Friday, July 1, 2011

New Release Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon (Michael Bay, 2011)

I have to admit, I enjoyed the first Transformers film. It is one of actioneer and blockbuster director Michael Bay’s best films. It had a good dose of effective humour, engaging action and above all else, a sense of fun. Revenge of the Fallen, whose status as one of the worst films of the decade could be attributed to the writers strike at the time, did not possess such qualities. I originally had no intention of seeing this, but with Bay utilising the 3D technology in much the same way that James Cameron did in Avatar, and with a number of critics claiming it to be the best of the series, I thought I’d give it a go.

I went into Dark of the Moon desperately hoping to be surprised, but simultaneously feeling completely cynical and pessimistic about that happening. I was hoping that my personal distaste for Bay’s filmmaking would be forgotten, and that I would at least be entertained and blown away by some groundbreaking visual effects. I gave it a go. It was not to be. Why a seemingly endless budget for chaos and destruction was contributed to this loud, pointless, soulless and abominably directed mess makes me very sad indeed.

The opening montage is accompanied by expositional narration by Optimus Prime (voiced by Peter Cullan). It reveals that the 1969 Moon landing by Apollo 11 was actually a covert response, authorized by President John F. Kennedy, to investigate the NASA detected Cybertronian spacecraft that had crashed on the dark side of the Moon in 1961. Known as The Ark, it was the last ship to escape the war devastated Cybertron. Piloted by Sentinel Prime (Leonard Nimoy), it carries “the Pillars”, technology that could be used by the Autobots to destroy the Decepticons for good. In the present day, following their previous escapades on Earth, the Autobots have forged an alliance with the US Military, imposing freedom by blowing up “illegal nuclear plants” in the Middle East amongst other things. During a mission in Chernobyl, at the request of the Ukranian Government, Prime discovers a fuel cell from The Ark that the Soviets had been using as a fuel source, prompting him to seek out U.S National Intelligence Director Charlotte Mearing (Frances McDormand) and find out everything humanity knows about the moon dwelling craft.

At the same time, Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) is frustrated with his life, despite having a ridiculously hot new girlfriend, Carly Spencer (Victoria’s Secret model Rosie Huntington-Whitely) to take care of him. Sam is struggling to find a job and has convinced himself that his previous escapades (i.e saving the world twice) deem him worthy of serving America. We watch his whiny desperation shunned by a number of employees, before a ridiculously eccentric fake-tanned boss, played by John Malkovich, finally offers him one in his mailroom. Sam’s parents also show up with their usual awful comedy and quips about his uselessness. 

This is all, as you will find out if you decide to ordeal this film, inconsequential to anything. The only plot point that comes back to serve a purpose is Sam's ongoing rivalry with Carly's smarmy boss, Dylan Gould (Patrick Dempsey). When news of ‘the pillars’ falling into the metal claws of the Decepticons reaches Sam, he finds a way to get involved, seeking out retired agent Seymour Simmons (John Turturro) and super-soldiers Lennox and Epps (Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson) to help him once again save humanity from total destruction. While the events unfold with nauseating pace and we are thrown from one location to another, this wafer thin plot doesn't really go anywhere. 

Dark of the Moon is absolutely ridiculous from the opening minutes. It’s hard not to laugh at just how embarrassingly dumb it is and how insulting it is to our intelligence as an audience. I thought it might redeem itself in an epic climax, but it’s the same cataclysmic battle sequence we've seen before, albeit largely more impressive. It throws literally everything at the audience and reduces Chicago to smoldering rubble, in quite horrific fashion I might add. Bay just doesn’t seem to understand how difficult his films are to watch. Its either cringe-worthy inconsequential and unnecessary plot developments, woefully out-of-place and poor-taste attempts at comedy, blatant Nationalism or headache inducing, haphazardly edited action sequences. Everything is overblown, especially the running time, an arduous 157 minutes. Be sure to choose wisely when to take your toilet break. You're at risk of missing something important. 

When you think about it, the purpose of the first two hours of this film is entirely as a set-up for the climactic battle. It introduces a hell of a lot of human characters, most of whom serve little purpose and end up merely observing the final battle unfold. Sam and Carly are in the thick of it, but really, the other two Transformer films have been about these giant metallic monsters fighting it out. This is essentially what we get here, but distinguishing between the allegiances, and navigating the disorientating action choreography is tiring and painful work. It isn’t that great to look at. The depth from being filmed with the 3D technology is effective on occasions, but mostly renders itself unnecessary. The fact that we can witness an entire city being destroyed before our eyes and experience so many layers to the battle simultaneously does blow our minds. But when the human characters are just as lifeless as the robots, what does it matter?

There are a couple of moments where my interest was piqued; the scene on the freeway at about the halfway was quite exciting, and Shockwaves demolition of the Chicago high rise is quite spectacular. Bay blows his load with this latter scene, because as soon as it is over, every other combat sequence feels lesser and more laborious. A massive climactic battle with that much energy and destruction shouldn’t be boring though, should it? Even when a near intolerable first three quarters builds to it? You bet. Every genre cliché under the sun pops up again, and downtown Chicago becomes dues ex-machina central. I lost count of the amount of times that Sam should have been killed, except for convenient rescue of the Autobots. But really, it is hard to fault to visual effects and sound design. If there is one area where Bay excels, it is here. 

Where he doesn't excel is subtlety. With Megan Fox replaced by hot Brit Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Bay has even better assets to work with. We are introduced to the Victoria's Secret model by a lengthy shot of her ass as she walks up some stairs. Later, there are numerous other opportunities to flaunt her figure or to capture her in slow-motion looking ponderously off into the distance as things blow up behind her. Ridiculous. I don't remember Shia LaBeouf being so bad in the preceding two films. He appears to be on crack for half the film, either endlessly whining about not being involved or spouting worthless drivel. Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, John Turturro (gloriously over-the-top again), Patrick Dempsey, Alan Tudyk and Ken Jeong all should feel embarrassed to be involved. Each give dreadful performances. I could go on (the awkward collaboration of archive/recreated footage from the opening montage, the abrupt ending etc.) but I don't want to. You know what you're in for if you have seen the first two Transformers films. If you haven't, I imagine you won't want to see this anyway. It's the collaboration of everything wrong with the Hollywood blockbuster, and it's far from entertaining.  

My Rating: 1 Star (F)


  1. Surprise surprise I'm not even going to bother seeing this. Burn in hell Michael Bay.

  2. That's a bit harsh. I'd like to see Bay learn some new skills or at least collaborate with Jerry Bruckheimer again and let him hire some decent writers because this sounds like the same bag of tricks all over again.

  3. He saved the world twice and all he can get is a job in the mailroom? See, this is the problem with these movies. THAT'S the story they need to be focusing on. There's a tragic tale of America's unemployment woes embedded in there somewhere. Maybe Bay can get John Sayles to write the next one?

  4. @ Anna - It's dreadful. You know what to expect, huh!

    @ Ian - It may be, but seriously, it's so awful. The final battle doesn't redeem it either. There are some incredible visuals (as usual in Bay's films) but it just isn't enough. It's a ridiculous screenplay.

    @ Nicholas - Yeah, that message is there, but not of the focus you mean. It's cheesily introduced through Sam's annoying parents who joke about his laziness and inability to find a job, while he lives off the wages of his girlfriend, who works as a salesman for an in-film car add, i mean an antique car dealer :-p

  5. 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 Andy!

  6. Great review as usual. I still won't see it if my life depended on it.

  7. Haha the crack bit was a nice touch Andy.

    As said before, I've found this to be such a pleasing, subtle cinematic masterpiece.

  8. @ Dan - Thanks for reading man. I can see that it had all the elements of a fun blockbuster. There certainly was action and destruction, and there were plenty of robots. Genuine romance, i'm not so sure about haha.

    @ Steven - Thanks dude. Lot of fun writing this one. Don't bother. Its nauseating.

    @ Sam - How bad was he, though? He just spurted dialogue all the time. Most of it whiny or inaudible. All Frances McDormand was there for was to ask questions so that we could hear the responses and learn what was going on. At least an hour could have been cut from that film. If you're going to make a 45 minute battle scene, why not make it an hour and a half one and forget the human stories even exist. Rather than to build these ridiculous arcs for the characters that served absolutely no purpose, and push the film to this unbearable length. *Calm down* haha.

  9. We have to take a stand Andy! If it is renowned for being crap (after Transformers 2) you have to step back and take no part. The box-office success of such an awful film shows how the standard of the film doesn't matter - we have to stand up and be counted! "I hate this shit and I won't pay for it! Ever!"



  11. Absolutely Emily! She served one purpose only. To look hot and get into trouble so Sam (or Bumblebee) can save her!