TRANSFORMERS:DARK OF THE MOON
DISTRIBUTED BY:Paramount Pictures
REVIEWED BY:Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
In 1961, as the Autobots rid their planet of the Cybertrons, a Cybertronian spaceship called The Ark crashes onto the moon. This is detected by NASA, and President John F. Kennedy starts the space race which climaxes with the US putting a man on the moon in 1969. In the present day, the Autobots have forged a military alliance with the United States of America, but largely act independently in stopping humans from destroying themselves. During a mission in Chernobyl at the request of the Ukraine government, Optimus Prime discovers a fuel cell from The Ark that the Russians had found and which resulted in the Chernobyl disaster. It seems The Ark contained something of great importance indeed. Meanwhile Sam Witwicky, who now has a new girlfriend, Carly Spencer, is unable to get a job until eventually finding employment in a mail room where one of his co-workers, a conspiracy theorist, takes an unusual interest in Sam’s activities…….
As someone who was maybe just a little bit too old to get the most out of it, I wasn’t really a fan of the Transformers TV cartoon series, but I did often enjoy watching it with my younger half brothers. Nonetheless, when it was announced that a feature film was being made, the idea of seeing giant robots duke it out on the big screen was very appealing to this Godzilla movie fan. The resulting film succeeded in most ways. Sure it wasn’t perfect – it was too long, suffered from extremely weak leads, and also suffered in my opinion from director Michael Bay’s usual obsessions that he feels he has to put into virtually every movie, such as slow motion power walks, loving, almost pornographic footage of the military, and pretty shots taken at ‘magic hour’. Still, from its rather charming, 80s teen movie-style early scenes to it’s thrilling climactic action, it was a very entertaining popcorn movie and even seemed to surprise lots of snobby critics who were amazed to find a film about robots who can turn into vehicles was good. The sequel however seemed to divide people, with perhaps more disliking it than liking it. I personally feel that it succeeded in delivering more of what these movies should be about – robots battling it out – but suffered from an awful script and lots of cringe-worthy ‘comedy’ sequences. I couldn’t help but be excited about a third film though.
My verdict after seeing it? Well, that’s actually quite hard to sum up briefly, because I would say that in some ways it’s the best of the three movies, but in a few respects it’s the worst. It’s fair to say that if you didn’t like the first two then you probably won’t enjoy this one any more, but if you did…..well, I expect you’ve made up your mind to see this film anyway! The opening is terrific, launching us into some dazzling CG spectacle of the two robot sides engaged in a battle, with shots of spaceships flying through buildings which reminded me of the climax to Return Of The Jedi and perhaps give an idea of what the Star Wars films may look like in 3D [well, you know George Lucas is doing it, don’t you!]. We go to planet earth and the space race is shown nicely incorporating actual footage of rockets, Kennedy and the like. When we see Apollo 11 land on the moon, the camera zooms towards and right into the eye of a robot and after a few seconds of great visuals the titles come up. Really great stuff, but sadly the film doesn’t really carry on that way. Now each of these films are paced a bit differently. The first one roughly alternated the action with ‘other stuff’ quite evenly. it was about 50/50. The second one was about 70% action, but still alternated it reasonably well with the non-action scenes. This one is quite different. While there are some thrilling scenes in the first three fifths, such as a rather intense sequence of Shockwave dispatching some soldiers in and around a factory which almost borders on horror, the film is actually surprisingly slow, with even Bay’s usual frantic camera holding back [remember how, in Revenge Of The Fallen, the camera just wouldn’t stop moving even during dialogue scenes?].
Of course a leisurely build up can work really well but much of the footage in this movie is devoted to excruciating ‘humorous’ scenes usually revolving around LaBeouf’s character. There’s even more of these here than in the second movie, and they just don’t work, because LaBeouf still can’t act, Ehren Kruger can’t write comic scenes, and Bay can’t direct them, though as before he has the actors race through their lines like they are on speed, so perhaps he knew the writing was awful. Still, he would have been better off removing some of them altogether. Some of the most annoying scenes involve a character played by Ken Jeong from The Hangover movies who just yells and screams and acts all manic….by God, I couldn’t wait for his scenes to end, which thankfully they soon did! Of course, we also have the obligatory ‘unnecessary ‘12’ rated scene, in a film which would otherwise probably be ‘PG’ rated’. The first film had the masturbation joke, the second one had the humping dogs, this one has the hoary old gag about two men possibly doing ‘things’ in a toilet. Why they feel obliged to put this kind of thing in these movies is beyond me, though I will say that the robot violence is a bit more brutal this time. Anyway, we do eventually get some mounting tension as Earth is about to be actually invaded, a brief but rather spectacular destruction sequence of Chicago [watching Revenge Of The Fallen the other evening, I kept thinking that maybe Bay would have been a good choice for the announced American Godzilla film], and then………..O YES………..
Literally FORTY FIVE [or so] minutes of spectacular, thrilling, crazy ‘Bayhem’, as the director basically borrows his climax to the original movie – the robots and a few people fighting in the city- and takes it to the next level. One bit which involves the top of a skyscraper falling off and people sliding down it is one of the most exciting ‘hell yeah’ scenes I’ve seen in a film in ages. The camera flies over and around the combatants, creating the feel of a rollercoaster without making you feel sick, but knows when to slow down, most effectively during the final fight between two robots. It seems Bay listened to criticisms that you couldn’t see the action properly, though I’ve always thought Bay does the ‘fast cutting, shaking the camera, close up’ style of action better than most others. It’s not a style I especially like and I often criticise it, but in Bay’s movies every cut, every angle, seems perfectly judged and you still get a sense of where you are. I didn’t want the movie to end because the action was so exciting and indeed some might say it never does, but I don’t think you can have too much action in an action movie, just like I believe a comedy can never have too many jokes or a horror film can never have too many scares.
The plot of Transformers : Dark Of The Moon is surprisingly complex, with characters human and robot often not who you expect them to be, though I was sick of having the film’s main macguffin be another, well, I won’t say, but you’ll see what I mean when you watch the movie. Now this of course was shot in 3D, and there’s been excitement about what Bay would do with the format, with advance reports that the 3D was the equal of the 3D in Avatar. Well, considering I only thought some of the 3D in Avatar worked well I wasn’t too excited myself about the process being used in this movie, and sure enough, there are a few terrific moments but much of it just looks as silly as ever. There’s quite a bit of depth of field and some interesting angles employed to aid this, but people in the foreground still look like stupid cardboard cut-outs and I was expecting a director like Bay to have more things coming out at the audience [though there is one odd moment when a robot spews bad breath…..or something, at the viewer]. Still, as I said there are some great 3D bits, usually involving robots, planes or missiles streaming through the air, and there’s no doubt that this film is one of the better uses of the process since this latest 3D craze started. I haven’t changed my overall opinion on 3D, which is that it’s a gimmick that is only really suited to animated or horror films. The really good 3D bits in this movie did made me think that I’d like to see someone like Guillermo Del Toro or Terry Gilliam have a go at the process.
Although Shia LaBeouf still hasn’t convinced me he’s much of an actor, at least the dreadful Megan Fox, the ‘actress’ who is only capable of two expressions – gormless puzzlement and pouting – has been replaced by another actress, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, who…………well, she seems able to do a couple more expressions than Fox, which is an improvement. As usual the acting is left to the supporting cast, with John Turturro really able to have fun with his character in this one and Frances McDormand on formidable form as the Secretary Of Defence. Now Bay’s movies used to be scored by Hans Zimmer. Now they’re scored by Steve Jablonsky, one of the least talented of Zimmer’s Media Ventures cronies, and the scores still sound just like…….Hans Zimmer. The score for this one is almost exactly the same as the scores for parts one and two, consisting of three or four simple, dreary ‘themes’ based on the same few chords, repeated over and over again. I would love a composer like John Williams or Danny Elfman to get the chance to do one of these films, but it’s not going to happen. Overall, is Transformers: Dark Of The Moon a good movie? I would say partly, in the sense that it delivers what you expect and perhaps gives you even more bang for your buck then you may have expected. At times it really is amazing, over the top, rousing escapism that movies can do so well. There are aspects which seriously hold it back though, and, though I’ve certainly enjoyed all three movies and will no doubt get excited if there’s a fourth, I think that the perfect film from the concept has yet to be made. Maybe it’s just not possible when its origin is a line of toys!
Read Matt Wavish’s review here