, high scoring games. But he has no idea how to manage a roster, can’t motivate his players, and his teams never do well in the playoffs. That’s Michael Bay. He has a great mind for entertaining, full octane action and he puts that on display time and time again. And yet he has no understanding of knowledge, he constantly wastes his cast (incredible actors abound in this movie and none of them, repeat, NONE OF THEM, are used correctly), and his finished product is always a disjointed mess that garners more hate than love but always makes a ton of cash. I guess I should just learn to appreciate Bay for the action sequence genius that he is but I just wish that one time he’d put some thought into the other components of film and stop wasting my time.

First Half Grade: F
Second Half Grade: B
Cumulative Grade: C

Aren’t we at a point where Autobots should be considered a real word by Microsoft?


  1. Bay is Bay, of course. I just wish this particular franchise had gone to someone with even a modicum of story-sense. These characters have gobs of unmined potential and in three films Bay has given the impression that he doesn't even own a pickaxe.

  2. Dude, knowing what a Transformers fan you are from the way back, I thought of you often during this screening. Sorry, man!

  3. 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!

  4. Definitely Michael Bay being Michael Bay. Thanks for joining in!


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