June 30, 2011

Heavy Metal Or No Metal At All

Ok, I know a lot of you aren't really looking forward to this one. I'd even go so far as to say that you're dreading it. We all know how terrible Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen was, from the lame action, to the juvenile humor ("enemy scrotum?"), to the incredibly racist robots. And we all groaned when it was announced that Señor Bay and Monsieur LaBeouf would be back. Now, was I the only one who's ears started to perk up when some news about the production started trickling in? When the bomb dropped that Megan Fox wouldn't be back, I cheered. Did you? When Michael Bay went on the record apologizing for Revenge, I nodded in approval. Did you? When the Super Bowl spot was aired, I took interest. Did you? You should have! Transformers: Dark of the Moon, while far from anything worth submitting from awards contention, is a far better film than you or I expected. A million times better than Revenge of the Fallen, Dark of the Moon is not only filled to bursting with crazy action and destruction, but is making an effort to be a legitimately good movie. And, crazy as it sounds, it more or less succeeds.

Apparently, he can do parkour too. Who knew?

The war between the Autobots and Decepticons has, more or less, come to a standstill, with the Autobots now assisting their human allies with their problems. But when Optimus discovers a piece of Cybertronian technology hidden deep in Chernobyl, it sets off a catastrophic chain of events that sees the conflict between the robots explode on a global scale, as the Decepticons invade. Dragged into the fight, once again, is Sam Witwicky, who has been in a sort of funk because shit hasn't been blowing up around him for two years. But, he and his new absurdly hot girlfriend soon find themselves at the forefront of a massive battle between the two factions as the Decepticons make one last attempt to overthrow Earth and win the day.

Ok, yes. On paper, it sounds like pretty much every other Transformers film, and it is... sort of. We start off seeing some small battles, and the conflict slowly escalates, leading to an all out war on a grand scale for a finale. But Dark of the Moon is different in the sense that there's an actual point to what's going on. Sure, the plot makes almost no sense, but, unlike the first two, there are actual stakes in what's taking place. Characters are actually in danger here, and some seriously sinister shit actually goes down. Yes, the script is still painfully juvenile at times, but there seemed to be a greater effort to provide something a bit more mature, and it paid off.

For the most part, the main cast returns. Shia LaBeouf is still the most reliable member, bringing wit and heart to the role of Sam for the third time. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson adequately provide the man meat that kicks ass in their nothing roles as Lennox and Epps. John Turturro is still annoying as hell as Simmons, and Kevin Dunn and Julie White are still enjoyable as Sam's parents.

No Megan Fox though. No, in her place is a new comer, Rose Huntington-Whiteley, playing Sam's new flame, Carly, and, crazy as it sounds, she's not bad. Unlike Megan "Less Personality Than a Bag of Hammers" Fox, Huntington-Whiteley actually manages to convey something human with her role. She and LaBeouf have a good chemistry. You can buy these two together, despite the fact that she is way out of his league, something you could never do when Fox was around.

Patrick Dempsey shows up, playing a world class douche bag with a major card to play in the events that unfold, and Frances McDormand shows up as this week's government official who provides no help whatsoever. All other newcomers fill out the background humor roles. Alan Tudyk is hilarious as Simmon's assistant, Dutch, and John Malkovich offers up some inspired lunacy as Sam's new boss. Ken Jeong is here as well, but he's annoying as balls, so you won't be hearing anything about him from me... except for that, obviously.

On the voice side of things, Peter Cullen returns to voice Optimus and Hugo Weaving shows up again to voice Megatron. The major new addition to the voice cast is Leonard Nimoy, voicing Sentinal Prime, an über powerful transformer who the entire battle revolves around. Nimoy is "eh" in the role, though hearing bust out a Spock line during the proceedings was pretty nifty.

Performances here are a step above the previous installments. Though LaBeouf is still the star player, everyone else seems to be trying to elevate their game to his level. They don't really succeed, but the effort's appreciated.

"Don't worry. There's no way you could be worse in bed than Megan!
It's clear, right from the off, that Michael Bay learned from his mistakes on the last movie. Gone are the over long bouts of juvenile and dumb humor. Gone are the offensive jokes (mostly). Gone are the impossible to follow action scenes. The painfully overdone dramatic moments have been toned way down. In their place is a tighter film, grittier and more sinister than anything Bay has done before. Transformers: Dark of the Moon is, surprisingly, ridiculously dark and foreboding. This is the first film in the series where we see the actual human cost of the robot war. There are multiple shots of body strewn sidewalks and subway cars, tons of scenes where humans are massacred mercilessly by rampaging Decpeticons, and a chilling, albeit brief, montage of Decepticons assassinating their human collaborators.

That was one thing that really bother me about the first two movies. There was untold destruction and carnage, but, as far as I could tell, not a single human death. Here, that's not the case. You get the sense that our world is actually threatened by this intergalactic conflict, and the film is better because of it.

It doesn't hurt that the action is the best the series has seen so far. The first couple of scenes are nothing special, but when you get to the thrilling chase on the highway that sees Autobots and Decepticons duking it out at high speeds, you know Bay went all out to make the violence good. The invasion scene is tightly done and very intense, and don't even get me started on the final forty minutes. This is the loudest and biggest Transformers movie, with dozens of elements being combined into one amalgamation of pyromaniacal mayhem. But, it's well shot and easy to follow.

Some of it is actually really thrilling. There's a sequence where a squad of soldiers fly into the battle in wingsuits. Bay could have easily just put them in front of a green screen and shot it like that, but he didn't. Instead, he actually sent those guys flying through Chicago, in between buildings, and just filmed it all. And it's awesome! For all his douche bag tendencies, that's one thing I really like about Bay. He'll make a scene in a practical manner first than do special effects afterwards. Curse me for comparing him to Christopher Nolan in that sense, but it's a fair comparison none the less.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon is not perfect. Far from it. The story still doesn't make sense; a lot of the humor is still of a very low brow sort, and the ending is way to sudden and abrupt. But, it is by no means a disaster. Actually, compared to the second one, it's a masterpiece. Bay promised to make a film that made up for the travesty of Revenge of the Fallen. While he will never be forgiven for unleashing that steaming pile of shit on us, he has lessened the sting with Dark of the Moon. It's a tight, well made piece of insanity that strives to deliver something more adult than we've seen from the series thus far, and while there were some bumps in the road, it can be viewed as a success in that regard. Well done Bay. Maybe there's hope for you yet.


  1. For me, I enjoyed myself so much because the story may start off slow, but as time goes on, the action is amazing and just happens non-stop to the point of where I left, I was just totally worn-out thanks to Michael Bay. Good Review Sam! Check out mine when you can!

  2. No, no, no...must resist all temptation and compliments leveled at this film. I swore after the second that I was done with this series, and I'm determined to keep that up. No good can come from watching this.

    Glad you had a fun time with it, though. You really do almost make it sound palatable.